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Dennis Chavez

From Academic Kids

All states are invited to contribute two statues for display in the Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol. This statue of Senator Chavez is one of the two gifted by New Mexico to the collection.
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All states are invited to contribute two statues for display in the Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol. This statue of Senator Chavez is one of the two gifted by New Mexico to the collection.

A Democratic politician from New Mexico, Dennis Chávez (April 8, 1888 - November 18, 1962) served in the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate.

He was born in Los Chaves, Valencia County, New Mexico. His parents, David and Paz Chávez were members of families that had lived in Los Chávez for generations. In 1895, David Chávez moved his family to the Barelas section of Albuquerque where Dennis attended school until financial hardships necessitated that he go to work. His first job was delivering groceries at the Highland Grocery store. Later on, he studied engineering and surveying at night and worked as an engineer for the City of Albuquerque for several years.

In 1911, Chávez married Imelda Espinosa, a member of a prominent New Mexico family. In 1914, they moved to Belen. He worked briefly as editor of a Belen weekly newspaper, as a court interpreter, and as a private contractor until 1916, when he obtained temporary employment as a Spanish interpreter for Senator Andrieus A. Jones' reelection campaign. In 1917, he was offered a position as assistant executive clerk of the Senate in Washington, D.C. by Senator Jones. He accepted this position, passed a special admission exam at Georgetown University Law Center and studied law at night. He graduated from Georgetown in 1920 and returned to Albuquerque to establish a law practice.

Political Career

In 1922, Chávez ran successfully for the New Mexico state legislature, he did not seek another term. In 1930, he was elected as a Democratic candidate New Mexico's - then - only seat in the United States House of Representatives and was re-elected in 1932. In 1932, he became chairman of the House Committee on Indian Affairs.

Chávez was defeated by Bronson M. Cutting for a Senate seat in 1934, but when Cutting was killed in 1935, Governor Clyde Tingley appointed Chávez to fill the vacant seat. He was elected to serve out the remainder of the unexpired term in 1936, and was re-elected in 1940, 1946, 1952, and 1958. He served as chairman, Committee on Post Office and Post Roads (79th Congress), Committee on Public Works (81st Congress-82nd Congress), and (84th Congress-87th Congress).

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Chavezstamp.jpg
Chávez appeared on a stamp in 1991 as a part of the the U.S. Postal Service's Great American Series.

Chávez was instrumental in improving higher educational facilities in New Mexico. He actively supported legislation to benefit farmers and protect New Mexico's share of water from the Colorado River. Chávez co-sponsored the Fair Employment Practices Commission Bill (FEPC) which would have eliminated discrimination based on race, religion, color, national origin or ancestry in the work place. When he called for a floor vote on the bill, a group of Southern Democrats began a filibuster which blocked the bill even though it had enough votes to pass. He was also involved with legislation pertaining to Indian affairs, and he was an advocate of the Good Neighbor Policy toward Latin America. He was a poker buddy of Harry Truman, supported Nuclear Submarines, NATO, worked tirelessly to keep Cannon Air Force Base from closing, created Cochiti Dam and the Navajo Irrigation Project, and devised funding for federal highways based on miles and not population.

In 1950 Chávez was among the first to express concern about his government’s methods of combating communism. From the floor of the Senate, Chávez criticized Senator Joseph McCarthy and his tactics. He called on the Senate to return to its standards of "decency, sanity and the basic principles of due process.” (Source: Dennis Chavez Foundation)

Chávez was the first native-born Hispanic elected to the U. S. Senate, and only the second Hispanic. It is important to remember Chávez was a minority in the Senate at a time when his nationality was regarded with contempt and racism by many. He was the first person born in New Mexico elected by the state to the Senate. At the time of his death, he was fourth ranking in Senate seniority. He died in Washington D. C. on November 18, 1962 and is buried at Mount Calvary Cemetery in Albuquerque. The Congress honored his memory with a minute of silence and then Vice-president Lyndon Johnson spoke at his funeral.

He accomplished many notable things, but the way New Mexicans remember him is perhaps the most impressive of all. He was New Mexico's first driving personality, arguably it's first real national voice as a state. People would travel dozens of miles in the state just to hear him speak. He always amazed them by remembering his constituent's names years after he met them. He was an endearing and warm figure who seemed driven in everything he did to help people.

Since his death, Chávez appeard on a commemorative stamp and is honored in the Capitol's Statuary Hall.

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Preceded by:
Bronson M. Cutting
Senator from New Mexico Succeeded by:
Edwin L. Mechem
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