Feb 9, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Transparency group wants insight on Luján

Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) , attends a rally with House and Senate Democrats to announce "A Better Deal" economic agenda in Berryville, Va.

Sen. Ben Ray Luján. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Getty

New Mexico's main transparency group is urging U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and his staff to release more information about his health following a stroke two weeks ago.

Why it matters: Luján is notoriously private, but a lack of health updates is making some New Mexico Democrats nervous about the future of his seat in a 50-50 Senate.

Driving the news: The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government said in a statement Tuesday that state residents have been "left confused and concerned" about the lack of information from the senator’s office.

  • "While all of us respect the family’s wishes for privacy during this stressful time, a balance must be struck between that privacy and the public’s right to know."
  • "Sen. Luján’s absence from the Senate is an issue of great public importance, particularly with a U.S. Supreme Court appointment on the horizon." 
  • The group said Luján’s staff and his treating physician should give daily briefings about his progress.

The intrigue: Last week, Luján's chief of staff Carlos Sanchez released a statement saying the senator checked himself into a Santa Fe, New Mexico, hospital the week before. Doctors determined he had a stroke in the back of his brain.

  • He underwent brain surgery to ease the swelling.
  • "At this time, he and his family would appreciate their privacy, and ask for your continued prayers and well wishes,” Sanchez said.
  • His office has given few updates since. His spokeswoman, Katherine Schneider, did not return an email or phone call from Axios on Wednesday.

Between the lines: Steven Mintz, an ethics professor emeritus at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, told Axios the public has a right to know what Luján's condition is on a timely basis, given important upcoming votes.

  • Luján also has an obligation to be honest with the public about his ability to do his job, and doctors should give public updates, Mintz said.
  • "Whether it's two months, four months, six months, there's no guarantee he'll be 100% capacity in terms of how sharp he will be, his ability to be involved in discussions, for example, on Supreme Court nominees."

Yes, but: Updates should not come from physicians, but his office, David Beyda, chair of the department of bioethics and medical humanism at the University of Arizona, told Axios.

  • "There's a difference between doing what is right and what is best. Doing what is right could be assumed that everything should be coming out of his office. ... They should be giving updates."
  • "However, you still have a person, a human being, who is entitled to dignity, who is entitled to respect, who is entitled to privacy in doing what's best."

Background: Luján, 49, a rising star in the Democratic Party, was elected to the Senate in 2020, becoming New Mexico's first Hispanic U.S. senator in 40 years.

  • Before coming to the Senate, he spent a dozen years in the U.S. House, where he rose to assistant House Democratic leader and became the highest-ranking Latino in Congress.
  • He's now one of three Mexican American U.S. senators and one of six Latinos in the Senate — the highest number in U.S. history.
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