Monday, January 9, 2012

Family Politics

I wrote last week about an ancestor who served as a delegate to Congress and a representative in the territorial Legislature. Antonio Joseph, a distant cousin on the paternal side of my family, was a Democrat from Taos who later settled in Ojo Caliente. He championed many causes during his 10 years in Congress and as a legislator in Santa Fe. He is also considered the first person of Portuguese descent to serve as a delegate to Congress.

But he wasn’t the only ancestor who was involved in politics. And political activity hasn’t been limited to one party.  While both my Dad and I have been staunch Democrats, I remember how surprised I was when I first learned that my Grandpa Carlos Gallegos, a native of Las Vegas, was a staunch Republican. Grandpa’s brother, Clemente, also a World War II veteran, and his parents, were also Republicans. He was so committed to the GOP, my Dad used to say that Grandpa Carlos would probably roll over in his grave if he knew his son and grandson are Democrats. Can you imagine how Grandpa Carlos, who died in 1980, would react if he knew his grandson served for eight years in a Democratic gubernatorial administration? Hopefully, he would have been proud of me, though he probably would have had to bite his tongue.

My Grandma Rise, Grandpa Carlos’ wife, was a Democrat, just like her father, Antonio DeTevis, and just like Antonio’s uncle, Antonio Joseph. Great-Grandpa Tony was so committed to the party, he would drive Democrats to the polls on election day, since he was one of the few Democrats in Las Vegas who had a vehicle at the time. Grandma Rise said that Grandpa Carlos persuaded her to switch her party affiliation from Democrat to Republican in 1980 to vote for Ronald Reagan. She said Grandpa was worried what people, namely his family, might think of them if Grandma didn’t vote for Reagan. However, my grandpa died rather suddenly that same year. Grandma said she later changed her party registration back to Democrat.

On my Mom’s side of the family, party politics goes back even further – to the mid-1800s. My Great-Great-Great Grandfather, Gregorio N. Otero, a Civil War veteran, served as a Republican in the territorial Legislature. He even served as Speaker of the House of Representatives, which I will write about later because that is a story in itself. Gregorio Otero represented Valencia County in the House from 1863 to 1873; served in state Council (the precursor to the Senate) between 1878 and 1882; and served again in the House in 1890. I believe he was related to Miguel Antonio Otero, who served as Territorial Governor from 1897 through 1906.

Gregorio’s son, my Great-Great Grandfather Melquiades T. Otero, was elected as Valencia County Assessor. I’m not sure of his party affiliation or the exact dates he served, but I found a letter he wrote to a prominent Belen merchant on his Assessor letterhead, dated March 21, 1900.

The Oteros were on the maternal side of my Grandpa Louis Chavez’s family. Despite the Republican history, Grandpa Louie was a proud Democrat, which he attributed to President Roosevelt and the Neal Deal. I’m not sure about the Chavez family’s political leanings, because his father and two brothers all died at a young age.

My Grandma, Lola (Gallegos) Chavez stayed away from talk about politics. But her own father, my Great-Grandfather Jose Pablo Gallegos, was a Democrat who was elected and served as Sheriff of Valencia County from 1931 to 1932. He made headlines in his hometown of Grants when he killed an infamous gunslinger during a shootout with bandits who tried to rob a local store.

One of my Grandma’s brothers, Merced Gallegos, served on the Grants City Council.

I’ll wrap up this post with a letter that Gregorio Otero wrote to a fellow Republican in 1886, protesting a recent party convention and what appears to have been a case of favoritism in the allocation of employees within the county. A friend of mine, Juan Massey, translated the letter to English.

Cubero, NM, October 15, 1886

Mr. Pilar Baca, Belen, NM

Dear Sir:
As is well known in the Republican Convention of this County (party of which I have been a member throughout the political history of this territory and which I still belong to), having attended said convention as a delegate for this precinct, I refused nevertheless to get involved in the nominations due to the incorrect and improper way adopted to conduct them, especially in this XVIII Century of so-called Enlightenment.  Now, with regard to the free will of the county as pertains to its employees, I wish to cooperate with the actions of our sovereign People, free from cliques and demagoguery; and feeling this way I have cooperated with the actions of this precinct from which I have received the nomination as delegate to the aforementioned People's Convention, which I bestow on you as my proxy so that you may attend in my lieu.   

I have expressed before to one of the gentlemen who lead the movement, Mr. J. Felipe Chaves the feeling in these precincts regarding the employees and the number of them, which without a doubt and considering our increased population should be allocated in a fair proportion.  As relates to who they should be, this should be left to the good judgment of the Convention.  Let their knowledge of the inclinations of one or two of these people suffice to make a decision.  This is how I expect you to act on by behalf.

Gregorio Otero

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