About Dennis Chávez, U.S. Senator
Dionisio "Dennis" Chavez (April 8, 1888 – November 18, 1962) was a Democratic politician from the U.S. state of New Mexico who served in the United States House of Representatives from 1931 to 1935, and in the United States Senate from 1935 to 1962.
Chavez was born in Los Chaves, Valencia County, New Mexico. His parents, David and Paz Chavez, were members of families that had lived in Los Chaves for generations. In 1895, David Chavez moved his family to the Barelas section of Albuquerque where Dennis attended school until financial hardships necessitated that he 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, Chavez 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' election 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.
Early political career
In 1922, Chavez was elected to the New Mexico state legislature, but he did not seek another term. In 1930, he was elected to New Mexico's one at-large seat in the United States House of Representatives as a Democrat, and was re-elected in 1932. Chavez served as chairman of the House Committee on Irrigation and Reclamation. He did not seek re-election to the House in 1934, becoming a candidate for the United States Senate.
Chavez was the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from New Mexico in 1934. He lost narrowly to Republican incumbent Bronson M. Cutting. However, Cutting was killed in an airplane crash on May 6, 1935, and five days later, Chavez was appointed to fill the vacancy pending a special election. In 1936, Chavez was elected to the remaining four years of Cutting's term, and then won a full term of his own in 1940, becoming the first person of Hispanic descent to be elected to a full term in the U.S. Senate. (Octaviano Larrazolo, also from New Mexico, was the first Hispanic to be elected to the Senate, but he was only elected to the remainder of an unexpired term and never served a full term.) Chavez was re-elected again in 1946, 1952 and 1958, and served until his death in 1962. He served as chairman of the Committee on Public Works from 1949 to 1953, and again from 1955 until his death.
Chavez died of a heart attack in Washington, D.C. on November 18, 1962, and was buried at Mount Calvary Cemetery in Albuquerque. Congress honored his memory with a minute of silence, and then-Vice-President Lyndon Johnson spoke at his funeral. At the time of his death, he was fourth-ranking in Senate seniority.
Chavez, only the second-ever Hispanic member of the U.S. Senate, was the first U.S.-born Hispanic elected to the Senate (Octaviano Larrazolo was born in Mexico). He was also the first person born in New Mexico elected by the state to the Senate. By a large margin, he is the longest-serving Hispanic U.S. senator.
He was honored by the United States Postal Service with a 35¢ Great Americans series (1980–2000) postage stamp.
A granddaughter, Gloria Tristani, followed in public service, serving as chair of the New Mexico State Corporations Commission in 1996, as a member of the Federal Communications Commission from 1997 to 2001, and as the Democratic nominee for New Mexico's other U.S. Senate seat in 2002.