A seat at the table is only good if you use it

  • Oct 10, 2011
  • ngpvanadmin

It was 2 am and as the last guest was leaving, he asked “are you sure that you don’t want me to stay with you guys?” They said “No, but thanks and we’ll let you know when we hear.” It had been a long night of listening to election returns and Roxanne Lara was barely ahead with the absentee and early votes still out. Roxanne and her husband headed to bed not knowing if she was going to be the next Eddy County Commissioner in District 5. Four hours later, Roxanne learned that she won by exactly 250 votes.

“I was thrilled to take my first steps as an elected public official in my community,” said Roxanne. “I had served on boards and commissions, in leadership roles, even as Chairman of the board for the Chamber of Commerce, but I had no idea what doors would open once I had won an election.” Roxanne knew the power of committees and quickly volunteered to be the commission representative on the finance committee and committees dealing with energy and economic development issues.

Sitting in a meeting, Roxanne looked around the room and realized she was one of two Latinos, one of three women and the youngest by far. “That did not deter me from participating in discussions,” said Roxanne, “I knew I was there representing the citizens of our county and if I didn’t speak for them, no one else would. But at the same time, I knew I had to take the economic development concerns of the community back to the county commission. It was a give and take situation and I was the conduit between the two. After all, a seat at the table is only good if you use it.”

Using the seat at the table was something instilled in Roxanne throughout her life. When she was young, both of her parents worked hard in their blue collar jobs, her father in the oilfields and her mother in a grocery store. Roxanne remembers how hard her parents worked to give her and her siblings an education. “Getting an education was more important and more valuable than anything my parents could give me,” said Roxanne. “Every grade we earned was scrutinized, not to be the best in the class but to be the best that we could do. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized how important it was to my mom and dad that we always did our very best and used every opportunity available. They firmly believed our success was directly linked to us reaching our full educational potential,” said Roxanne. “They just didn’t want us to have to work as physically hard as they did.”

Roxanne and her family were so proud when her father was appointed to the local school board. The night of his swearing in, Roxanne remembers gazing upon the portraits on the wall of the chambers and asking her dad if his picture would be on that wall. He said “No, mija, those are presidents.” The portraits were of past presidents of the school board. Roxanne’s father often commented that he was the only school board member without a college degree but that he had “street smarts” and had to bring that perspective to the table because no one else would. His street smarts served him well and today his portrait hangs on that wall.

Even though Roxanne was a teenager, her father took her with him to every political event and taught her how to network with people, not to advance herself but to learn who had strengths to help others in the community. Roxanne’s dad was known for his common sense approach to helping people resolve their issues. Through his networking, he was able to put the right people in touch to effect change. He taught Roxanne that every political issue affected people in a very real way at a local level and that an elected official was in a unique position to help people. “I remember people coming to our house on Saturday mornings to talk to my dad about their issues. They came to him because he was caring and accessible and they knew if anyone could help, he could,” Roxanne said. “I learned from my dad that serving the community as a true public servant was an important calling not to be taken lightly. I also learned that it was a temporary calling and that when given the opportunity to serve, you must use that service to do all the good you can, because one day it may be gone.”

Roxanne followed through with her education and completed her undergraduate work and law school. Upon graduation, she returned to her home community and went to work in the legal field and in serving the community. In 2005, Roxanne founded Lara Law Firm and was shortly thereafter awarded the Chamber of Commerce’s prestigious New Business of the Year award. She served on several boards and committees, including the Southeast NM Community Action Corporation, a five-county organization overseeing HeadStart and other community-minded programs. She also served on the hospital’s Board of Trustees and in leadership roles with AAUW, working for women’s equity in her community.

Roxanne graduated from Emerge NM in 2007 and announced her run for county commissioner a few short months later. Roxanne won both a contested primary and general races against popular, experienced men. The training that Emerge NM gave Roxanne helped her organize and strategize for her campaign, but she found the network to be most valuable. “The support of the Emerge network was critical to my success. The base camp for Emerge NM was located almost 300 miles away but Emerge was there for every step of my campaign,” said Roxanne. “Emerge assisted me in obtaining voter history and information. But more importantly, when I encountered issues in my campaign, Emerge was there with a Campaign Advisory Team teleconference to brainstorm how to overcome those issues. The Emerge network also put their money where their mouth was. In fact, when I announced my run, my first campaign contribution came from an Emerge board member.” After her win, Roxanne was awarded Emerging Woman Leader from Emerge NM.

Never taking her entire focus from her legal work, Roxanne served the state of NM as a guardian ad litem representing abused and neglected children for six years and volunteering as a mediator for the court system. In 2010, Roxanne was awarded the Best Lawyer in Carlsbad award.

In 2010, Roxanne was selected as one of two NM delegates to Vision 2020, a national endeavor aimed at reaching true women’s equality by 2020. “It is such an incredible honor to represent the women in my state in continuing the work of the suffragists,” said Roxanne. “I have focused my Vision 2020 work on getting more women in public office. Women just bring a different perspective to the table.”

Daily, Roxanne works on issues affecting women, energy and economic development. Serving as a Commission representative on the Eddy County-Lea County Energy Alliance and the national Energy Communities Alliance boards, Roxanne works on current and future issues in nuclear energy to find ways to reduce the country’s dependence on foreign oil and solve the country’s nuclear waste problem. Roxanne maintains a good relationship with the city fathers and serves the mayor as the Co-Chair for the City of Carlsbad’s Long-Term Planning Committee. This two-year task force will present to the city a long-term plan developed by the citizens of the community. Like her father, Roxanne keeps an open door to helping people solve their problems and lives each day with the intention to use the opportunity she has been given to serve the public good.

Roxanne Lara
Edy County Commissioner, District 5
Emerge New Mexico
Class of 2007