State Rep. Stephen Easley of Eldorado, a freshman legislator who represented a House district that included southeastern Santa Fe County, is dead. He was 60.
Details of his death on Wednesday were not immediately known. A Facebook page posting said Easley died of “complications related to an infection.”
Easley recently had been hospitalized. Santa Fe County Democratic Party Chairman Richard Ellenberg said Thursday, “I talked to him just a few days ago, and he was feeling strong and looking to be active after a stay in the hospital.”
A native of Indiana, Easley was elected as a Democrat last year to represent District 50, which stretches into Bernalillo, Torrance and Valencia counties. He quickly became known as a political progressive. As vice chairman of a subcommittee on behavioral health, he had been active in recent weeks, trying to find answers to questions sparked by the controversy over the state’s suspension of Medicaid funds for 14 mental health providers under investigation for possible fraud.
On his Facebook page, a nephew, Mark Easley, wrote, “He was a good man, kind and with a gentle heart he hid under snide humor during my childhood. … He was my Dad’s cohort and fellow adventurer. He was an explorer and a scientist. He was a loyal husband and father. He embraced new cultures and new lands far from his Indiana home and furthered the Easley name to new arenas.”
“He loved being in the Legislature more than anyone I’ve ever known,” said a colleague, Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe. “He was only able to serve one session, but he made his mark.”
State Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, agreed. “There was a twinkle in his eye when he talked about serving in the Legislature,” Wirth said. “He did an incredible job working for his constituents. Our districts overlapped in Eldorado, and we worked together to get capital outlay [funds] for projects in Eldorado.”
Wirth said he and Easley had been scheduled to meet Thursday to discuss a problem that one of Wirth’s constituents was having with the behavioral health upheaval. “He was really a point person for Santa Fe on behavioral health,” Wirth said.
House Speaker Kenny Martinez said in a statement Thursday, “Rep. Easley was concerned about the current crisis caused by the changeover in service providers for Behavioral Health Care, and wanted to insure the most vulnerable New Mexicans had adequate access. He was working until the very last minute to make sure that no one went without care. He was very concerned about that — which speaks volumes about his dedication to public service.”
Other lawmakers, Democrat and Republican, expressed shock and sympathy over Easley’s passing on Twitter and Facebook.
Besides the Behavioral Health Subcommittee, Easley also served on Taxation and Revenue and the Energy and Natural Resources committees.
One of the issues Easley was most passionate about was gun control. He introduced two gun bills this year — one to ban assault weapons and one to ban all firearms in the state Capitol. Neither passed.
Because Easley’s district includes more than one county, the boards of commissioners in all four counties will nominate possible replacements to serve out the remainder of Easley’s term. Gov. Susana Martinez make the appointment from among the nominees sent to her by the commissions.
Two of the counties, Santa Fe and Bernalillo, are controlled by Democrats. The other two, Valencia and Torrance, are controlled by Republicans. If Martinez, a Republican, picks a member of her party to take Easley’s place, that would change the makeup of the New Mexico House for the 2014 legislative session to 33 Republicans and 37 Democrats.
Whoever Martinez appoints would have to face election in 2014 in order to retain the seat. In District 50, Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 46 percent to 33 percent in voter registration as of July 31, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.
Before moving to Santa Fe, Easley served as an elected city commissioner in Alamogordo.
With a doctorate in biological anthropology, Easley had worked as a university professor, and later moved into the information technology industry and formed his own company.
Easley also worked for seven years in former Gov. Bill Richardson’s administration in a series of posts, including as deputy chief information officer.
Before his election to the Legislature, Easily served for eight years on the executive committee and board of the Santa Fe Railyard Community Corp., the nonprofit that manages the Santa Fe Railyard on behalf of the city of Santa Fe.
Easley is survived by his wife, Sue, two daughters and two granddaughters.
Funeral arrangements are pending. His Facebook page said, “a public memorial service will take place in the coming weeks. At this time, the family asks that you respect their privacy as they mourn the inestimable loss of their beloved husband, father, grandfather and friend.”