Leo Lucero, a Pueblo lawmaker who championed diversity and education during 14 years in the state House, died Sept. 24 at the age of 91.
Born in Boone, the Democrat joined the Marines after graduating from Centennial High School of Pueblo. Lucero earned his sergeant's stripes before heading back to school and serving as a teacher and administrator in Pueblo School District 60 for many years.
Lucero won a state House seat in 1970 and used his teaching credentials to become a leading voice on education issues. He headed the House education panel from 1975-76, successfully pushing for the renaming of the University of Southern Colorado (now Colorado State University-Pueblo), which had previously been known as Southern Colorado State College.
When the university took on the CSU name, Lucero didn’t like it, according to a 2001 Denver Post report. "I can't buy it," Lucero said. "CSU has a different role and mission. We're not compatible all. We're a teaching college serving all of southern Colorado, and they're a research university.”
He called the name misleading, pointing out that "USC draws students from Lamar to Trinidad to Walsenburg. This is a political decision, not an educational decision."
Lucero also used his House seat to fight for racial equality.
Lucero was part of a “walk out” of Gov. Richard Lamm’s 1975 inauguration, according to former lawmaker and Denver Mayor Wellington Webb.
In a 2012 letter to the editor at Urban Spectrum, Webb noted that “We were upset that Lamm had not appointed an African American to his cabinet. ...We spoke with Lt. George Brown, the first Black lieutenant governor, and Lamm and warned them if Lamm didn’t appoint one of the many qualified Black professionals to his cabinet, we’d walk out of his inauguration ceremony. He didn’t heed our advice, and we walked out.”
Webb added that Lamm more than made up for that initial fumble: he appointed a number of African Americans to his cabinet and to key board positions.
Lucero cast the deciding vote on who would become minority leader in the 1981-82 session, backing then-Rep. Federico Peńa, according to former Rep. Miller Hudson, now a columnist for Colorado Politics.
Lucero was a member of the “Nine Who Care” Hispanic caucus in the 1970s that also included Reps. Polly Baca, Ruben Valdez (later Speaker of the House, who passed away Tuesday), Paul Sandoval, Castro, Don Sandoval, Bob Martinez, Laura DeHerrera and Peńa, who went on to become Denver mayor and Secretary of Tranportation for the Clinton administration. The surviving members of the nine today are Baca, DeHerrera and Peńa.
Former state Sen. Rob Hernandez of Denver, whose father ran campaigns for some of the nine, told Colorado Politics that the group “voted as a bloc; that’s where their power was. All of them were activists as well as politicians and knew how to leverage power. They represented their communities for the common good and for the common good of the state.”
Lucero's legacy is remembered by lawmakers today.
“I am deeply saddened to hear of the recent passing of former Representative Leo Lucero," Senate President Leroy Garcia, who also hails from Pueblo, told Colorado Politics. "We followed similar paths in lives - serving in the Marine Corps, as educators, and as elected officials working to improve the lives of people in Pueblo and Southern Colorado. We are all inspired by his legacy of service to our state and community, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time.”
Former state Rep. Dennis Gallagher, said Lucero was also hard to miss at the General Assembly.
“He was an elegant dresser and a fashion icon at the Capitol,” Gallagher said.
Lucero is survived by his wife, Eleanor, and three of their four children: Cindy Bertolina, Judy Lucero and Gerald Lucero. Son Larry Lucero passed away in 2017. He is also survived by numerous grandchildren, great grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.
Lucero’s funeral is Saturday at 10 a.m. at St. Joseph Catholic Church of Pueblo. Internment will follow at Imperial Memorial Gardens and a reception will follow at the Imperial Funeral Home Reception Hall, both in Pueblo.