Long-time New Mexico state senator and Navajo Code Talker John Pinto died Friday morning. He was 94. The longest serving member of the Senate, Pinto represented District 3, which includes a large section of western New Mexico. He served in the U.S. Marines as a Navajo Code Talker and went on to work as a teacher. Pinto was first elected in 1977 and hitchhiked from Gallup to Santa Fe for his first day in the Senate.
Eight Senate Democrats joined with Republicans Thursday evening to defeat a measure that would have removed a currently non-enforceable ban on abortion. State Representatives Joanne Ferrary, D-Las Cruces, and Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque, sponsored House Bill 51. which would repeal a 1969 state law which made both performing and receiving an abortion fourth-degree felonies, except with special permissions. The law is currently unenforceable because of the landmark Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision which federally recognized the right to have an abortion. “We’re terribly disappointed,” Ferrary said.
State Sen. John Pinto, a 94-year-old Democrat from Gallup, has long wanted to build a Navajo Code Talkers Museum and Visitors Center in New Mexico to honor the service of about 400 Navajo servicemen who used their language skills to pave the way for the invasion of the Japanese islands in World War II. On Friday, his dream finally came closer to reality when Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham pledged $500,000 for the museum and senators from both political parties anted up another $526,000 out of their allotted capital outlay for construction and infrastructure projects. “If we don’t tell this story, it will be lost, and this is a story that we cannot lose,” Lujan Grisham said during a news conference to announce the deal. Pinto expressed elation and shook the governor’s hand before teaching her some Navajo words to use when she is eating chicken. Navajo Code Talker and former Navajo Nation Tribal Chairman Peter MacDonald, who joined Pinto and Lujan Grisham at the event, said the greatest contribution the Code Talkers made was to “save hundreds, thousands of lives in the war in the Pacific.”
New Mexico’s governor and other statewide elected officials would get 15 percent raises starting in 2023, under a bill approved Thursday by the state Senate. The proposal, Senate Bill 547, next goes to the House of Representatives for consideration. The state’s five public regulation commissioners, who are elected from districts, also would receive 15 percent increases. Salaries for the governor and other statewide elected officials were last increased in 2002. Sens.
A 94-year-old state senator’s dream to open a Navajo Code Talkers Museum and Veterans Center on Navajo land in McKinley County may finally become a reality with the help of a few of his friends. Senators from both political parties have agreed to provide some of their own allotment of capital outlay money for the project, Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, said Friday. “He’s the longest-serving member in the Senate, and this is a project he’s been working on for a long time,” Wirth said. Pinto has been a senator since 1977. “It’s such an amazing honor to serve with a World War II veteran and a Navajo Code Talker on top of that,” Wirth said.
President Donald Trump made a number of remarks during an event honoring Navajo Code Talkers that have drawn condemnation. Trump met with three Navajo Code Talkers in the Oval Office, in front of a portrait of Andrew Jackson. Jackson was the president responsible for the Trail of Tears, a brutal removal of Native Americans from lands in the South. In all, thousands of children, women and men died and tens-of-thousands were displaced to make way for more slave plantations. There, he insulted a U.S. Senator calling her “Pocahontas.”
At the event, three Navajo Code Talkers attended the White House event and asked the federal government to create a museum dedicated to the role Code Talkers undertook during World War II.
One of the annual traditions that Legislative watchers look to every year is the singing of “The Potato Song.” Each year, Sen. John Pinto, D-Gallup, tells the story about how he and other Navajos training to be Code Talkers during World War II won a contest about the best song at boot camp. As Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, said later, he heard the prize was a case of beer and a day off of training. While Pinto trained to be a Navajo Code Talker with the U.S. Marines, World War II ended before he would be sent overseas. The singing came after the Senate unanimously approved Senate Joint Memorial 15, which calls on U.S. Congress to appropriate money to build a museum honoring Code Talkers.
Sen. John Pinto was honored in front of the joint session of the New Mexico Legislature on Friday, which was American Indian Day at the legisalture. The legislators presented Pinto with a certificate honoring him and recounted his time as a Code Talker to his famous story of hitchhiking to his first legislative session in 1977. He was picked up, as Rep. Roger Madalena, D-Jemez Pueblo, recounted by Manny Aragon in Bernalillo. Aragon was another newly-elected state senator who went on to be one of the most powerful political figures in the state. Pinto was trained as Code Talker, but World War II ended before he was deployed.