Peace Means Respect for the Rights of Others
By Mary Branham, CSG Managing Editor
Raúl Burciaga’s leadership philosophy fits well with his position as director of New Mexico’s nonpartisan Legislative Council Service.
“It’s very important to respect any other person’s opinion, perspective, background, expertise,” Burciaga said. “It goes beyond simply understanding or being tolerant. It really is about recognizing where individuals come from and why individuals have a particular position on something.”
Burciaga, a 2012 CSG Toll Fellow, didn’t just come to this philosophy out of necessity. His mother, Maria Guadalupe, often shared a quote from Mexican President Benito Juarez, who served from 1858 to 1872: “Between individuals, as between nations, peace means respect for the rights of others.”
“The idea,” Burciaga said, “is that you listen to other people, you respect other people and if you can talk things through, you will have peace. There’s no need to argue, or at least not argue violently.”
As director of New Mexico’s Legislative Council Service, Burciaga doesn’t offer his opinion about what legislators should or should not do. Instead, he and his staff offer objective and unbiased information.
“From a leadership perspective, it’s important to look at all sides of an issue,” he said. “It’s not just two sides of a coin, because there are extremes in any philosophy, but there are also a lot of people who straddle the middle.”
In fact, he says one of the best compliments he ever received came from a friend at the University of New Mexico law school. “She said I was the best fence sitter she ever knew,” he said. “That fits perfectly with the job I have now.
“We want to help every side present the best possible solution to any given piece of legislation or policy initiative that they think about.”
While it’s part of the job, that respect for other views came from a very early age. His parents’ philosophies always included being respectful and listening to other people. His parents also instilled in him the need for a good education. He and his wife, Marty, have instilled that same belief in their two children, Michael and Marisa, and a granddaughter, Samantha.
Burciaga’s parents emigrated from Mexico and his father, Jose Cruz, worked as a janitor. Still, his parents put Burciaga and his siblings through private Catholic schools. He initially attended the University of Texas at El Paso. He later moved to Albuquerque and finished his degree at Chapman University, which had a satellite campus there.
Then, at age 42, Burciaga decided to change careers and go to law school. He was working at Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Mexico, primarily on Medicare and Indian health service contracts. It was the early 1990s, and then-President Bill Clinton was working to reform the health care system at the national level.
“I decided I wanted to do something similar,” he said.
Burciaga had long been interested in health care policy, and thought law school would provide a good grounding for looking at health care as a policy area.
He calls health care the most complex policy area, bar none.
“It affects everyone, literally, from cradle to grave, from birth to burial,” Burciaga said. “Even before birth. People talk about the need for prenatal care and how important that is. Nowadays, especially with baby boomers getting older, end-of-life care becomes very important. not just from a health perspective, but from a biomedical ethics perspective about what is appropriate care for somebody in the last stages of life.”
The Legislative Council Service hired him when he graduated law school.
“I like to joke it was because I knew the difference between Medicare and Medicaid, which a lot of policymakers still struggle with,” he said.
Burciaga began by staffing a number of health committees for the legislature and later was promoted to assistant director of drafting services.
“I had to slowly give up a little of that health care policy area that so fascinated me,” he said.
When longtime director Paula Tackett retired in June, 2010, Burciaga was promoted to Legislative Council Service director.
“It’s quite an honor because in the 60 years that this agency has been existence, I’m only the fourth director,” he said.
The Legislative Council Service is not only nonpartisan, but it also is confidential. “That’s key and that’s important to maintaining that free exchange of ideas,” he said. It allows legislators time to “be able to walk through what can be done to better the state without getting mired in the public debate that unfortunately can get awfully polarized these days.”
That goes back to the Juarez quote.
“You can usually come up with some agreement, some compromise without becoming so polarized that there’s no action,” he said “If you get pulled in two opposite and equal directions, you’re not going anywhere.”