Hector Balderas, 37, was elected State Auditor of New Mexico in 2006, making him the youngest Hispanic statewide elected official in the United States at age 33.
On taking office, Balderas worked to change the longstanding perception among state agencies that their expenditures would go unexamined and that mistakes and misconduct would be allowed to slide. Despite a limited budget, a small staff, and widespread resistance from agencies uncomfortable with having their books scrutinized, Balderas fought to create a culture of accountability in New Mexico.
Soon after being sworn in as State Auditor, Balderas hired, for the first time, investigators dedicated solely to handling complaints of fraud in state and local government. During his time as State Auditor, Balderas has expanded the fraud unit from one employee to eight, and has initiated hundreds of investigations into the potential misuse of taxpayer funds. Balderas also set up a fraud hotline and conducted numerous audits of suspected embezzlement and fraud by state and local employees.
Balderas has taken on the powers-that-be in both parties, which has earned him respect from across the political spectrum. Balderas and his auditors uncovered systemic abuse and mismanagement in New Mexico’s regional housing authorities, prompting a criminal investigation and calls for an overhaul of the entire system. They also revealed severe mismanagement of federal voter education funds by the former Secretary of State, part of a wide-ranging investigation that ultimately resulted in the former Secretary’s indictment in an embezzlement and money-laundering scheme.
Prior to his election as State Auditor, Balderas served in the New Mexico House of Representatives and as a prosecutor in the Albuquerque District Attorney’s office. He holds a J.D. from the University of New Mexico and a B.S. in political science from New Mexico Highlands University. Balderas was re-elected to a second term as State Auditor on November 2, 2010.
Remarks by Caroline Kennedy
I am thrilled to be here to present the 2010 New Frontier Awards in the presence of so many people who are answering the call to public service. I want to join David McKean in extending a very warm welcome to the newly elected members of the United States Congress, who have made a special effort to join us here before they begin their important work in Washington. We’re honored to have each and every one of you with us tonight, and we hope you will come back often.
The New Frontier Awards celebrate the simple idea that you’re never too young to make a difference for your community or for your country. These awards mean a great deal to all of us in the Kennedy family. As we mark the 50th anniversary of my father’s Presidency, we honor the contributions of those who still hear his call to service and who give voice to his hope that all Americans will be participants, not spectators, in our civic life. These awards are special because they unite two institutions – the Institute of Politics and the Kennedy Library Foundation – that animate my father’s legacy and celebrate the public values he held dear. The New Frontier Awards are a testament to my father’s passionate belief in the power of public service to change people’s lives for the better.
Tonight we honor Hector Balderas and Lateefah Simon, two remarkable young leaders on our own New Frontier. Hector and Lateefah demonstrate by example that the solutions to big problems often begin with one person who is willing to act. Hector Balderas is showing us how bold leadership can make state government work more effectively for its citizens. Lateefah Simon is giving hope to thousands of families who are struggling to overcome the challenges of poverty and discrimination. Hector and Lateefah embody the public values my father lived by, and their commitment to public service is making a difference for all of us.
I am pleased now to present Hector Balderas with the New Frontier Award for elective public service. This award is also called the Fenn Award, in honor of Dan Fenn, who worked in my father’s administration and was the first director of the Kennedy Presidential Library. Dan Fenn is with us tonight, and I’d like to ask him to stand for a moment and be recognized.
As the State Auditor of New Mexico, Hector Balderas is restoring public confidence in government at a critical time in our democracy. When he took over the Auditor’s office in 2006, Hector set out to restore transparency and accountability in state agencies that controlled more than $60 billion dollars in government assets. Despite a small budget and a lack of cooperation from entrenched powers unaccustomed to fiscal oversight, Hector initiated a broad range of innovative programs and investigations to combat fraud throughout New Mexico’s state agencies. Although his efforts have often been met with skepticism and resistance inside government, they have earned him praise from both Republicans and Democrats who respect his commitment to government accountability. Hector Balderas is bringing bold change to state government by giving its citizens the tools to ensure that it serves their interests. I am delighted to ask Hector Balderas to come up and accept the 2010 New Frontier Award.
(award presentation to Hector Balderas)
At 16, Lateefah Simon was working full-time at a fast-food restaurant and struggling to stay off the streets of San Francisco when she began volunteering with a local organization to help other girls who were struggling like she was. Within three years, Lateefah was the 19-year-old executive director in charge of the Center for Young Women’s Development, an innovative organization that provides peer counseling and other tools to help young girls avoid the traps of drugs, prostitution and crime. Over the next eleven years, Lateefah helped thousands of young women lift themselves out of lives of poverty and anguish while she built the center into a powerfully effective community organization. She didn’t stop to rest when, at just 26 years old, she received a MacArthur “Genius” grant for her extraordinary work at the center. Nor did she rest when the San Francisco District Attorney asked her to help launch several innovative programs to prevent troubled teenagers from becoming repeat offenders. Now at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, Lateefah is bringing hope and inspiration to people of all ages who are struggling to overcome poverty and discrimination. We look to her inspiring example with admiration and gratitude. Please join me in welcoming Lateefah Simon to the stage to accept the 2010 John F. Kennedy New Frontier Award.
(award presentation to Lateefah Simon)
Remarks by Caroline Kennedy as prepared for delivery.