Former CNM Student Represents NM on National Stage at Democratic National Convention

Derrick Lente of Sandia Pueblo has been in the national spotlight after casting New Mexico’s nominating votes
August 26, 2020

When Derrick Lente—who grew up on Sandia Pueblo—graduated high school back in the 1990s he thought a regular day job was his only way forward. He never thought that 20 some years later, he’d not only be a successful lawyer, businessman, politician, and rancher, but also nationally famous.

Derrick is in the spotlight because New Mexico’s Democratic Party officials asked him to cast New Mexico’s nominating votes for president before a television audience during last week’s Democratic National Convention. Dressed in traditional pueblo clothing and standing in front of the Sandia Mountains, Derrick—who still lives at Sandia— introduced New Mexico’s tribes and pueblos and then added the delegate count: 42 for Joe Biden and 4 for Bernie Sanders.

“I knew from the minute they asked me that I wanted to provide some type of New Mexico feel to the presentation and give everyone in this state, regardless of where they live, a sense of pride about where they’re from,” Derrek says. “I’m really happy with the attention we got for our state.”

Derrick’s path to success starts in many ways at CNM, which was called Albuquerque Technical Vocational Institute when he started in 1997. In high school he says he thought of himself as a pueblo kid who wasn’t cut out for college. But then he enrolled in remedial classes at TVI and slowly improved his skills. Thanks to small class sizes and lots of support from his instructors, both his skills and confidence developed.

“If I would have gone straight to a four-year school I probably would have failed because I wasn’t prepared for the rigors of college,” he says. “But at TVI I was able to shed the stigma of being a kid from a pueblo and a small town and at the same time realize that I was smart enough and had the motivation to succeed in an academic setting.”

After leveling his skills at TVI, Derrick went on to get a BA and then a law degree from the University of New Mexico. He was hired by a firm right out of school, but the long hours of the job took away from his family.

“I was literally sitting at my desk from 7 a.m. until 8 or 9 p.m. at night, and when you have a three-year-old at home, that’s no way to be a parent,” he says. 

That’s when Derrick launched his own consulting business where he helped tribes across the country with everything from economic development to governmental affairs. He also started teaching an Indian Law class at UNM. As an aspiring entrepreneur, his next step was to buy a staffing agency with offices in Albuquerque and the west coast. He saw that company through the 2008 economic downturn and eventually grew it to over 4,000 employees. As the company grew, he was invited back to CNM to be the keynote speaker during the 2009 graduation. 

"If you would have told me 11 years ago that I would have been invited back to speak at the graduation ceremony, I would have never believed it," Derrick told the Journal in 2009 before his speech. 

A couple years later in 2013, the same company who sold Derrick his business offered to buy it back, so he sold. With the money, Derrick says he semi-retired, but also decided to farm. He’d grown up farming with his dad and wanted to “go back to my roots.” Today, Derrick grows alfalfa on land he owns on the pueblo and also runs cows on ranch land in other parts of the state. 

Farming takes part of Derrick’s time, and the rest he now spends as a local politician. Back in 2017 he was elected to the New Mexico House of Representatives and represents NM House District 65 which includes the counties of Rio Arriba, Sandoval, San Juan as well as seven Indian Pueblos (Cochiti, Jemez, Sandia, San Felipe, Santa Ana, Santo Domingo, Zia), the Navajo Nation Chapters of Counselors, Huerfano, Ojo Encino and Torreon, the Jicarilla Apache Nation and the towns of Bernalillo, Cochiti Lake, San Luis and San Ysidro.

Derrick says his priorities include education, the environment, and jobs. As someone who grew up on a pueblo and is familiar with rural the way of life in his district, Derrick says it’s been easy to connect with the communities he represents. 

 “I love being able to show up to meetings with my constituents while wearing my old busted cowboy boots,” he says. “I’m able to fit in and it’s been a blessing for me to work in this capacity [as a representative] for my neighbors.”

Looking back, Derrick says he’s glad he made the decision to attend TVI and thinks it fundamentally changed his path forward. His advice for anyone in his same shoes—people who might not think college is for them—is to give it a try. There’s plenty of support and almost nothing to lose.

“Attending CNM is an opportunity you can give yourself that could change your life,” he says. “That’s certainly what the college did for me.”