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Constituents are at center of Martin Heinrich’s work
This is the first of two profiles of the candidates running for Congress in Central New Mexico. Look for our story about Jon Barela early next week.
In 2009, right after he first got to Washington D.C. for his first term, Congressman Martin Heinrich was glad to see that while the setting was further away, his work wasn’t detached at all from the constituents who had been at the core of his work throughout his term on Albuquerque’s City Council.
His office was flooded with calls and letters from people who were “taking it on the chin” from credit card companies that were raising rates, changing due dates, and imposing new fees. Of special concern, he told The Independent in an interview, were seniors living on fixed incomes who were struggling to weather the recession’s impact on their investment income.
“One of the very first things we worked on was completely and totally relevant to our constituents,” he said of credit card reform. “It wasn’t detached; it wasn’t that Washington was doing something that doesn’t matter to Albuquerque. We got so many calls. It was nice to know that the things we were working on right out of the gate had such a direct, meaningful application for a lot of our constituents.”
Such constituent work for a new legislator is often about finding opportunities, Heinrich said. Heinrich is most proud of several accomplishments: pinpointing a new mission for the 150th Fighter Wing at Kirtland Air Force Base, also known as the “Tacos,” fighting to include the Indian Health Care Improvement Act in the health care reform bill, which he supported; and co-sponsoring PAYGO legislation that requires government to pay for tax cuts and spending as it goes.
That PAYGO legislation is meant to help reduce the deficit and ultimately balance the budget.
“The deficit can be laid at the feet of two wars, two huge tax cuts, and the creation of Medicare Part D, which is a great program but wasn’t paid for when it was passed,” he said. “So, in the future, it’s important that the Congress operate under PAYGO rules.”
With a wife and two young children in Albuquerque, Heinrich flies back and forth to D.C. every week. He usually catches an early flight Monday morning flight and then flies back “as soon as the votes are over,” which can be Thursday or Saturday.
“It’s a defective genetic,” Heinrich riffed when asked why he keeps such a grueling schedule.
“I’ve always really enjoyed how policy decisions trickle through and have real world impacts for people,” he said. “That’s what makes all the effort, and all the time away from your family, and all the time on the plane, totally worthwhile.”
That work isn’t made any easier by rampant partisanship in D.C., though, which Heinrich says is a serious problem. And he lays much of it at the feet of the Republican Party. Throughout our interview, Heinrich referenced legislation that had passed the House but was languishing in the Senate due to rules that require 60 votes before a final vote can be taken on a bill.
“The Republican leadership in this environment has made a cynical bet that if they can make the Democrats lose, they win. But the collateral damage in that kind of approach is the American people. Partisanship is one of our greatest challenges.”
The Economy: Small businesses and green jobs
Heinrich is running against local Republican businessman Jon Barela, and the economy has emerged as the central battleground in the campaign. Heinrich says the country has made great strides since his inauguration just under two years ago, but still has a lot of work to do.
The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act dollars pumped into the economy in 2009 pulled the country back from what was potentially a “depression level, long term, multiple quarters of negative economic growth,” Heinrich said, and in that respect, positive economic growth shows the strategy worked.
But economic growth doesn’t necessarily translate to jobs, which is why it’s critical to get capital into the hands of small businesses, Heinrich continued.
“When small businesses hire, it ripples through the economy,” he said. “It’s the thing that moves the needle the furthest, although it doesn’t make the news like big companies opening.”
Heinrich criticized Republicans in the Senate for holding up a small business jobs bill that House Democrats passed earlier this year. The bill would employ variety of mechanisms to reduce the taxes paid by small businesses, and it would provide $30 billion–all of which is paid for, Heinrish said–to the smallest community banks, as a lending fund for small businesses.
“I hear from small businesses in Albuquerque who want to grow, but can’t get the capital,” Heinrich said. “If we can get this done, it would be very meaningful.”
After this interview was conducted, movement came on the Senate companion bill, when two Republican Senators broke ranks with their party.
In addition to a focus on small business, Heinrich hasn’t lost his enthusiasm for clean energy development as a key economic opportunity.
Policies like New Mexico’s renewable portfolio standard and the stimulus dollars that were pumped into the clean energy sector have helped New Mexico get a leg up on other states when it comes to clean energy companies, he said. He thinks a national renewable portfolio standard would drive similar national growth.
Heinrich also thinks its imperative to rein in carbon dioxide emissions, which are the main culprits behind global warming, to save the environment, to increase national security, and to incentivize creation of clean energy sources and the jobs that follow. How that happens is open for discussion, he said.
“I’m a believer that we have to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions. I’m not an ideologue on what structure you use, but I don’t think we can continue to not lead.”
“If we don’t create these jobs here, they’ll be created [elsewhere],” he said. “It’s the right thing to do morally, to make sure our kids are inheriting the planet they deserve. It’s a huge opportunity, both for jobs and to free us from the many security challenges we have nationwide. If you look at where the energy we use comes from, they’re not the friendliest places in the world.”
The U.S. needs to be smarter and more judicious in deploying military might
When it comes to national security and the future of institutions like Sandia National Lab and Kirtland Air Force Base, Heinrich’s perspective has been developed through his membership in the Armed Services Committee.
Noting that Sandia National Laboratory and Kirtland Air Force combined are the single biggest economic driver in Albuquerque, Heinrich said that there are a lot of exciting aspects of work in the military sector that are non-combat related. Many of the missions today position Kirtland well to expand in the future, he said. And national labs like Sandia view their role more broadly, shifting from a nuclear security to a broader national security scope.
“Sandia was sort of the prototype for that,” he said, “looking at other issues, from energy security, producing renewables, and things like modeling water security.”
But when it comes to combat and conflict zones, the U.S. needs to be smarter and more judicious about when to deploy forces overseas, he said.
“What that effort [Iraq] cost us in lives and treasure, it was enormous. We need to be very judicious …and when we are in combat or conflict areas, we need to get the job done and come home. We need to be completely focused on the effort.”
Heinrich used Afghanistan as an example of what not to do. When the U.S. went into Afghanistan in 2001, “everyone knew why we went in,” he said. But by 2003 too many people, whose job it was to focus on it, had forgotten about it due to an overwhelming focus on Iraq. Consequently, the U.S. is still in Afghanistan.
To end that involvement, big military bases aren’t the answer, he said. The key to getting out of Afghanistan is a counter insurgency strategy that develops a military and local police force. To do that, engagement with local communities and education are critical.
“We need to empower them and get out. It won’t be perfect, but the strategy moving forward.”