EDUCATION: Bachelor’s degree, mechanical engineering, University of Missouri, 1995.
OCCUPATION: New Mexico natural resources trustee, 2006-07; principal, Heinrich Consulting, 2002-05; executive director, Cottonwood Gulch Foundation, 1996-2001.
FAMILY: Wife, Julie; two sons.
EXPERIENCE: U.S. representative, 1st Congressional District, 2009-present; Albuquerque City Council, 2003-07, one term as council president.
By Michael Coleman/ Journal Staff Writer
In Washington’s hyperpartisan political climate, most Republicans and Democrats hardly know one another, much less work together. But Rep. Martin Heinrich said it doesn’t have to be that way.
The two-term Albuquerque congressman and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate said that, if elected, he would try to emulate the across-the-aisle style of the man he hopes to replace, retiring Sen. Jeff Bingaman.
“I still think it’s possible to work across party lines to solve problems that are very real for New Mexicans,” Heinrich said in a Journal interview. “In this partisan environment, it’s more difficult, but if you get to know people, you can work with people who aren’t in the same party.”
Heinrich has mostly avoided high-profile dust-ups with Republicans. However, they routinely criticize his votes in support of President Barack Obama’s agenda, whether on health care, energy or the environment.
Heinrich said helping to find a new mission for the New Mexico Air National Guard’s 150th Fighter Wing in 2009 is perhaps his greatest accomplishment as a U.S. House member, and one that required Republican support. The wing — often referred to as the “Tacos” — dodged Pentagon budget cuts and is now part of the 58th Special Operations Wing at Kirtland Air Force Base. It no longer has a flying mission, and all of the F-16 Fighting Falcons have been assigned to other Guard units, but Heinrich said he is happy the wing still exists.
“That was something really meaningful, and I still get people who just walk up spontaneously and say ‘thank you’ for that,” Heinrich told the Journal.
At the same time, some Republicans — including former Rep. Heather Wilson— have argued that more effective representation would have kept the Tacos off the chopping block altogether.
The other achievement Heinrich cited was helping persuade Congress to include the long-sought Indian Health Care Improvement Act in the sweeping health care bill Obama signed into law in 2010.
“That was something that had been out there for 12-14 years in Congress,” Heinrich said. “The negotiations to get that passed as part of health reform was a real coup for New Mexico.”
Heinrich, a 40-year-old husband and father of two young boys, hopes his four years of House experience will persuade New Mexico voters to elect him to a seat in the U.S. Senate.
Trail to Congress
The son of a utility company lineman and a factory seamstress, Heinrich came to New Mexico after graduating from the University of Missouri. He took a job doing mechanical drawings at an Albuquerque laboratory but soon went to work for AmeriCorps, then-President Bill Clinton’s public service initiative aimed at recent college graduates. In 1996, he took a job with the Cottonwood Gulch Foundation in Albuquerque, a nonprofit that aims to get youths connected with the outdoors.
He won election to the City Council in 2003, representing Albuquerque’s Southeast Heights, and served as council president in 2006. Heinrich was elected to the Albuquerque-based 1st Congressional District seat in 2008.
Although named the “most beautiful” person on Capitol Hill in 2009 by The Hill newspaper, Heinrich has maintained a relatively low profile on the Washington scene. A hunting and camping enthusiast, Heinrich spends most weekends in New Mexico and sleeps in his Capitol Hill office on a camping mat during his weeks in Washington, using the House gym to shower.
Although he is frequently labeled a liberal by Republican detractors, the National Journal — a weekly, Washington-based publication — analyzed votes and found that Heinrich was the 146th-most liberal member of the House, putting him in the middle of Democrats in that chamber.
In the Journal interview, Heinrich said the health care overhaul that Obama signed into law in 2010 should not be repealed. The law includes a mandate requiring most individuals to obtain health insurance by 2014, a controversial provision now under consideration by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“If there is something that isn’t working, let’s change it,” Heinrich said of the overall health care law. “But I absolutely am not going to go back to the days when insurance companies could deny people coverage because of a pre-existing condition or cancel people with coverage on the way into the operating room.”
Asked what parts of the new law he would fix, Heinrich said it’s too early to tell.
As for Medicare, Heinrich said the program should be retooled to pay doctors based on positive results as opposed to simply paying them per procedure.
“If I have a criticism of health care reform, it’s that we didn’t address the way we pay doctors and the way we pay other health care providers,” Heinrich said. “We need to be (offering incentives) for outcomes and not more procedures. That has the potential to really reduce Medicare costs, and I think it’s the right way.”
Need for new revenue
Heinrich called the federal debt and deficit a “substantial problem” that should be corrected by adopting a “pay-as-you-go” federal budget system.
“We shouldn’t put all the burden of balancing the budget on the backs of our seniors,” Heinrich said. “We need to have some shared responsibility.”
He said personal income tax cuts enacted during the George W. Bush administration, as well as wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, erased a federal budget surplus. Eradicating the national debt, he said, will require tax hikes on the wealthiest Americans.
“We’re going to have to increase revenues, especially on the people who are doing incredibly well in this economy, and we’re going to have to be willing to have some across-the-board cuts in social programs,” Heinrich said.
Asked what he would suggest cutting, Heinrich declined to cite specifics but pointed out that he voted for the debt-reduction deal Obama signed into law last year. That agreement required military and civilian budget cuts, including reductions to Medicare providers, but not recipients, if additional deficit reductions were not agreed to by Nov. 23.
Energy, immigration and labs
On the energy policy front, Heinrich says he supports a diversified supply. He said his position on the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico reflects Obama’s own stance, which would allow for expedited permitting for the U.S. portion of the pipeline but continued blocking of permits to link it with the Canadian portion.
“Trying to put all our eggs in the basket of tar sands production in Canada, to me that’s a step backward,” Heinrich said. “It’s a dirtier fuel than what we’ve been producing in places like New Mexico. It’s not domestic, and I think we should be moving toward more domestic production and cleaner fuels wherever we can.”
On immigration policy, Heinrich supports a “path to citizenship” for the roughly 12 million people currently in America illegally as long as they pass criminal background checks and meet other requirements. He also supports the DREAM Act, which would allow children of illegal immigrants to attain citizenship after high school graduation.
As for New Mexico’s nuclear laboratories, Heinrich said they should expand their missions beyond traditional nuclear weapons science to help them remain viable in an age of federal spending cuts.
“I think the national labs should be broadly defined as national security labs — not just nuclear labs but all the security issues that our nation faces today,” he said. “That includes energy security, water security, and it includes the nuclear deterrent. Where you get in trouble is when you don’t have that kind of diversity.”