2012 campaign boasted he hadn’t ‘gone Washington’
WASHINGTON – In a move possibly fraught with political peril but one he insists is right for his family and New Mexico, Sen. Martin Heinrich last week moved his wife and two young sons from Albuquerque to suburban Washington, D.C.
The New Mexico Democrat told the Journal he and his wife, Julie, bought a house in Silver Spring, Md. – a bedroom community seven miles from Capitol Hill – and moved in this week. The decision to relocate from New Mexico was “absolutely” a difficult one, Heinrich said. But he insisted it will better serve not only his family, but his New Mexico constituents.
“We love the state so much that for a long time it just didn’t even cross my mind to move the kids,” Heinrich said in his Capitol Hill office this week. “But when you hear your kids raising the fact that you are not spending enough time together. … I’m looking forward to being hopefully a better dad and a better senator as a result of this arrangement. I think we can make that work.”
Heinrich’s decision comes less than a year after his 2012 Senate campaign ran an ad boasting that he hadn’t “gone Washington” in part because he slept on a camping mat in his U.S. House office instead of relocating to the nation’s capital.
Since he was first elected to the U.S. House in 2008, Heinrich has shuttled back and forth between New Mexico and Washington almost every week. The lawmaker, who was elected to the U.S. Senate last year, worked on Capitol Hill during the week and flew home to New Mexico on Thursday nights or Friday mornings. Most weekends, he would devote Saturdays to meeting with constituents and Sundays to time with his family, before returning to Washington on Monday.
Heinrich said he will keep a home he owns near Kirtland Air Force Base and use it as a base for working in the state. Now his trips to New Mexico will be strictly business, Heinrich said.
“It actually allows me to work more days in the state,” Heinrich said, noting that as a senator he is responsible for all of New Mexico, not just Albuquerque. “I hope that we’ve figured out a way for one, me to be a good dad, but also be a better senator, and make sure I get around the whole state.”
Former Sens. Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico both raised their children in Washington. Former Rep. Heather Wilson kept her family in Albuquerque and returned on weekends. So did her predecessor, Steve Schiff.
Heinrich, a former Albuquerque city councilor, is a Missouri native who moved to New Mexico in the early 1990s after college. His boys are ages 6 and 10. They will attend public schools in Maryland.
Heinrich, who earns $174,000 a year but has far less wealth than many of his Senate colleagues, plans to take a bus and a subway to work each day.
“There’s a bus stop right outside my house,” he said.
The senator acknowledged that his move could stir controversy in New Mexico’s tightknit political community, where voters expect close contact with their elected officials.
“That’s always there,” Heinrich said. “But most New Mexicans understand that family is a core New Mexico value. You can’t let your kids grow up without you, and that’s important. You only get one shot at their childhood. By having family here (in D.C.), I can spend more time with the family and still spend more time in the state working.”
Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, noted that the residency question is “particularly acute for Westerners” serving in Congress.
“The distance to D.C. is great, and the time required for constant trips back to the home state really mount,” Sabato said. “Heinrich will have to make sure he’s very visible in New Mexico so voters don’t think he’s lost touch.”
Heinrich said he is especially happy to ditch the camping mat and sleep in a bed again.
“I’m looking forward to getting a better night’s sleep than I have had in many years, and having a meal with my wife and kids at night and not just grabbing a burger on my way home,” he said.