You see, this time when I went to the State Fair, it was to meet US Senator Martin Heinrich, an outstanding, upstanding fellow whom N.M. citizens entrusted as more than just a baggage handler on their collective train ride into the future.
Heinrich has always symbolized optimism and his no nonsense attitude towards making this state and the nation a better place can be demonstrated in the years of progressive legislation he’s seen through the murky channels of American democracy. With exactly that attitude in mind, I sat on a bench at the State Fair and awaited his arrival.
Senator Heinrich met me at the west gate and after comparing notes for a few minutes we began to wander the grounds. The folks, the citizens whom he reps, glanced up brightly as he strode through the main street of the fair, shaking hands and offering service and support.
As we sat under a tarped eating area, rock band bellowing next door at the main pavilion, an elderly Hispanic couple strolled by and said hello. The woman shyly touched the senator’s sleeve and bravely intoned, “Mijo, I pray for you every night.” Her husband, obviously delighted, added, “She really does, senator, she really does.”
We talked about Albuquerque, Talin Market, the International District, the new municipal administration. Then the topic turned to national politics. Here is a transcript of that, recorded, as it were, under the influence of corndogs and lemonade, as summer in Burque faded and election day drew near.
Weekly Alibi: What I really want to talk to you about is what’s going on in Washington right now? I feel above all, people need hope right now.
Senator Martin Heinrich: Absolutely. It’s an odd place to be right now. We have this chaos emanating from the White House, all of the time, and at the same time, there are opportunities to advance legislation and get things done. [This situation] kinda falls into multiple categories: If the president is in the middle of an issue, there’s probably not going to be any resolution at all, things will blow up and people will go to their corners. But if it’s not an issue that’s on the president’s radar, you can get big things done. We just aren’t going to get a lot of credit for our successes in this chaotic environment.
I know you’ve been working on projects involving affordable college tuition and renewable energy infrastructure, how’s that going?
One outcome is that Pell Grants are now available year-round. Even with Mitch McConnell in charge of the Senate, we were able to extend the wind and solar tax credit for multiple years.
Those two items really benefit New Mexico.
They’re huge. If you look at the scale of projects on the wind [energy] side of things, they’re now measured in terms of hundreds of millions of dollars. These projects are taking place in small rural communities that have been shrinking due to lack of economic opportunity. For every five or six wind turbines, a technician is required. That job pays a living wage. That wind tech is living in the community served by the turbines, they have kids going to school there. This will begin to allow small communities to start growing instead of shrinking.
There’s some debate in New Mexico these days and it’s related to the economics of energy production. One of the gubernatorial candidates, Steve Pearce, is bringing back oil and gas jobs and believes that fossil fuels are key to our state’s economy. The state Legislative Finance Committee says all of the money so far generated comes from a very volatile source. What’s your take?
Volatility is the key issue here. I grew up in a family where my father worked for Anaconda Copper, my grandfather worked a whole bunch of those mines, too. When you have commodities that go through such wide swings in terms of value and availability, it’s just a great golden goose, and it’s fine when oil is $100 per barrel. Of course it’s not so good when oil is $26 per barrel. So we really have to create a tax structure that’s more diversified. I don’t think our current governor gets that. She’s been very hard on the state’s finances and consequently, on the state’s education system.
How should such revenue really be managed?
Well, we are going to see more new revenue coming in, as a state. But if it is all from resources that—once you use them up their gone forever—then that’s not sustainable. Further, sustainable income [from the state’s natural resources] should go into the general fund, so we can put it work on things like education.
Can the state achieve economic stability through investment in new clean energy technologies like wind and solar?
Absolutely. Fortunately, we got the solar incentives extended when we did, because had we not, the tariffs planned by the Trump administration on solar panels—and you overlay that with steel tariffs and aluminum tariffs—could have been a huge hit to New Mexico. Because we were able to build some stability into the system, before he took office, it’s mitigated the worst of what the tariffs mean to consumers. But we could be growing a lot faster, if we weren’t fighting an administration that’s hostile at almost every encounter.
Why aren’t we hearing about these progressive successes?
Too much of the conversation right now is being determined by the morning Twitter feed out of the White House, which gets driven by whatever’s popular on Fox News in the AM.
That’s pretty crazy, que no?
I think there’s going to be a correction this fall. It’s going to be a real desire to invest in the republic again, to invest in infrastructure, to make sure we hang onto the healthcare gains we all made under President Obama. I think that if we had lost that vote on the Affordable Healthcare Act, in New Mexico, one of the things you would have seen would have been rural hospitals closing. So much of their income is dependent on Medicaid, the rollback to Medicaid would have just been devastating.
Right now, as the summer recess ends, a Supreme Court nomination is in the making. What are your thoughts on that process?
I’ve been deeply frustrated with that. In order to get their way on the supreme court nomination, they’ve [Republicans] changed the rules. As far as advice and consent goes—the roll that the Senate has always played—in this case that has become a rubber stamp, a charade. Republicans decided … Kavanaugh’s views will radically change the lay of the land in this country, I’m afraid. We’ve never had a situation before where so much of the documentation related to the nominee is held back from the main body arbitrarily, as committee-sensitive. You have to have access to the documents, to the facts to have a real conversation about Kavanaugh.
You’ve described a process that, on first glance, might seem disheartening to many New Mexicans. Why are hope and action through voting our best strategies?
When you have an administration that is as obviously out of touch, that is taking the kind of extreme immigration that this administration has—and it has been willing to break up families and use enforcement as a political tool—I think that creates a lot of fear. At the same time, I think the backlash to that creates a lot of optimism. If you really want to see the levers of government on one side of the ledger, vote! The oversight that can be done if Democrats had the majority in the House or in the Senate or both would be unbelievable. Think about the hearing either chamber could hold on Scott Pruitt, for example. Right now the Republicans refuse to hold such hearings. It’s very frustrating, but I do think that’s going to change, come November. If this president thinks this week has been hard, wait until his administration has to answer for some of his moves.
Why haven’t Republicans been real leaders here and questioned Trump and his administrators about their failures of governance?
I think there are two kinds of Republicans these days. There are the ones who have kept their self-respect; they’re headed to the exits because they know they can’t be re-elected. And then there are folks that are scared to death of this president and his core supporters. That type is unable to step up, to say, “I may agree with the president on several issues, but this is out of line.” I believe we need to take care of the republic first and the Republican party second.
Why should New Mexicans get involved in that political process, in the process of taking care of the republic?
If you are as deeply disturbed by what is emanating from the White House right now as I am, that’s what happens when we don’t engage, when not enough Democrats and progressives show up on election day. It doesn’t have to be that way. We have an opportunity in November to change the course of things, to put some checks on the most egregious extremes that we’ve seen. More importantly, that sets us up for the year 2020, when real progressive leadership can emerge and we can become proactive—not just stop bad things from happening, but invest in real, long-term solutions. We can be leaders again, on climate change, we can find a way to provide universal healthcare, we’re the richest nation on Earth. That’s only going to happen if we make a commitment to the long-term. We are going to have to win in 2018 and in 2020. Then we’ll all get to work and do the hard part, the part Trump can’t—governing.