As the American nation moves past a hot, hot summer, a cooler, more resplendent autumn awaits, beckoning with live sportsball, family get-togethers and a prolonged holiday season that kicks into gear around Halloween and doesn’t let up—without a least a few pounds gained—until after the new year begins on Jan. 1.
From that description, it might be possible to assume that all is right with our republic, that somewhere, the levers of government are being minded with circumspection and courage as we all move through this time of reflection toward a winter whose harshness we can only guess at.
The guessing part comes in when you add politics to the mix. A rogue presidency—where the top leader feels it’s just fine to invoke the threat of a civil war should he be found out—has grabbed the headlines, engendered the attention of our nation’s legislative and judicial branches and pretty much guaranteed the public perception that this wildly successful experiment in democracy dreamed up and quantified by the likes of Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson may be on the brink.
Well that’s not true. Trouble may be brewing, but so is hope. Despite the trauma and chaos sowed by the Trump administration, we have made some steady progress in the past four years. Slowly, incrementally, the USA’s progressive legislators have continued to work on solutions for citizens, communities and the country.
Though sometimes it’s an uphill battle, those forces persist. Clearly the Congressional delegation from New Mexico—
That underlying progress and the optimism such commitments generate is more than a good reason to press forward, not only with the investigation into Trump and his cronies but also with programs that are certain to move our culture forward. Understanding the climate crisis, the Green New Deal, the transition to renewable energy and the coming influence of AI are all topics that should brighten the outlook of concerned citizens.
To find out more about local and national issues affecting our readers, Weekly Alibi met with Senator Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico) over coffee on Tuesday morning, right before our deadline. We talked about trouble and we talked about hope. Here’s a transcript of that conversation.
Weekly Alibi: The big news of course, overwhelming the news cycle, has to do with the Congressional impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump. Help me out and please fill our readers in on the bigger picture.
Martin Heinrich: I would urge everybody to go out and read that transcript between the president and President Zelensky of the Ukraine because it’s so obvious that this president doesn’t understand that there should be boundaries and that there are boundaries between what you do in your official capacity and what you do in the campaign world. This is one of those situations where it’s so black and white and in your face that there have to be consequences. So, having the House call these proceedings is perfectly appropriate.
Where is this all headed, do you think?
I really don’t know.
I know that’s a hard question to ask because I think a lot of people—from common citizens to those deeply involved in governance—are unable to predict an outcome. That may be causing a little stress among us all.
Absolutely. I think it is. I think most of my colleagues in the Senate say that they were hoping to go into 2020—it’s quickly becoming an election year—without that kind of uncertainty in the mix. I think we’re in uncharted territory right here. We have a constitutional obligation to meet this head on, to go through this process, because frankly, we have a president who doesn’t understand where the boundaries are or why there should be boundaries.
Do you think that the investigation—which is going to take a few months—is going to affect the drive to create and implement legislation that benefits this country, benefits New Mexicans?
My hope is—and what I’ve counseled to my leadership—that this process should not drag on for months or years. We’re simply too close to an election, there are too many legislative priorities that need oxygen. It’s my hope that this doesn’t [drag out]. But now we’re in this situation where the daily sort of outrage—culture war tweets from the White House—makes it very hard to focus on those regular legislative priorities. I’ve been lucky in that I’m on a couple of committees that continue to do their work and have produced legislative product in this Congress, which there has been very darn little of.
Sure, because of Mitch McConnell’s stubborn obstructionism ...
He just refuses to put any bills on the floor right now. The exceptions have been [notable]—we got the big public lands package passed and we did that very early in this Congress. My hope is that we’ll also get the defense authorization bill passed. It’s happened every year for over 50 years. I think there are people on both sides that who want to make sure we don’t drop the ball.
Does that particular defense appropriation bill guarantee funds to keep New Mexico’s military bases in a state of readiness?
There are two relevant bills. There’s an authorization bill that sets the course for our labs and bases. That’s very important because it keeps them looking forward and not looking back. Then there is an appropriations bill that takes the money that we authorized in the first place and writes the check for it, effectively. So both of those really have to get done. And they [the bills] often include other things because of how the parliamentarian rules on a particular issue that we end up having to deal with in those [legislative] packages, within those vehicles. So, for example, [there’s] my White Sands legislation, to elevate White Sands to a National Park. Because it had a very expensive land swap with the Department of Defense, it ended up in that bucket instead of in the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. So the legislation to elevate White Sands to a National Park: That relies on the defense authorization bill passing.
And that’s basically because some of that area has been part of a military testing range?
Yeah and they’ve had a boundary dispute that goes back for several decades. We were able to negotiate a resolution to that issue that’s pretty helpful to both the Army and the Park Service. It’s a win-win solution, but it won’t happen unless we pass the Defense Authorization Bill. And in the past, this has been the one bill—from the far right to the far left—that everyone made sure happened. It’s a bill that’s designed to take care of our men and women in uniform, at its heart. But when you have a president who is inserting border wall politics into that, it puts at risk the kind of bipartisan cooperation we had in the past. We’re just at a place where there is more uncertainty than I have ever witnessed. And I don’t think that’s a positive thing.
It’s certainly not a positive thing, yet we’ve seen that there have been positive developments, legislatively speaking, that Democrats are responsible for—that you are responsible for moving forward. On that note, what about the Green New Deal? There have been efforts to quantify that lately. What are your thoughts?
I think the most important thing about the Green New Deal is that it meets the scale of the problem with the urgency that is necessary to really get us back on track. For years, we’ve been playing small ball while the risks have been enormous. It’s easy to get sucked into timelines, saying something should happen by 2025 or 2030. I think what’s more important is that we take every opportunity to take the next step towards de-carbonization. Rather than fight about what we’re going to be doing to clean up that last 10 percent of the grid, let’s build the projects that we need to build today to make sure we get there. By the time we get to 95 percent clean energy in the grid, we’ll be a lot further down the path.
Because we’ll have the infrastructure?
Exactly. Storage is going to be one of those things that’s really important to cleaning up the grid. I just passed a bill out of committee—with Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine)—to really focus our Department of Energy on storage, in particular on the parts of storage that are not there yet. Lithium ion batteries are changing the grid dramatically, today. In many cases, you can now build solar or wind and add storage and still come in cheaper than even combined cycle natural gas. That was unthinkable a few years ago. What we still need to solve, though, is how we deal with seasonal storage—not storing the sunshine from this afternoon to use when I turn the air conditioner on at 5 o’clock when I get home—but how do we store the summertime sun to help with the relatively less available solar energy in winter. We need to be doing that research. We need to invest in those technologies now. That bill does that.
That implies that a clean energy workforce is behind all of these new technological developments as we move forward—I want to say culturally—away from fossil fuels.
That’s exactly right. Workforces are a huge opportunity. We also marked out our clean energy workforce legislation a few weeks ago. That’s going to help us connect the people who will need it most with the jobs of the future. To the extent that we can maximize that in New Mexico, it will only be a benefit to our state.
I’ve heard that some jobs in the coal and gas industry could be transitioned into jobs with renewable energy production and transmission, but that such is dependent on developing technology.
It’s also dependent on education. It’s dependent on making investments where those jobs currently are, because transitions are hard. We owe it to folks who have been working really hard for many years—to keep the lights on and the heat running in the wintertime—to develop those jobs where the workers already are, so we don’t have to say, “Oh, you have to move half way across the country” [to get the benefit of renewable energy]. Those things require a level of thoughtfulness and a willingness to spend money on educational and re-training opportunities. Or it’s simply not going to happen. We need to be doing this now and not waiting until jobs disappear.
It sounds like we need better science education in New Mexico to be able to compete with other states who are also looking at this transition.
I think STEM education is critical, we should be investing in that, but also, simply, in career technical education—making sure we’re producing a pipeline of wind technicians to not only provide for construction but also to live on-site, live in the local communities and maintain those [energy sources] for the next 30 years. That’s a really important sort of training as well. These things can make a huge difference for small towns in New Mexico that have seen their budgets squeezed for many years.
What else should New Mexicans be thinking about as fall manifests and winter approaches?
It’s important to realize that no matter what happens with impeachment, New Mexico has a [Congressional] delegation that is effective, that punches above our weight. I mean we only have three representatives and two senators. There are states that have giant delegations, but we’re making sure that we work together to maximize what we can do for this state. We do that very effectively We’re a very good team. Day in and day out, we’re focused on things that matter in people’s everyday economic lives. We’re not letting all the oxygen in the room get taken up by the latest outrageous behavior by the president.