Friday, June 14, 2013

A Maiden Voyage: Heinrich's First Senate Floor Speech Places Him In Camp Of Those Who Came Before, Plus: Reis Lopez Tijerana: Folk Hero Or Not?  

Sen. Heinrich
ABQ Journal DC correspondent Michael Coleman describes Senator Martin Heinrich's maiden US Senate speech as a "pep talk," given as it was against the state's current dreary backdrop of economic and social problems. The Thursday speech--a traditionally important one for a new Senator--was indeed that as well as a celebration of the success of the immense federal presence here. There was no lamenting over our becoming too financially dependent on Uncle Sam.

(Video here. Transcript here.)

Heinrich's maiden speech placed him firmly in the camp of predecessors like Dennis Chavez, Clint Anderson and Pete Domenici. He sees his role as elevating and protecting the federal programs and science that gave birth to the modern New Mexican economy. That's job one:

In...New Mexico, we have built our economy around some of the greatest innovations and discoveries of the modern era...Through the collaboration of its major defense and research installations, New Mexico became the birthplace of technology that changed the world. And over time, our national laboratories, universities, and defense installations have proven to be invaluable to research and development for our entire nation.

Job two will be his longtime interest in the environment and climate change in particular. He told the Senate:

I have watched as too many of us in elected office, moved from being entitled to our own opinions–something which our democracy demands and relies upon– to embracing the belief that we are somehow entitled to our own facts. Mr. President, none of us are entitled to our own facts.

Heinrich, 41, told me prior to his speech that he had been reading Conservation Politics," a book on the political career of Senator Anderson ('49-'73) who was a leading environmentalist of his time.

Anderson melded his interest in building the state's economy by enhancing the national labs and defense installations with a protectiveness for the state's spectacular natural environment. He left big footprints here, certainly big enough for New Mexico's new junior Senator to follow.


Heinrich comes to the Senate after four years in the US House. He is an engineer by training and speaks like one--in that now familiar semi-monotone. His speeches plod along--much like Senator Bingaman's did. Compared to those who came before him, his professional and educational resume is thin. But he was at the right place at the right time. And he made a good gamble. He gave up the ABQ House seat for a try at the Senate. That set him apart from the pack.

Senators Bingaman and Domenici were both around Heinrich's age when they began Senate careers that lasted over 30 years. Heinrich's maiden speech was well-written for the occasion and he continues to show political growth. He seems to have the patience that is required of a Senator if he is to build power over the long term. That's as it should be. A good gambler knows when to press his luck...

And what about those myriad social and economic ills facing New Mexico? In the years ahead the new Senator may find himself confronted by those matters more urgently than his predecessors. For now he has a full plate simply working to prevent things from getting worse in this new era of budget constraints.


Meanwhile, Tom Udall, the state's senior senator--although he is also only in his first term--continues the long climb up the congressional totem pole. Dem Udall, up for re-election next year, announces that as a result of the passing of New Jersey Senator Lautenberg,  he is now chairman of the subcommittee on financial services. That's a subcommittee of the powerful Appropriations Committee which Udall snagged a seat on this year. The subcommittee has jurisdiction over such agencies as the IRS and SEC which have some presence in NM but not large ones.

The most critical appropriations subcommittee for NM is energy and water. Udall is on that subcommittee, but is not chairman of the panel that controls nearly $5 billion in annual federal appropriations for our state.


New Mexico s often described as "dependent" on the Feds for its economic lifeblood. It's more than that--much more:

One in every 14 jobs in New Mexico is related to work at Kirtland Air Force Base, the base’s commander said in outlining the $7.8 billion economic impact the base had on New Mexico’s economy in FY12. Of that $7.8 billion--10 percent of the state’s $70.7 billion GDP--$4.3 billion went to the local Albuquerque area economy, Kirtland Commander Col. John Kubinec said. That impact includes 20,000 people who work at Kirtland (and Sandia Labs) and collect a $1.1 billion Department of Defense annual payroll and a $950 million Department of Energy payroll...

Critics say despite this immense federal funding, the state is still near the bottom of the economic barrel among the 50 states. But what if we didn't have this funding, just where would we be then?

But this would seem an excellent time for Udall and Heinrich to pull Los Alamos and Sandia back to reality. The Heather Wilson scandal revealed this week that the former ABQ GOP congresswoman was given what appear to be sweetheart contracts worth nearly $500,000 for not doing much of anything. It was another example of the excesses and entitlement culture that has often tainted the labs. Accountability, transparency and a good dose of humility is needed if the senators are going to be able to count on convincing their colleagues not to raid the federal defense and energy budgets here.


Reis Lopez Tijerana is a name that rings loudly in state history. He has been regaled as a folk hero who fought valiantly for the land rights of native Hispanics. And he has been reviled as much as he has been regaled. What's the truth? After reading this piece from David Correia, an assistant professor of American Studies at the University of New Mexico, you may find the truth lies somewhere in between. We did....

That's it for this week. Thanks for tuning in. Reporting from Albuquerque, I'm Joe Monahan.

E-mail your news and comments. (jmonahan@ix.netcom.com)

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