Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Martin Heinrich makes time – as recently as this weekend – to hunt to provide healthy meat for his family. It’s in that action that many of his views find cohesion.
This is the first of four profiles of the U.S. Senate candidates that seek to tell the stories of who they are and what shaped them.
Even while he’s served in the U.S. House, Martin Heinrich says he has made time to hunt so his family has meat to eat throughout the year.
His wife Julie buys some fish and chicken at the grocery store, but Heinrich estimates that 90 percent of the meat his family eats comes from elk, deer and javelina that he kills.
“I end up spending a lot of time in the rural parts of the state, even since I’ve been a member of Congress,” Heinrich said. “It’s something I really enjoy, but it’s also to make sure we have a full freezer through the winter.”
It’s in that action – hunting to provide for his family – that many of Heinrich’s views find cohesion.
The Democratic U.S. Senate candidate is a conservationist who usually wins the endorsements of environmental groups. He has a long history of pushing so-called “smart growth” in an effort to improve the quality of life in communities and protect the environment. He’s also a 2nd Amendment supporter who, in 2009, joined 64 other House Democrats in telling the Obama Administration they wouldn’t support the reinstatement of a ban on assault weapons.
If you want to get a better sense of who Heinrich is, you have to look to his childhood and the example his parents set.
“My parents were very conservation-minded ranchers. They took care of my ranch. They were pro-wildlife,” Heinrich told NMPolitics.net. “And growing up hunting and fishing, being a sportsman and being pro-conservation – all of that seems congruous to me.”
‘The small family-farm approach’
Heinrich attributes much about who he is today to his parents’ work ethic. His father was a German immigrant who worked as a lineman for a power company and was a union member. His mother’s first full-time job that he recalls was sewing jeans in a factory. She later worked in a wheel factory. Neither graduated from college.
After work and on weekends his parents ran the family ranch in Missouri, where Heinrich spent most of his childhood.
“We never had a lot, but we never were for want,” Heinrich said.
He described a “huge” garden that provided vegetables his family canned to eat through the winter. They also lived off a calf or two through the cold season.
“I don’t want to suggest it was a hardship,” Heinrich said. “It was just, in many ways, a great way to earn respect for the hard work ethic that many in this country have.”
Heinrich and his wife try to live that way today and instill the same values in their two boys, who are nine and six. The video Heinrich’s campaign unveiled last year when he announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Jeff Bingaman shows one son feeding chickens in a coop in their backyard. Eggs from those chickens are part of the family’s diet.
“Eating eggs from the backyard, eating really lean, fresh game meat,” and buying local vegetables, primarily at the farmer’s market, are priorities for Heinrich and his wife.
“I’ve always loved food, but my wife and I are big believers in trying to establish healthy habits in our kids,” Heinrich said. “The kind of food that they’re exposed to on a regular basis, I think it gives them a lot of cushion from the kind of corn-syrup based sodas and candies and other things that, before long, we won’t be able to control their exposure to.”
It’s also about sustainability and the local economy.
“It makes our local community stronger to have that sort of foodshed approach,” Heinrich said. “It reminds me of the small family-farm approach that was sort of the norm when I was a kid.”
Thinking about ‘the quality of neighborhoods we want’
Sustainable growth has been a big focus for Heinrich since he was an Albuquerque city councilor from 2003-2007.
“I cut my teeth in politics at a time when Albuquerque was really grappling with those issues – not dissimilar from what Las Cruces has gone through more recently,” Heinrich said. In the last several years Las Cruces’ city government has shifted away from embracing any development project that comes along to instead attempting to grow in a more intentional and thought-out manner.
Heinrich was part of that shift in Albuquerque. He described it as “an effort to want more jobs in our state and really build our economy, really start thinking about… the quality of neighborhoods we want, rather than just saying all growth is good.”
“That’s been, I think, a very positive evolution in New Mexico,” Heinrich said. “Fifteen years ago people viewed economic development as chasing low-wage call centers, and now we’re talking about how you take ideas and technology from inside our universities and labs and transition that into jobs.”
“That is a more mature economic approach,” he said.
Energy, Medicare and Social Security
Heinrich has a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia. He said that, along with his upbringing, contributed to his philosophy on growth. It also contributed to the decision to move to New Mexico.
“When Julie and I decided where we were going to settle after college, a lot of it had to do with the potential that New Mexico had,” Heinrich said, mentioning Intel, the national laboratories and White Sands Missile Range – “all of these assets that I don’t think we’ve really taken full advantage of yet.”
Heinrich believes New Mexico can use those assets to improve “the way we manage energy in this country.” As a college student he was part of a team that built a carbon fiber solar car and raced it from Dallas to Minneapolis. The car used LED lights that are common today, and regenerative breaking that puts energy back into the battery, which is one reason the Toyota Prius gets such good mileage.
“I continue to think that if a group of college students could do that in 1992, 1993, then we can do a much better job today,” Heinrich said.
Protecting Medicare and Social Security is another focus for Heinrich. He said that passion, like his views on many other policy issues, was shaped by family and personal experiences. His father had a stroke earlier this year.
“My parents are both retired. They don’t have an enormous amount of savings, and those things are what provide them the independence to have a meaningful life after years and years of working incredibly hard,” Heinrich said.
Still working to fill the freezer with meat
Heinrich’s parents still live in Missouri, but this son has made his home in Albuquerque since 1995. Julie Heinrich was reading Bless Me, Ultima, a novel written by New Mexican Rudolfo Anaya, as the two were finishing college. She asked Heinrich what he thought of New Mexico, and he recalled vacationing here as a child – visiting Carlsbad Caverns, passing the lava formations near Grants.
The two decided to give the Land of Enchantment a try, though neither had a job lined up. Several weeks later, they were living in New Mexico and listening to Anaya doing a reading, Heinrich said.
Heinrich has come home most weekends since he was first elected to the U.S. House in 2008. He’s spent many of those weekends with his family in Albuquerque or holding congressional events, but some were spent hunting.
And even as he campaigns for U.S. Senate, Heinrich is working to fill the freezer with meat. This weekend, after events in Albuquerque and Roswell on Saturday, he got up at 2 a.m. Sunday so he could be turkey hunting near Santa Fe by 5:30 a.m.
He came home empty handed. But there will be another time.
Heinrich plans to instill the same values in his sons. He’s taken his oldest son hunting for duck and turkey, but not yet for big game.
“That’s not far off,” Heinrich said.
A prior version of this posting incorrectly said Heinrich went hunting near Roswell this weekend.