August 29, 2018

Candidate Q&A: Martin Heinrich, U.S. Senate candidate

U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich. Official photo.

Editor’s note: This week, NM Political Report will publish Q&As with candidates for U.S. House, U.S. Senate and governor about their policy platforms regarding a range of topics, including abortion, contraception, LGBTQ issues and domestic violence.

For links to all of our stories, see here

The following is from a Q&A with Martin Heinrich, the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate and incumbent.

NMPR: If re-elected, how will your beliefs about the separation between government and religion guide your work in the U.S. Senate?

Martin Heinrich: I think what you can expect is for my votes and positions that I take in the Senate to be very consistent with the way I’ve voted in the past. I think I’ve got a good body of evidence over time that says I respect people to make their own decisions in their personal lives, and that it’s not the role of government to become intricately involved in those decisions. People should be guided by their own moral compass, their own religious beliefs and their own best interests.

NMPR: Is healthcare a human right? Why or why not?

Martin Heinrich: I believe it is a human right, because if you don’t have access to healthcare, it really is one of those issues that divides the haves and the have-nots in this country in a way that I think is very dangerous for our long-term democracy. More and more people are recognizing that access to healthcare is absolutely critical for a well-functioning democracy.

NMPR: If elected, describe measures you would take, if any, to ensure contraception is easily accessible to anyone who needs it?

Martin Heinrich: Both with regard to legislation and the appropriations process, anything that we can do to make sure that contraception is widely available supports people’s ability to take control of their own lives and their own family’s decisions. I think that’s absolutely critical.

Access to birth control should be one of those fundamental rights to be able to manage one’s own decisions about how and when to create a family. When people have that ability, they make better choices, and they have healthier families over the long-term. … Trying to build a stronger, more resilient country really rests on people making good decisions about family planning. Without access to birth control, we just can’t have that. … If you look at countries where birth control is widely available, they have higher standards of living, higher rates of education, lower rates of violence. It’s absolutely critical.

NMPR: What measures would you take, if any, to ensure that abortion is legal, safe and accessible?

Martin Heinrich: I think the most important measure with respect to the time we’re in right now is to continue to support judges and justices that recognize that Roe v. Wade is settled law.

NMPR: Please describe how an LGBTQ person in your life has affected your worldview.

Martin Heinrich: When I got to college—I came from a very culturally conservative, rural small town where issues of sexual identity were not openly discussed—and there were a number of people in college that opened my eyes to sexual identity, how it impacts people and what it means, and it was really transformational for me in many ways.

In particular, there was an LGBTQ [resident assistant] of the dormitory at the university where I went, and he was really great about engaging people where they were. Just having the conversation and creating the space to grow into a more complex worldview of what equality really means and … dealing with one’s own personal prejudices, or the prejudices which you pick up because you’re surrounded by them all the time. This particular employee that I knew in one of the dorms not only gave me the room to dramatically re-evaluate any biases that I might have, but I saw how … people would come in as freshman, and how he really made them think about how they related to people as a whole, not just LGBTQ people, but he really gave the mental tools for people to look at how they engaged with other people broadly. I saw how those people grew over time, including many friends of mine. That was very instructive.

NMPR: What are your priorities when it comes to addressing needs and concerns of LGBTQ people, including those in rural and tribal communities?

Martin Heinrich: One of the biggest issues we have right now is standing up to an administration that wants to take us back in time and is very comfortable with structural bias. Given all the advances we have secured in the last 10 years—especially in my position on the [Senate] Armed Services Committee, having seen the incredible forward strides the Department of Defense has made—we need to defend those and look for ways to increase that, not allow us to be pulled back in time and to have communities divided from one another. If there’s one thing his administration is incredibly good at doing, and it is so destructive to our country and to our democracy, it’s driving wedges between different communities that are part of the American family.

NMPR: What is your stance regarding proposals to enact federal work requirements for SNAP, subsidized housing and other public assistance programs?

Martin Heinrich: There are existing work requirements, and we need to be focused on how to solve the structural problems that keep people poor. We need to be looking for ways to expose people to educational opportunities, to give them support, to get them the job training they need. I think that [work requirements are] a solution largely in search of a problem, and we need to be focused on what the structural problems are, and how to address income inequality and other structural issues that are keeping people in poverty.

One of the things that I’ve really tried to focus on quite a bit is that historically, government has tried to solve income inequality and poverty issues in a very siloed way, and one of the things we’ve learned in the last 30 years from the private sector and from the non-profit space is that when you break down those silos and treat families as a whole, generationally, you can have much stronger outcomes than if you just have a program from a mother or a program for a father, separate from childcare for their kids, separate for nutritional assistance. You really have to create a wraparound approach that is multi-generational.

I’ve introduced legislation with [Republican] Senator Susan Collins of Maine—who also has a number of these challenges endemic in her communities, with a different cultural component but very much the same multi-generational poverty issues—and we have introduced legislation to get the government to take a step back, coordinate these things, and then take a multi-generational approach to breaking down poverty, instead of allowing these silos to continue to exist.

NMPR: What is your stance regarding the Republican tax bill that includes major cuts to food assistance and a provision to repeal the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, a key part of the ACA, that will go into effect with the tax bill next year?

Martin Heinrich: The tax bill is an absolute disaster for the solvency of the federal government. It’s also a disaster in that the benefits are so concentrated in the wealthiest individuals and among corporations. It’s not a tax bill that was designed to help working families.

I think what we’re already seeing with respect to this tax bill is that it has done very little to help the average family, wages are not going up as they were promised to, and we’re already seeing Republicans call for cuts to Social Security, to Medicare and to Medicaid. Their logic is, “Well, we have a budget deficit,” which they exacerbated, and now we have to fix it by taking away the safety net from working families. That, to me, is a very cynical approach to all of this. This tax bill has been an absolute disaster for working families.

Because of schedule constraints, Senator Martin Heinrich was unable to answer all the questions posed to Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson. Republican candidate Mick Rich said his schedule was full and did not participate.

All of this week’s candidate Q&A’s were edited for clarity and length, although we did not edit the meaning of candidates’ answers. We did not include, however, tangents or off-topic issues candidates raised during the course of the conversations. It’s also important to note that the candidate’s answers aren’t annotated and we don’t point out any possible inaccuracies or misstatements.