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Senator talks health care, early education during campaign visit; U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich has been at the post since 2013

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Eight-year-old Devin Earnest asked U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, a Democrat from Albuquerque who is seeking re-election in 2018, how hard it is to do his job.

Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-Albuquerque) tells a crowd gathered in Roswell Saturday afternoon at the Pecos Flavors Winery that they need to get involved in local political races and activities. His brief stops to meet with Democrats occurred in Carlsbad, Roswell and Ruidoso. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

“I think it would be hard not to do my job,'” Heinrich said to the 60 or so gathered Saturday afternoon for a Democratic Party of Chaves County event at Pecos Flavors Winery and Bistro on West Second Street. “If I weren’t there fighting for what I believe in … I would need therapy. … It’s not all about fighting. Sometimes working really hard is the thing that feels the best.”
The senator, who has served in his current seat since 2013, talked about early childhood education, the Republican health care bill and getting more Democrats into office at all levels. His only opponent at this time is Mick Rich of Albuquerque, a civil engineer and a consultant for the company he headed for many years, Mick Rich Contractors Inc.
Heinrich stopped in Roswell in the middle of a three-city tour that started in Carlsbad in the morning and was due to conclude in Ruidoso with a 2:30 p.m. visit.
He told the Roswell audience that they could help him by working to get people into state and federal offices who support the type of legislation and policies they support.
He was especially critical of Gov. Susana Martinez, who leaves office in 2018, saying important legislation has not moved forward because she “refuses to govern.”
“There is no policy that I could pass at the federal level that could be more important than what our legislature and our governor could do with early childhood education,” he said. “It is well past time that we took a sustainable portion of our (State) Permanent Fund, one of the biggest in the world, and put it toward making sure that when kids show up in kindergarten, they are ready to learn. … That is the biggest thing holding back our state today. When I talk to businesses in other parts of the country, they are making decisions about where to locate, where to open new locations. They care about workforce, and our workforce challenges start at the pre-K level. If you wait until kindergarten to try to catch kids up, you waited too long. We can fix that by expanding our majority in the state House and putting a governor in who actually cares about state issues.”
U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-Hobbs, has announced his plan to run for governor. Democrats who will run include New Mexico State Sen. Joseph Cervantes of Las Cruces, former media industry executive Jeff Apodoca of Albuquerque and alcohol-prevention teacher Peter DeBenedittis of Santa Fe.
In talking about health care, Heinrich called the current Republican reform proposal a “tax-cut” bill, not a health care bill. The current proposal would rollback the Medicaid expansion provided for by the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, and would allow insurers to offer low-cost, but also low-service, policies to some.

“I think it is very dangerous that we are allowing two Americas to emerge,” Heinrich said, “the haves and the have nots, the rural vs. the urban, pitting different parts of our country against each other. … If you are young and healthy, you get a cheap plan, but if you have a pre-exisiting condition, you are going to see your health care become completely unaffordable. We are in this together, and, if there is one thing we know about this country, it is that we always succeed when we are united.”
He said that he understands that there are problems with the Affordable Care Act that need to be addressed.
“Obamacare isn’t perfect,” he said. “The exchanges aren’t working in places where there is only one company. Nobody likes a monopoly. We need to fix that. There are a number of things that we can and should fix in that legislation. But this bill is not a health care bill. It is a … tax-cut bill and we need to kill it. There are going to be issues like that over and over again over the next couple of years and we are going to fight on those.”
Following his public comments, he said that he and others who oppose the current bill do have some ideas should the current bill not pass.
“The next steps are sort of to find the places where we can get some bipartisan legislation, something that doesn’t require a bunch of reconciliation, but could be done with 60 votes, both parties involved. There are lot of bits and pieces to that. We have to fix the problems of exchanges that have only one insurer, and that is something that Republicans and Democrats want to do.”
He also said that Democrats would work to fix problems that prevented people from getting insurance until after they were sick. He added that he also would work with Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nevada, to end the so-called “Cadillac tax,” a tax due to take effect in 2020 on high-cost, employer-paid insurance that affects middle-class families.
Heinrich added that he is worried that the current health care proposal would harm rural hospitals, which agreed to cut their rates under Obamacare. The current proposal would roll back Medicaid expansion without restoring to rural hospitals the higher rates they were allowed to charge for indigent care prior to the enactment of Obamacare. “We could see some rural hospitals even close,” he said.
Rich, who was in Roswell Friday for a New Mexico Business Coalition luncheon, said that Heinrich was among the Democratic legislators who told people that their coverage costs would go down under the Affordable Care Act and the people would be able to continue with their previous doctors. He called the costs and difficulties of the current system “unworkable.”
“I don’t see Martin Heinrich stepping up to fix it,” he said. “I don’t see Democrats stepping up.”
He also said that he didn’t think the New Mexico early education funding issue was one that Heinrich should be concerned about.
“That is a state issue that needs to be decided at the state level,” Rich said. “If he wanted to direct our state’s governor about what to do about state policies, he is in the wrong office.”
Heinrich told his base of supporters that they need to become more active if they want to see change.
“I would implore all of you, find your niche. Get involved, whether it’s as a precinct chair, whether it’s actually running for the local school board, county commission. Find your calling, lean in, because this country needs you more than ever.”
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.