NOB HILL--About the only issue that has come forth in the Democratic contest for the 1st Congressional District seems to be whether or not Martin Heinrich has had a full-time job in New Mexico. It all started with a piece my friend Jim Scarantino wrote for the Alibi. It centered on electability. Oh, he quotes old polls. He trots out the Too Liberal For Us banner. And he resurrects the Heinrich-supported streetcar idea for one last libertarian guffaw.
But the biggest issue seems to be Heinrich’s employment record. His job as executive director for the Cottonwood Gulch Foundation gets special attention. Scarantino quotes an unnamed source, “A former Democratic Party chair calls this ‘Heinrich’s camp councilor job.’”
That’s pretty snotty.
Especially for a “former Democratic Party chair.” Damned snotty, in fact. So I called up Martin Heinrich and he agreed to meet me for a cup of coffee. I asked him about being the director of Cottonwood Gulch for 5 1/2 years.
The Cottonwood Gulch camp is based in the Zuni Mountains. It is an 80-year-old institution. The primitive cabins were designed by Kurt Vonnegut’s father and built during the depression. It serves teens and pre-teens, offering personal growth through wilderness and other outdoor experiences. It emphasizes local history, scientific and cultural discovery as well as an environmental ethic.
Heinrich discussed some of the program’s alumni. Colorado Congressman and U.S. Senate candidate Mark Udall participated. “He called it the seminal leadership experience of his life.”
A Digression About Being a Camp Counselor
I know the phrase ‘camp counselor’ brings either National Lampoon or John Belushi to mind. But working with children and teens has always been diminished by some, especially those who are so very important in their own world...like a former party chair. But it is not an easy or empty life.
I have my own story to tell. I worked as a camp counselor at the Hull House Association work camp in Sylvan Lake, Wisconsin about 1970. It was not a job I applied for. I had to be talked into it. And it was hard.
I was in charge of 10 teens, gang refugees from the south side of Chicago. Kicked out of school and with no safe place to live, they signed up for the out-of-town work camp. They got room and board, minimum wage, 2 hours of school every day, recreation, and art lessons. I was the first one up in the morning and the last one to bed at night, and supervised everything except their schooling.
Some were Puerto Rican, most were Black. The gangs? How about the Blackstone Rangers, Disciples, and Latin Kings. I lasted less than a year. A fellow counselor was fired after joining the Black Panthers. I took that as an opportunity to quit with a clear conscience.
So when I hear a party official talk about “Martin’s camp counselor job” I get a little pissed on behalf of all of us who worked so hard for so little and got laughed at for doing it. Besides, Martin Heinrich was the Executive Director, not a counselor.
Meanwhile, Back at the Flying Star
Heinrich was talking about getting his degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia in mechanical engineering. He met his wife Julie there. She was a broadcast journalism major. One day she was reading Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima, looked up and said, “What do you think of New Mexico? What do you think about moving there?” That was 1995.
As for many of us, moving to New Mexico sent him off in new directions. He worked for a contractor with Phillips Labs for a while. He worked as an AmeriCorps Educator/Field Technician with the Mexican Wolf Recovery Project. He served as director of the NM Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee for a couple of years. He had his own consulting firm. Then the 5-6 years with Cottonwood Gulch. And in 2003 he was elected to the City Council, eventually serving as its President. According to Heinrich, the City Council position turned out to be a full-time job without full-time pay.
And Back in Missouri, Piece Work
We talked about our growing up in similar circumstances. Both of Martin Heinrich’s parents worked full time, as did mine. His father was a lineman; his mother, a garment worker. She worked piece work. So did my mother...in a hardware factory. If you don’t know all that is involved with piece work, just know this: it usually involves women working through their breaks and lunch period just to “make out”...that is, have enough work done so that they cover the minimum work required to make piece-work money and even keep their job. The amount of work required is constantly being rewritten upwards as the women manage to make out and take home a little extra money...pennies, really.
It is quite an education to watch your mother come home from work totally exhausted every day...too tired to do anything except lay down in the bedroom before supper. My dad did all the cooking in our house. My brother and I did the dishes.
Martin Heinrich’s folks both worked as they held their ranch together in the little town of Cole Camp, Missouri.
Given this background it is no surprise to see Martin Heinrich leading the fight for a minimum wage here in Albuquerque. It is so easy for big business to take advantage of poor people who desperately need a job. In the case here in Albuquerque, it was the hotel/motel industry, restaurants, and even hospitals that opposed the minimum wage bill most vehemently.
And it is no surprise to see Heinrich work to make city services support those who need public transportation. One only has to look at the corner of San Mateo and Central to see dozens of people waiting for buses at almost any time of the day.
Does any of this show up in Martin Heinrich’s work history? Quien sabe? But it certainly shows in his values growing up. There is more to being a person than one’s resume. As Michelle Obama so famously said, “My job does not define me.”
A Man on a Horse
Meanwhile, Darren White, former member of the “heralded 82nd Airborne” sits on his white horse ready to chop Heinrich to bits come election day. At least this is the fear 7 months before the election according to Scarantino.
But here’s a piece of news: Darren White won’t be riding a horse, he’ll be atop that Republican elephant that has dragged us into disaster after disaster for the last 7 years. And this election won’t be about anybody’s job history except that of G.W. Bush...with the possible exceptions of the “hard work” done by Brownie during the Katrina debacle and yesterday’s reference by Bush to the Treasury Secretary having to “work over the weekend” in bailing out Bear Stearns.
No...I have had enough of false issues, diversions, sex scandals, name-calling, gotchas, litmus tests, ethnicity and race insinuations, poll-driven labeling, messages from God, flags as props for speeches, and dividing up America like sorting out the contents of a 12-bean soup. Let’s look for those things that unite us...truly unite us. Like living on one planet. Like getting away from petroleum. Like safe toys and food. Like an education that is good for more than tests.
Maybe then politics will be more than entertainment. Maybe then we could figure out how to live in peace, with enough to eat and be comfortable. For everybody.