SANTA FE, N.M.
There’s a native Nevadan running for U.S. Senate in 2012 with an excellent chance of winning even if he gets none of your support.
In fact, I can predict with confidence that his success will come without receiving a single vote from the Silver State.
His name is Martin Heinrich.
Born in Fallon, the 39-year-old Heinrich is a congressman from New Mexico’s 1st District. When he won election in 2008, he became the first Democrat elected to represent New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District, a traditionally conservative area that includes part of Albuquerque. Heinrich won a tight race for re-election last year and has declared his candidacy to replace Jeff Bingaman, the Democrat who has announced his retirement in 2012 after nearly 30 years.
Although Heinrich’s family moved from Fallon to Missouri when he was a youngster, his Nevada connection provides more than an answer to a political trivia question. His Silver State roots helped shape his love of the West and his compelling philosophy that combines progressive politics with a pragmatic approach to environmental and Second Amendment issues.
Although he’s eager to talk about renewable energy and environmental protection, he’s also an avid hunter fond of spending his free time camping with his wife and two children.
When he thinks about his youth in Nevada, Heinrich still sees the vast dome of stars in the night sky over Fallon.
His paternal grandfather, Olaf Heinrich, ran a feedlot in the farming town. His maternal granddad, Lester Bybee, was a Battle Mountain gold miner. And his father, Pete Heinrich, spent many years toiling in mine exploration for Anaconda Copper before becoming a utility company lineman and moving the family to a small ranch in Missouri.
But they always found their way back to Nevada for vacations and family visits. For a youngster raised with a respect for the land and the outdoors, Fallon meant alfalfa fields and irrigation ditches, big shade trees, and a backyard that stretched for endless miles.
“I remember visiting my grandparents as a kid,” Heinrich recalled Thursday via phone from Washington between votes in the House. “They lived in a trailer in the middle of nowhere near some mine. It was just a great adventure for a young kid to wander around the sagebrush, find rattlesnakes, and visit with my grandparents.”
Trips to Pyramid Lake and Lake Tahoe remain indelibly imprinted in his mind. He still has family throughout Nevada in places such as Yerington and Smith Valley.
“We returned for a visit to Nevada after moving to Missouri,” he recalled, “and as a kid I remember just being amazed at the stars and how different it was from where we settled in Missouri.”
Nevada is where Heinrich first developed a love for the land and an appreciation for the people who worked it and wanted to keep it for future generations. He has found that same love for New Mexico and its diverse people.
“New Mexico has some of that same feel of Big Sky and basin and range country,” Heinrich said.
And like Nevada and much of the West, New Mexico also has a world of potential as the site of a renewable energy revolution in America.
Heinrich earned a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Missouri and spent part of his college years developing carbon fiber solar-powered test cars that back in school must have seemed centuries from becoming a reality. Part of the technology his generation of dreamers helped develop has become standard equipment on a new generation of automobiles.
Timing is almost everything in politics, and Heinrich appears poised to make the sizable leap from the House to the Senate. With his background, he’s a natural to emerge as a leader in the debate on the potential of renewable energy.
If Heinrich is successful, the former Fallon boy is sure to keep his Western sensibility.
John L. Smith’s column appears on Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295. He also blogs at LVRJ.com/blogs/smith.