Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D)
Elected: 1982, term expires 2012, 5th term.
Born: Oct. 3, 1943, El Paso, TX .
Home: Santa Fe.
Education: Harvard U., B.A. 1965, Stanford U., LL.B. 1968.
Religion: United Methodist.
Family: Married (Anne); 1 child.
Military career: Army Reserves, 1968–74.
Elected office: NM atty. gen., 1978–82.
Professional Career: NM asst. atty. gen., 1969; Practicing atty., 1970–78.
Jeff Bingaman, a Democrat first elected in 1982, is New Mexico’s senior senator. He was born in Texas but reared in Silver City, a mining town in New Mexico. His father was a professor at Western New Mexico University in Silver City, and his mother was a schoolteacher. His uncle was campaign manager for longtime Democratic Sen. Clinton Anderson (1949-73). Bingaman graduated from Harvard University and Stanford Law School, then returned to New Mexico. A year out of law school, he was counsel to the state constitutional convention. Later he went into law practice in Santa Fe with former Democratic Gov. Jack Campbell. Bingaman’s wife, Anne, started a highly successful law practice of her own that helped finance his first campaigns. She later was assistant attorney general for antitrust in President Bill Clinton’s first term. In a small state, bright young people like Jeff Bingaman can rise fast. He ran for attorney general in 1978 and won. In 1982, he ran against Republican Sen. Harrison Schmitt, the former astronaut, also from Silver City, and won with 54%, partly because it was a recession year, but also because Schmitt ran misleading and negative ads.
|Jeff Bingaman (D)||394,365||(71%)||($2,628,276)|
|Allen McCulloch (R)||163,826||(29%)||($555,511)|
|Jeff Bingaman (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2000 (62%), 1994 (54%), 1988 (63%), 1982 (54%)
For years, Bingaman followed a course in the Senate much like that of New Mexico Demorat Clinton Anderson, who used his influence behind the scenes to great effect but shunned national publicity. Since 1999, Bingaman has been the top-ranking Democrat on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee; he was chairman from 2001 to 2003 and again in January 2007, when Democrats assumed control of the Senate.
Bingaman is a longtime proponent of federal support for renewable-energy sources. He also is a major advocate of imposing restrictions on greenhouse gases to reduce global warming. In the 110th Congress (2007-08), he led the Senate to passage of a major energy bill that had been in the works for nearly a year. The centerpiece was a boost in vehicle fuel efficiency standards from 25 miles per gallon to 35 miles per gallon by 2020. Bingaman also pushed the Senate to agree to a substantial change in policy that would have forced utilities to generate at least 15% of their electricity from renewable sources such as wind and solar energy by 2020. But Republicans balked, and Bingaman’s amendment fell four votes short of passage. Still, Bingaman called the final legislation “the most important energy efficiency legislation that has ever passed in this country.” It was the first increase in fuel-economy standards for cars and trucks since 1975. Bingaman planned to try again in 2009 to pass his renewable-sources mandate, introducing the bill early in the new Congress.
Another big priority for Bingaman is so-called “cap and trade” legislation aimed at reducing greenhouse gases linked to global climate change. The bill places a cap on emissions levels and then lets industries buy and sell emission “allowances.” Companies that do a better job of cutting emissions can profit by selling their allowances to “dirtier” companies. In 2007, Bingaman and then-Republican and now-Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania sponsored a greenhouse-gas-emissions bill. Opponents argued that it would drive up the cost of energy at a time of high gas prices, and Bingaman and other backers were unable to get the 60 votes they needed to stop a filibuster. A years-long effort by the Alaska delegation and Republicans to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil exploration is unlikely to get very far as long as Bingaman chairs the committee. In 2002, a majority on the committee made clear that they favored advancing an ANWR drilling measure for a vote. Bingaman refused to support the bill, though he did allow it to be brought to the floor in 2002 without committee consideration, a highly unusual tactic for such complex legislation. The Senate failed to pass it.
From 2003 to 2009, Bingaman’s New Mexico colleague Pete Domenici was the senior Republican on the committee, the first time in history that the two top members on a Senate committee were from the same state. While they disagreed on some issues, they worked together on many others. In 2005, Bingaman and Domenici made a point of emphasizing areas of agreement during work on the energy bill, and House Republicans agreed to drop a controversial provision to protect oil companies from liability for adding the pollutant MTBE to gasoline. There was also bipartisan agreement on incentives for building more electricity lines to avert major blackouts and for the start-up of advanced-design nuclear power plants. The bill passed, and Bingaman praised Domenici’s cooperation. Both also were united in efforts to limit cuts in the budget for New Mexico’s Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories. The partnership ended when Domenici retired from the Senate in 2008.
In May 2008, Bingaman opposed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s proposal for a windfall-profits tax on oil companies. When Republicans sought more offshore oil drilling, Bingaman claimed it wouldn’t lower gas prices and supported suspending deposits in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve until oil prices fell below $75 a barrel. The February 2009 economic stimulus bill included Bingaman’s provisions for tax credits of 30% on the cost of building renewable-energy manufacturing facilities and 20% on renewable energy research and development.
In the debate about illegal immigration in 2007, Bingaman sponsored an amendment, supported by labor unions, to reduce the number of permitted guest workers from 400,000 to 200,000 and to eliminate a clause that allowed increases in guest workers in response to economic need. It passed, 74-24. When Arizona Republican Jon Kyl, trying to negotiate a final immigration bill, said that Bingaman’s provision could be a deal-breaker, Bingaman said, “I’d say the deal’s broken then.” In late June, as crucial votes loomed, Bingaman said he was undecided, then voted against the bill, arguing that it “unnecessarily complicated the guest worker program that would have depressed American wages and encouraged immigrants to overstay their visas, while making dramatic changes—but not necessarily for the better—to the process individuals would use to legally immigrate to our country.” The immigration bill ultimately failed because of disputes over several key provisions.
On local issues, he and Domenici directed $10 million to the descendants of Hispanic homesteaders who had been paid only a few dollars an acre in the 1940s for land that became part of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. The two also shepherded through the Senate in 2006 the Valle Vidal Protection Act, which covered 102,000 acres of Forest Service lands in the Raton Basin of northeast New Mexico. Bingaman was the lead sponsor of the public-lands-management bill passed by the Senate in early 2009. It would set aside more than 2 million acres in nine states as protected wilderness and 100 miles of wild and scenic rivers. It included a 5,300-acre national monument to protect Paleozoic fossilized tracks in the Robledo Mountains north of Las Cruces.
Bingaman has been re-elected four times. He faced his most serious challenge in the Republican year of 1994, when Republican Colin McMillan, a rancher and former assistant Defense secretary, spent over $1 million of his own money on his campaign. He attacked Bingaman’s vote for Clinton’s 1993 tax increase and for what McMillan said was a vote to increase grazing fees. Bingaman ads boasted of his work on defense conversion, national education standards and education technology. Bingaman won 54%-46%. Given New Mexico’s sharp swing to the Democrats in 2008, his prospects for re-election in 2012 look better than ever.