One Hour With Richardson

Posted to Progressive Historians & Bleeding Heartland

Idiosynchronic and Richardson at close range, courtesy of the AP.

Last week was heelacious here in Iowa – I opted to take a day off Friday because of my Saturday midterm and the impending 2nd snowstorm.  By the afternoon, I was feeling antsy and my 2 year-old daughter was getting loud, so I headed for a local cybercafe that was popular – and ended up spending an hour listening to and slightly challenging New Mexico Governor and presidential candidate Bill Richardson.

Yes, in Iowa, we can and do get this sort of luck still in the presidential campaign.  As Bill noted though, it’s getting harder when the campaign appearances of the front runners like Sens. Clinton and Obama draw several thousand people.  Kitchen table political work isn’t dead quite yet, but this is probably one of our last visions of it.

Pictured is me, Jessica & Liz of Iowans for Sensibile Priorities, Michael Libbie for Insight Advertising, a student reporter from Drake University, another blogger whom I didn’t get to know, and Richardson.  Chris Woods for Political Forecast sat to my left and is out of frame.  We all look a little disheveled – I’d been studying and hadn’t expected to be on the news, and Bill ended up getting out and pushing at least once when his car got stuck.

If I had been planning on seeing Bill, and realizing that Richardson’s campaign is stiffing Nonpartisan on the answers to his questions, I would have brought them along and prepped for the grilling.  (Sorry, boss – in the future I plan to print these out in case I wander into Joe Biden or Wes Clark.  It could happen – and does!)

No one should have any doubt that Richardson is a Clintonian Democrat – although it’s obvious his advisers have told him not to say the C-word if possibile.  Saying Clinton reminds voters that Sen. Clinton is a competitor for the nomination.  He’s for an effective foreign policy, unlike the current one – but different from Sen. Clinton in his conviction that we need to to get the hell out of Iraq as soon as humanly possible. 

In a question on foreign policy, Gov. Richardson brought up North Korea and how badly bungled the Bush administration made our policies there, even though we just made a breakthrough in negotiations.  I gave him an opening and asked, “But what about the agreement for the heavy fuel oil?  Was the North Korean situation ultimately all about just energy?”  No, answered Richardson, the North Korean diplomatic situation was caused by a number of things had been discarded by the Bush administration.  We named NK as a terrorist state.  We cut off energy shipments.  We stopped direct negotiations in the 6-party format with China, South Korea, Russia, & Japan.  The solution was that we simply returned to a policy of engagement with North Korea that resembled what had been working before the Bush Administration.  “Just because they’re the bad guys doesn’t mean we can’t talk to them.”  There’s a lot of people we have belligerent relations with, but if we give up diplomacy, we’re essentially guaranteeing that the situation will never improve.

Richardson is all about AIPAC in no uncertain terms – protecting Israel at all costs, no discussion with Hamas or Hezbollah unless those groups denounce violence and the destruction of the Israeli state. Israel is our greatest partner in the region. No mention of Palestine or Palestinian desires. His foreign policy for Israel is simply to just walk back into the Middle East peace process that was abandoned after Clinton left office.

In regards to Iran & Iraq, my impressions are bit more favorable, but he’s mouthing the same general promises of engagement with Middle East neighbors while promising full US withdrawal within one year. These promises are what focus polls are saying that a Dem candidate needs to say. It’s not courageous leadership by any means.

If you’re looking for international or innovative thinking in regards to Israel and Palestine, you’re sure as shit coming out of the horse not going to find it in Bill Richardson’s campaign.

Illegal immigration is a topic Richardson knows a great deal on – and he cut right down to the matter.  He outlined a policy of increased border security (no static dumb fence), work with Mexico to help stem the tide, make it illegal to hire illegals, and set a path for legalization, not naturalization and citizenship, for the illegal workers already here.

Here’s another obvious triangulation – hardball tactics with illegal workers.  I find myself uncomfortable with the idea that illegals here should wait 11 years for citizenship after registering with ICE and Homeland Security & that we should insist on English competency.  11 years is a long, long time, especially if the worker has been here since the mid-90’s already.  I also wonder how we quantify a working knowledge of English – many of these men and women are illiterate in their native language to begin with.  Are we looking for just speaking or both speaking and writing?  And many illegals are working 60-80 hour weeks for years at a time, how do they take the time to learn the language to pass the tests?

Even though it got short shrift in the answer – I want to see employers truly suffer for employing illegals.  And in case anyone has any doubts, this will disproportionately affect small business and the self-employed, but I think they’re by and large the worst offenders.  I’ve had a little experience with illegal immigration; a family member was married to a green card runner for 2 years.  The meat packers and other employers do their minimum and only the minimum in order to have plausible deniability to verify an immigrants’ identity, but there’s no central database system that allows for an electronic federal ID check.  If you can find and afford a forged green card, you can get hired.

On fiscal matters – Richardson supports reallocating the federal budget priorities, but didn’t quantify how much a shift of spending away from the Pentagon to social services he’d support.  He does support a National Health Care Plan, but didn’t quantify that support as Single-Payer or another type, like Medicare expansion.  In another triangulation position, he advocates a balanced budget amendment and the line-item veto for unnecessary earmarks.  And he’s going to cut taxes on the middle-class and lower-income.  This is where Gov. Richardson really stresses his experience as a state governor and his links to the national Democratic Governors Association and talked up his friendship with former Iowa Gov. (and ex-presidential candidate) Tom Vilsack.

Above all, young people – like us bloggers –  have 3 large concerns in this election: Global Warming, the Deficit, and Social Security.  Richardson has backed several green & alternative energy policies in New Mexico and is extremely enthusiastic about taking the same measures nationally and funding a new apollo project for carbon-less energy research.  Again, Richardson has a title that he can flash show his sincerity on national energy policy – he was Clinton’s Energy Secretary from 1998-2001.  However, his tenure was marked by the Wen Ho Lee scandal and even garnered a rebuke from Sen. Byrd on the floor concerning his stonewalling of Senate inquiries.

Moving back to foreign policy, Liz asked about nuclear weapon research and moratoriums – Richardson agrees that we have all the nukes that we’ll never need (my wording, not his.)  We should be engaging serious discussions to reduce the number of nuclear weapons the world has and securing nuclear materials before terrorists are able to obtain it on the black market.  We need better oversight on the control of nuclear weapons.

I got the last question – “Governor, both Iowa and New Mexico have significant rural populations.  And lets say that certain number of people in rural areas are going to be unlikely to support a Democrat on the basis of gun-rights or another wedge issue.  But how can you explain your terrible popularity with rural voters like a friend of mine, a first generation British immigrant who was a Liberal Democrat?”

Richardson – (not missing a beat) “Well, I was re-elected with 69% of the vote in the last election.  I won with the largest margin than any other governor in New Mexico history.”  While he’s never going to find universal support, he’s satisfied that he’s done well enough for the vast majority of New Mexican voters to re-elect him.

The facts & the personal: the voter I spoke of really does exist – she’s a personal friend of my wife and I and lives in the literal middle of nowhere in the Gila National Forest.  In the campaign, Richardson apparently made a stop in the area and promised land speculators in the towns that the local schools, which are exorbitantly funded and sparsely used (at like a 1:4 teacher-student ratio) wouldn’t be forced to close or consolidate with nearby towns.  Richardson, according to my friend K., was an arrogant prick that refused to meet with local residents and only with those individuals who had contributed to his campaign.  In the 2006 election, Richardson benefited from the national anti-Republican backlash that flipped the House and narrowly gave the Democrats control of the Senate.  Additionally, the New Mexico GOP ran an obscenely inept gubernatorial campaign where their nominee quit 12 days after the June primary because he couldn’t raise enough contributions, and the replacement never gained traction afterwards.  Richardson won the rural areas 57%-33%, comprising 15% of the population; the South & Eastern portions which comprised 28% of the vote, voted in a similar pattern.  Richardson won these areas with a significant percentage, but it was less than his overall percentage.

In summary: Would Gov. Richardson make a good president?  Yes.  I have my reservations about some of his policies and stands, and I certainly don’t think he’s NP’s transformational candidate; Gov. Richardson is still working within the Clinton strategies of moderate triangulation and framing.  He’s not changing the terms of the debate to a frame more agreeable to progressives.  If we’re looking for campaign reform, we should consider that not only did Richardson collect a record amount in contributions, but he sucked the campaign donations pool so dry his first challenger used it as an excuse to quit.

On the whole I think Bill Richardson would be a certain improvement on the current model.  But I think that could easily be applied to several Democrats currently running, even Sen. Clinton, no matter how much I dislike her.  But if you’re looking for transformational leadership and a new way forward from the wretchedness of the previous 6 years, I would advise you to keep shopping.

About the Author(s)


  • What did you think of his personality?

    I don’t know if I heard much to set his views apart from other candidates.  What did you think of him outside the issues frame?

    • Personally?

      Seasoned politician.  Knows how to read people and crowds.  Personable.  I think I popped him the rural thing just to see what his reactions were like.  While I wasn’t impressed with the essential content of the answer, he could have been an ass or a saint with his delivery, and he threw it up the middle without even thinking or sweating about it. 

      If Bill Clinton is the 10 on the Elvis scale, Richardson was working an 8 or 8.5 that day.

  • I've got news for you

    if you are looking for a Democratic candidate who will challenge American policy regarding Israel/Palestine, you’re bound to be disappointed. I think Kucinich is the only one who might possibly go against the AIPAC party line.

    I don’t vote on foreign policy issues. I think the different between any of the Democratic candidates on foreign policy would be minimal. At least Richardson can say he has the experience and would be ready to handle all kinds of foreign policy matters on day one.