Operation: Bill Richardson
Is our governor fit to be president?
This week, the Alibi puts Bill Richardson on the operating table, slices him open and pokes at his innards to determine whether or not he's got what it takes to be the next President of the United States. Special thanks to Christie Chisholm, Jessica Cassyle Carr, Amy Dalness and Marisa Demarco for helping me undertake this delicate procedure.
Our diagnosis? Well, we've got some good news and some bad news. Which would you like to hear first?
Corazón—Yep, Richardson is Hispanic. On the positive side, Hispanics are the quickest growing segment of the population in the U.S. On the down side, they still only make up around 8 percent of the voting public, hardly enough to secure victory in a presidential election. Plus, a lot of white Republicans are scared of Mexicans.
Lungs—Our boy Bill served as Secretary of Energy under Clinton, where he proved his devotion to promoting renewable energy. During his governorship, he's demonstrated that devotion by championing, among other things, solar tax credits and renewable portfolio standards and financial incentives for the renewable energy industry. Related to the fight for clean energy is the creation of good public transportation, an issue Richardson has spearheaded with the Rail Runner. In a time of doom-and-gloom prognostications about global warming, our guv knows what he's doing when it comes to creating a sustainable future.
Tongue—One thing's certain, Richardson has a silvery tongue. From convincing the Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to free Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist (and New Mexico native) Paul Salopek to hosting candid talks with North Korean diplomats after their withdrawal from the nonproliferation treaty, Richardson knows how to win people over. Unfortunately, he's much better in small groups or one-on-one. Behind a podium, ironically, he's never been a riveting orator.
Bicep—So far, Richardson is the only Democratic governor running for president, which might help him because governors often run strong in presidential campaigns. Senators like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton typically fare less well. Of the 43 U.S. presidents, only two, John F. Kennedy in 1960 and Warren Harding in 1920, have moved directly from the Senate to the White House. In the last several decades, on the other hand, every two-term president was once a governor.
Metacarpals (hand bones)—Richardson holds the record for most handshakes (13,392!) in an eight-hour period. That not only shatters the record set by Theodore Roosevelt in 1907, it's symbolic of Richardson's greatest strength: his diplomacy. Throughout his career, including a stint as U.N. Ambassador (he was the first Hispanic in the position), he's negotiated the release of hostages in North Korea, Iraq and Cuba; led mediations between Zaire’s former president Mobutu and rebel leader Laurent Kabila, resulting in a transfer of power; and flew to North Korea for talks about the country's use of nuclear energy. (Oh, yeah, and he's been nominated four times for the Nobel Peace Prize.)
Eyes—According to the New Mexico Film Office, since Richardson became governor more than 60 feature films and television series have been shot in the state, pumping up Nuevo Mexico's economy and sending a clear message that he is a dedicated supporter of the arts.
Wish Bone—Richardson is like the captain of our state champion football team. He's made a few bad passes and thrown a couple of games, but when he's on—he's on—and most New Mexicans will be rooting for him whether or not he gets drafted into the pros. He's like a political version of Brian Urlacher. When the national press descends on New Mexico to hear what the locals think of him, they're mostly going to hear kind words.
Trick Knee—During Richardson's tenure as Secretary of Energy, the FBI learned that China had gained possession of certain U.S. nuclear weapons secrets. Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee was accused of being a spy for China, largely on the basis of sensationalized stories printed in the New York Times. Although espionage charges against Lee were eventually dropped, to this day Richardson is suspected of leaking Lee's name to the press, apparently in an attempt to cover his own butt. It was a low point in his career, and it may come back to haunt him.
Doggy Bone—Richardson's been known to throw the dogs a bone a few too many times. Investigative reporter Larry Barker revealed last year that Richardson can claim responsibility for 60 to 65 government jobs, costing $3.5 million of state money, occupied by people with little to no experience in the positions. Not only did he hand these jobs to unqualified supporters, he created them for his unqualified supporters, sidestepping legislative approval and using money to fund their salaries that was supposed to be spent on other projects. Most seasoned politicians allow some amount of croneyism, but Richardson seems to have gone overboard.
Chicken Bone—Richardson's often called an 800-pound gorilla. In last year's gubernatorial election, there wasn't a chance anyone was going to beat him. But despite this, he still refused to debate his opponent, John Dendahl. What did Richardson have to lose? Dismissing his opponent shows a callous disrespect for the democratic process and an ego as big as his name.
Not-So-Funny Bone—Thankfully, Richardson was never connected to the scandal at the State Treasurer's Office. But think of it like this: You're at the grocery store with your kid. As you leave the store, an alarm goes off. A store manager pulls not just a candy bar out of your kid's pocket, but some small, expensive electronics, too. You make to discipline this child, but find yourself weakly stuttering. Everyone's thinking, "Man, you've got to get your house in order." That's what we were thinking last year when Richardson couldn't get the State Legislature to pass some sorely needed ethics reform bills.
Liver—While there aren't any videos (that we know of) of Richardson drunk at a wedding and bad-mouthing the groom, he still shares a bit of the frat boy image that has endeared President George W. Bush to American voters. Richardson's known to jokingly roughhouse with friends and colleagues, once even sparking a scandalous (but not entirely accurate) story of "annoyingly" touching Lt. Gov. Diane Denish. Although Denish said she meant "annoying like a little brother or a classmate" and nothing more, Richardson still has a public image that sometimes makes him appear frivolous and disrespectful.
Fish Bone—Here in New Mexico, Richardson is a big fish in a small pond. He's never experienced the full public dissection that comes with running for president. He’s comfortable here because he's never really been challenged. That will change fast if he can convey to the American public at large that he's a serious contender.
Roach—Less relaxed Americans could potentially get fired up about Richardson's support of medical marijuana. During the last few state legislative sessions, it's been among the governor's priorities. So not only is he advocating for a (admittedly restricted) form of legalized drug use, the proposed measure would also be contrary to federal law. It would be easy for drug war types to overlook the fact that the herb would be reserved for "New Mexicans suffering from debilitating diseases" or that the proposed law would be designed to "include proper safeguards to prevent abuse."
Metatarsals (foot bones)—A few years back, while attempting an interview, the governor intentionally stepped on then KUNM reporter Jessica Cassyle Carr's sandaled foot in the middle of a question. JCC came to the conclusion that the governor either did not like her question or did like her toenail polish. Either way, it was weird, and Richardson ambled off without answering her second question. In fairness, he was completely normal during her next face-to-face interview a few years later.
Appendix—(Editor's note: New research recently published in the journal Science indicates that the appendix may be the source of an individual's drive and ambition.) Even many New Mexico Democratic insiders admit that Richardson's reputation for being domineering, power-hungry and ambitious sometimes gets in the way of getting things done. Certainly, state Republicans will do whatever they can to try to get their national party to use this against him should he be nominated.