Richardson may be in troubleIn the rarefied air of this most ancient of state capitals where Anglo and Hispanic cultures mix to provide a rich political broth, Bill
By: Dan Thomasson, The Dickinson Press
In the rarefied air of this most ancient of state capitals where Anglo and Hispanic cultures mix to provide a rich political broth, Bill Richardson has always been a curious phenomenon even for the “Land of Enchantment” — an adept manipulator who has managed to keep one foot in the statehouse and the other on the national scene.
A media darling often sought out for his opinion on world affairs, the former congressman, Energy secretary and U.N. ambassador had hardly been inaugurated governor here two years ago before he began showing signs that he was interested in returning to the national arena. This time, however, he wanted the largest of prizes — the presidency of the United States, a task that requires mountains of money.
Whether or not this ambition to become the country’s first Hispanic to reach such heights caused him to involve himself heavily in the “pay for play” atmosphere that has been part and parcel of New Mexico politics is what a federal grand jury is now trying to determine. The basis of the investigation is whether Richardson traded state contracts for campaign contributions from a key executive of a California financial group.
There seems little doubt that if nothing else, there is an appearance of impropriety in the transactions that took place so closely together that it would be difficult not to suspect there was a quid pro quo even though the governor and his aides emphatically deny any such link. Despite those denials, Richardson decided that his Senate confirmation as Barack Obama’s Commerce secretary would probably be a difficult, drawn out affair that would expose the new president to unneeded stress at a critical time.
That is about as noble a spin as one can put on a possibly ignoble situation. The inquiry — first reported by the Albuquerque Journal — has been underway for six months and was pooh poohed by the governor’s office as inconsequential. In fact, Richardson didn’t even bother to mention the investigation on the form he filled out for the Obama transition team and clearly the team’s vaunted vetting process came up short.
So what changed within the last few weeks to make the high profile governor decide to give up a chance to move back to Washington even if it wasn’t as secretary of State, the position that he clearly coveted? Why, it seems fair to ask, after dropping out of the presidential sweepstakes and alienating his former mentor, Bill Clinton, by enthusiastically endorsing Obama during the primary process with obvious thoughts in mind has Richardson taken this step? There is speculation here that he has become aware that his political future is more threatened than he first suspected, that perhaps he even has been told formally or informally that he is a target of the investigation, often a final stage before a possible indictment.
Richardson’s super ambition and his indisputable hunger for the national spotlight have caused him to make decisions detrimental to his political health. There seems little doubt about that. He clearly “dissed” the Clintons, refusing their entreaties to remain neutral during the primaries despite the fact he was appointed to two important positions in the Clinton administration. The what-goes-around-comes-around aspect of the State department post going to Hillary Clinton was certainly not lost on him or anyone else for that matter.
Whether Richardson can bounce back from this, of course, will depend on the outcome of the inquiry. If, as he contends, neither he nor anyone in his administration had done anything wrong, he might still win a new trip to Washington in another role. Obama graciously accepted his decision. But it should be noted that he did nothing to dissuade him, which should tell us something.
It is important to note here that the entire matter was brought to the public’s attention by a professional reporter at a major newspaper and not by an amateur on the Internet, once again certifying the importance of trained journalists to the national interest. What happens to our democracy when they are no longer around? It is a question worth pondering.
—Thomasson is the former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.