Can Bill Richardson Break Through?
There is no doubt that his resume should make him a contender. He's a Governor, he's been U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., he was Secretary of Energy in Clinton's administration, and was a member of Congress for 14 years. His diplomatic and executive credentials are top notch.
He's also a minority candidate of Mexican heritage. With minority voters in the Southwest expected to play an increasingly large role in the outcome of the 2008 election, Bill Richardson could be a big beneficiary.
However, he's not considered a front runner for the Democratic Party nomination. Polls show him running a distant fourth to Obama, Clinton and Edwards. Fifth if you include Al Gore, who has yet to declare.
And that's his biggest problem.
In 2003 we saw with Howard Dean that when other candidates couldn't inspire, a dark horse candidate could emerge. Certainly Richardson is better known than Dean was, so there is still hope that he can break through the media barrier. But to do so he will have to stick out and garner support from the uncommitted, and to do that he needs to get more exposure.
Richardson was in town on Thursday and I was fortunate enough to meet with him for about 20 minutes, along with a few other bloggers (thanks to Ken Camp at Washington for Richardson). That he would take 20 minutes of his busy day to talk to bloggers is both an indication of his underdog status, and of his savvy. A candidate will often spend as much time talking to a small crowd of people before or after an event, but this particular crowd of bloggers happen to have a combined readership of several thousand people every day, and that's not an inconsiderable audience.
Up close, Richardson strikes me as very comfortable in his skin. He listened to our questions and gave forthright answers. This is a man who has a lot of experience, and has worked both inside and outside Washington D.C., and isn't trying to figure it out as he goes. We asked him questions about habeas corpus, energy policy, transportation infrastructure, drug policies and his own electability, and he was clear and concise with every answer, never waffling with a "we need a committee to investigate this issue" type response.
His first answer regarding civil rights shot straight to the point:
"I would dedicate [my sixth day in office] to civil rights, restating my support for a woman's right to choose, restating my support for laws that ban discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation. That I would shut down Guantanamo. That I would restore habeas corpus. That I would stop eavesdropping on citizens without a court order. That I would rejoin the International Criminal Court. That I would abandon our policy of condoning torture. That I would respect the Geneva Conventions. That I would shut down Abu Ghraib."He went on...
"You know what I'll do on my seventh day? Take off! Take off, man. Iraq the first day, energy independence the second day, and climate change the third day, restore American education, and these are plans, four, economy, five, universal health plan, sixth day a restatement of where we stand."He spoke about the war on drugs, and thehim at Blog Reload covers that in a blog posting, so I'll skip that here.
Regarding the current Iraq war funding debate, and leadership, he said:
"If you're going to cave you do it after you've had a bunch of fights. They haven't even had a fight. I would deauthorize the war on the basis of Article I. But a lot of it is tone.Richardson went on to say he was against increasing the federal gas tax, and also didn't support a carbon tax. He'd have a mandate: you have got to reduce by a cap and trade system. For example, New Mexico gets credit for selling wind energy to Arizona.
"I'm also optimistic. A lot of people are negative. I think we can restore ourselves. Bring people together fairly quickly with a different President. You know, inspiring people, saying hey, you know, energy conservation, that's what I'm going to say, we're going to sacrifice a little bit, and everybody's got to do their bit to becoming more energy efficient. Lighting, air conditioning, vehicles. And I'd say we need an Apollo program to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. We're going to need to go 20% on greenhouse gas emissions, and 90% by 2050. But with mandates! You've gotta do it! You can't just have goals, you've got to do it.
"Remember Kennedy? Well he said two things to us. He said we're going to the moon in 10 years, and we did. That was a call to action. And then he said, you know his famous quote about 'ask not what your country can do for you...' that was a call for citizen action. We're all in this together. So we'll create a Peace Corp and AmeriCorp, you know, help others, we're all a community of people. And so people were inspired to go into public service, and the military and the Peace Corp. I'm not a Kennedy, but I would try and bring that at least when it comes to energy independence. If we're going to reach a goal of reducing our dependence, which is 65%, it's Iraq, it's Iran, It's Venezuela, it's nut cases that can squeeze us, so it's a national security priority."
The conversation quickly turned to transportation. Richardson declared himself a strong backer of federal support funding of local and regional transportation projects, such as light rail, roads, or regional rail, recognizing that while he would run transportation systems like Amtrak more efficiently, you don't make money in transportation systems.
"I would be a President with a national transportation policy: focused on light rail, bullet trains, more efficient transportation. It would not just fund highways and would work with states. I'd say, 'this is what I'll put in, how much will you put in Seattle?'"He recognized that Seattle has an emerging problem with traffic from his own difficulties getting around on his visit.
The Governor soon had to move on to talk with local labor representatives, but it was clear to me that as our conversation went on he was always sure of himself and his abilities to inspire the nation to pick up the pieces of the past years and optimistic we could together restore ourselves.
Democrats have a lot of good candidates to choose from this year, and hopefully a candidate like Bill Richardson will have a chance to make his case to people with fair and equal media coverage. Clearly he has the chops to be President, the question is simply weather he can convince enough people that he's a front runner. For my part he definitely should be.