Chat Room: Bloggers on Villaraigosa, Richardson

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson's low-key bid for the White House is raising questions about his chances of winning the Democratic primary. Also, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's rising stardom has slowed over news of his affair with a television reporter. Three columnists and bloggers offer their take on the stories.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up: their cheating hearts. The author of a new book says Americans have some surprising new attitudes about an old subject: hound dog politicians.

But first, it's time for our Chat Room. On this program, we've been covering the military recruitment picture, enlistment is off for the Army, the presidential campaign and other political stories. And we were wondering what's going on with New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson's rather low-key bid for the White House? And whether Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's rising stardom has slowed over news of his affair with a television reporter. It's all news from the West, so in our Chat Room today are there columnists and bloggers who've been covering these stories. Mariel Garza is a columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Marisa Trevino is author of the blog, Latina Lista. And Gregory Rodriguez is a columnist with the Los Angeles Times. Thank you all for being here.

Mr. GREGORY RODRIGUEZ (Columnist, Los Angeles Times): Thank you.

Ms. MARISA TREVINO (Author, Latina Lista): Thank you.

Ms. MARIEL GARZA (Columnist, Los Angeles Daily News): Thank you.

MARTIN: And let's start on military recruiting. Last week, the Pentagon announced that the Army has missed its recruitment goals for the second month in a row. This comes at a time when black recruitment is tapering off, but the number have Hispanics joining the military has actually increased. And I just wondered if anybody had a theory. Gregory, do you?

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: My theory is simply based on Mexican-American history, that the military was seen in many ways as a chance to prove one's Americaness. The last four years, the voluntary service has been a way, obviously, to get up the socioeconomic ladder. But given the numbers of Mexican American who received the Congressional Medal of Honor in World War II, the number of medals received in the last four wars, there may be an attraction.

MARTIN: Marisa, do you have any thoughts about this? I think you have kids that are old enough.

Ms. TREVINO: Even after my son had gone off to college out of state, we were still getting phone calls at the house from military recruiters. I mean, we've had cases here in Texas where once the names of the kids get into the hands of these recruiters, I mean, once they turn 18, it's nonstop telephone calls, letters, trying to get him to join.

MARTIN: Do you think - I'm sorry, do you think ethnicity played some role in that?

Ms. TREVINO: Oh, it did. It did play a role. I mean, the military admitted it. To be honest, here in Texas, we did see a surge in students signing up for the military. But I don't think it was so much a propensity, you know, on behalf of Texas Mexican-Americans to show their patriotism as it was a lot of them were dropouts. A lot of them graduated from high school, but didn't see themselves going to college. The military is a viable option because they see it as a way of gaining some kind of respect in their family and among their friends, but also earning money and having the opportunity to go to college or to a trade school down the road.

MARTIN: Mariel, any thoughts about this?

Ms. GARZA: Yes. I don't think you can discount the socioeconomic aspect of people who join the military. My own sister - who is in the Navy at this moment, and hopefully not going overseas - joined because she couldn't afford college. And that was an option a lot of her friends did as well, because they just didn't have a whole lot of choices.

And I think that seeing the numbers of recruitment drop is reflective of the fact that public opinion has turned against this war. We hear about people dying every day, and when you start to think about the cost versus the benefits, people are balancing the benefits versus the possibility that they might actually get killed going to Iraq. And it's not a surprise to me at all that people are saying, look, it's - I'd rather work at McDonald's than get my arms blown off. Costs outweigh the benefits at this point.

MARTIN: All right. Sounds reasonable. Let's move on and talk about New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson's campaign. He's got this incredible resume. He's raised $7 million this quarter - the fundraising numbers just came in, but he just doesn't seem to be getting any attraction. Marisa, what's your theory? What's going on here?

Ms. TREVINO: I've had the opportunity to speak with some of his aides, and I've been in press conferences with him where he's opened it up only to bloggers. And he seems very sincere - using every trick in the book, if you will - to try to reach out to especially young Latino voters.

MARTIN: And like what?

Ms. TREVINO: Oh, he has a MySpace account. He's on Facebook. He has his blog going. I mean, it's just ridiculous. He's just out there, but I see Clinton and Obama doing the same thing. So I mean, he's made these viral videos, which are hilarious.

MARTIN: Tell me one. Tell about it.

Ms. TREVINO: Oh, he's sitting across from this employment or HR person, and the HR person is munching on a sandwich and he's going through Richardson's resume and…

MARTIN: You mean, like former UN ambassador, I mean, former Energy secretary, you just go down a list of attributes. If he has a black belt in karate, I don't know about it, but you know, other than that, he just done everything.

Ms. TREVINO: More like that, yeah. And then at the end, this HR person looks at him deadpanned and says OK, so what makes you think you're qualified to run for president?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. TREVINO: And - the look on Bill Richardson's face is priceless, and that's what it's meant to be. So he's doing a sincere effort, I see, in reaching out. When it comes to numbers, I have no idea.

MARTIN: Mariel, any thoughts about this? I mean, he announced his candidacy in Los Angeles, even though he's, of course, the governor of New Mexico.

Ms. GARZA: From a California perspective, he's been operating somewhat of a stealth campaign. I, too, have seen those YouTube videos and his MySpace page, and I couldn't decide if I was impressed or disturbed just by the level of a contrived hipness. But that's another…

MARTIN: Oh, please, isn't that all of us? Aren't we all just thriving for hipness, doing our best?

Ms. GARZA: We are, we are.

MARTIN: It's a losing battle.

Ms. GARZA: But he - I mean, I think he came to L.A. and announced to L.A. because of its strong support for Latino politics - politicians, rather. And that seems to be his main support base now. I was at the National Association for Hispanic Journalists Conference up in San Jose in early June, shortly after he announced. And there was a lot of talk about Richardson, but not necessarily in a, yeah, he's going to win kind of way. But more in speculation as to how he might divide the ticket.

MARTIN: Even a strong turnout, even a universal turnout among Latino voters would not be enough to put him over the top. And frankly…

Ms. GARZA: I agree.

MARTIN: …a number of the most prominent Latino public figures are supporting Hillary Clinton, like Los Angeles Mayor…

Ms. GARZA: That's true.

MARTIN: …Antonio Villaraigosa, like the former LARASA chairman Raul Yzaguirre.

Ms. GARZA: Or Obama. L.A. loves Obama. Obama has come here a couple of times, and he's like a rock star. You know, we're used to rock stars in L.A., so you have to imagine that.

MARTIN: Marisa and Mariel, do you think that Bill Richardson has just stalled at this point? Do you think that he can break out of the pack?

Ms. GARZA: Sure. I think it's possible. One issue which could possibly really propel him into the larger limelight would be the immigration, which is a very big deal. New Mexico, Arizona, California, these are sort of ground zero for immigration issues.

MARTIN: Gregory, you wanted to say something?

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: I think he's also a bit up against the wall with immigration issues. He's one of the first governors to declare a state of emergency on the border. So I don't think he's going to come out and make that his issue. I think he'd like to himself as being able to straddle different worlds, and he doesn't want to get caught as the pro-immigrant Hispanic candidate.

MARTIN: This is TELL ME MORE, and we're talking with writers Mariel Garza, Marisa Trevino and Gregory Rodriguez about the hot news out West. Before we go, we must talk about Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa - this incredibly rapid rise since living the State Assembly. But some wonder whether his star has dimmed over the disclosures of this extramarital affair. What do people think about that? Gregory, you've written about this.

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: I don't think his star - it will have dimmed over the long term. I think he'll be a viable candidate for governor. I think it all depends on how he does as mayor of Los Angeles. But I think the problem with the mayor has been the ultra uber mayor image that he's been trying to portray. So this will knock him down a couple of notches in the end.

MARTIN: Mariel, what do you think? He had been, you know, hobnobbing in Washington. We've certainly seen him quite a lot and, my goodness, profiled in the New Yorker. Last weekend, he got booed at a ceremony to welcome soccer star David Beckham. But what do you think?

Ms. GARZA: I agree with Gregory. Ultimately, I don't think this is going to hurt his rising political star. But what I think you are going to see, and you've already seen it, is his so-called political capital - at least on a local level - diminishing a little. But one thing I think that he's always counted on is that he has an incredibly ardent support base. People just don't like Antonio. They love Antonio.

MARTIN: Which people? Women people?

Ms. GARZA: Particularly his Latino base.

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: Oh, I was going to say (unintelligible) people, you know.

MARTIN: Yeah.

Ms. GARZA: Women, Latinas, he has an amazing amount of support. But what comes from this kind of ardent love is that when you feel betrayed, instead of just sort of brushing it off to politics, supporters would feel personally betrayed. Another outcome of this is that people, other politicians, observers have been afraid to criticize his policies. Antonio is a little vulnerable now. He's got some issues. And, hey, if we have some problems with his policies, we're not going to be afraid to speak out.

MARTIN: Marisa, what do you think? You - we blogged about this recently.

Ms. TREVINO: As constituents, and especially among Latinas, we take it personally. You know, you cheat on your wife, and then you don't even reconcile with her. You actually leave her and go off with somebody else. You know, that weighs in heavily on votes.

MARTIN: But why?

Ms. TREVINO: I think it's very cultural, because the men probably won't think twice about it, but women and older women definitely will. At least we have…

MARTIN: Gregory - we need Gregory to stand up for the men, here. Gregory.

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: This is a big city. This is a city that's half Latino, most of whom are of Mexican origin. I think it's foolhardy and a little naive to say that Latinos all look to one person in year 2007 to represent all Latinos. We're a little stronger than that. We're a little more confident than that. Though we're no longer putting all our hopes and dreams on one person anymore.

Villaraigosa is a sign of a Latino presence. He was elected, and when he was elected it was like, yeah, it's time. He will survive this in a more healthy, political environment in which he's not revered a deity, that he will be now just a good politician. We won't expect him to produce any miracles, but heck if he fixes the schools, if he gets a subway to go to the ocean, if he does one of the many things he's promised, he will go down as a great mayor of Los Angeles.

MARTIN: That's a little bit like a former president that we all know about. Right? That seems to have been forgiven rather handily. Oh, thank you all so much for talking with us. Mariel Garza, editorial writer at the Los Angeles Daily News. She was in our member station, KPCC, in Pasadena. Gregory Rodriguez, columnist for the Los Angeles Times, joined us from his home. And Marisa Trevino, who blogs at Latinalista.com, was at our member station in Dallas, KERA. Thanks so much everybody for speaking with us.

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: Thanks for having me.

Ms. GARZA: Thank you.

Ms. TREVINO: Thank you.

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