New Mexico Gov. Richardson Eyes Presidency

Gov. Bill Richardson takes his first steps toward a run for the White House in 2008. The Democrat from New Mexico talks with callers as part of a series of conversations with presidential hopefuls.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

Last week we spoke with presidential candidates Tom Vilsack and John Edwards. Today our series on the race for 2008 continues with Democrat Bill Richardson, currently the governor of New Mexico. During the 1990s, he served as energy secretary, then as ambassador to the United Nations under President Bill Clinton.

Richardson's supporters say his Hispanic heritage and popularity in the American southwest, a potential growth area for the Democratic Party, gives his candidacy a unique edge over his competitors. If you have questions for Governor Richardson about Iraq, the economy, the Hispanic vote, other issues, give us a call. 800-989-8255. Or send us an e-mail: talk@NPR.org.

And now Governor Richardson joins us from his office in Santa Fe. Nice to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION.

Governor BILL RICHARDSON (Democrat, New Mexico): Thank you. Nice to be with you.

CONAN: And what does a Democratic candidate need in order to capture the nomination in 2008? The right strategy on Iraq, an edge on money to fund the campaign? What is it?

Gov. RICHARDSON: Well, what is needed is somebody with a vision that'll bring this country together. A country that is very divided because of Iraq, because of the huge divisions on the failure of the Congress and the Bush administration to deliver on sound domestic policy, health care, education, better schools.

And what else is it going to take? It's going to take a candidate with vision, with passion, a candidate that's qualified, that has had direct foreign policy experience, that has brought jobs and improved schools as I have as governor. And also as somebody that not only can talk about what is needed about becoming energy independent and restoring America's national security in the world and are standing and get out of Iraq - you need somebody who knows how to do it and this is why I'm running.

CONAN: And you tout, obviously your executive experience as governor but also your experience in the cabinet, but as an ambassador to the United Nations and a secretary of energy.

Gov. RICHARDSON: Well, that's right. And when I was at the U.N., we had a lot of dealings with Iraq. I got two Americans prisoners out of Saddam Hussein. I went to Iraq. I know the region. As secretary of energy, we made air conditioning more efficient. We pushed renewable energy plans.

So my point is that I've got executive experience, I balance budgets, I've directly dealt with issues affecting New Mexico. New Mexico's in good shape. I was in Congress 15 years, too. So I just believe - it's not a question of the best resume, it's what direct experience have you had in making things happen?

I've brought countries together, I've negotiated peace agreements. But, again, it's up the American people. They're not gonna look at who has the most money, and who has the most glamour, and who has the most name identification. This race is a year away. And there'll be debates, there'll be opportunities for all the candidates to explain their vision and I look forward to that.

So I'm not afraid of being fourth right now. You know, you want to end up being first after the first few primaries.

CONAN: So in fact, the name recognition gap between you and perhaps Senators Obama and Clinton, which could become a factor. The more money you have, obviously, the easier it is to introduce yourself to the American people.

Gov. RICHARDSON: Well, that may be the case but I'm not going to make a big, big thing out of all my time raising money. Obviously you have to do that. We've had success there. But it's going into people's homes, it's going door-to-door, it's participating in debates, it's going into rural areas. And the good thing about our political process is states like Iowa and New Hampshire, and now Nevada and South Carolina - they're all grassroots states. You can't buy the state. They're very trained at scrutinizing their candidates and having them in their living rooms.

You know, there's a saying in New Hampshire, nobody's gonna get somebody's vote unless they've met the candidate seven or eight times. And, you know, we haven't started yet. So I feel good that after three weeks, we got a lot of good momentum, the early signs are good. But, you know, we got a ways to go. I acknowledge that.

CONAN: More with Governor Richardson after we come back from a break. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Today we continue our series of conversations with 2008 presidential hopefuls in the weeks and months ahead. We hope to give you the chance to speak with candidates on both sides of the aisle, and of course Independents as well. With us today Bill Richardson, the Democratic governor or New Mexico. If you have questions for him, give us a call: 800-989-8255. Or you can send us an e-mail: talk@NPR.org.

And here's an e-mail that we have from Cezar(ph) in Chapel Hill, North Carolina: given the inability of Congress to come up with a comprehensive solution for immigration reform, what would Governor Richardson propose? What are his views on the Bank of America story that we've been talking about earlier in the program?

Gov. RICHARDSON: Well, this is what I would do on immigration. First, I would secure the borders. We need more Border Patrol, more equipment, the flow is unacceptable. However, I'm not for a fence. I think that's ridiculous. It's a terrible symbol, it's ineffective. The second thing we need to do is a legalization plan. A path to legalization for the 12 million that are in this country so they come out of the shadows, become productive members of the society based on whether they speak English, pass background checks, pay back taxes, not get ahead of those at the end of the line.

Third thing I would do is talk to Mexico and say, you're our friends but you got to do more to keep the flow from your side from coming into America. And they're not doing enough, and it takes diplomacy. The fourth thing I would do is basically make it a law that says those that knowingly hire illegal workers should be penalized, should be fined. That's unacceptable.

This solution, I believe, is going to be messy, it's going to be imperfect. But it's a lot better than what the Congress wants to do, which is put forth a fence that makes no sense, and deport - anyway, this is the Congress in the last session. Hopefully the new Congress will work with the president on a comprehensive immigration plan.

I'm at the border. I deal with this everyday. I declared a border emergency a year and a half ago as a governor, cause there was a flow of drugs, of people coming in through the New Mexico border. Cattle was getting killed. So we got to act. This is one of these issues that cries for attention and all the Congress and the White House do is they spar over every issue - Iraq, nonbinding resolutions - let's get moving and get things done for healthcare and education and this deficit. And my God, there's such gridlock - this is why candidates outside of Washington, I believe, are going to get some traction.

CONAN: The other part of the question was about a story we've been talking about earlier in the program. As governor, you were probably taking care of public business or something like that. Nevertheless, you didn't get a chance to hear it. But…

Gov. RICHARDSON: I don't know about that Bank of America issue.

CONAN: All right. So we'll give you a pass on that one until you've had a chance to catch up with the news. Anyway, let's get another caller on the line. And this is Jeffrey. Jeffrey with us from Cincinnati.

JEFFREY (Caller): Yes. I want to say that I think it's a wonderful opportunity to have Obama and Clinton as seriously considered. But I think Mr. Richardson's breadth of experience is just a breath of fresh air. I'm very pleased that people like he and Chris Dodd are actually considering running for president. I didn't think people that I really liked wanted to actually try for the position.

CONAN: Yeah. Put themselves through the mill.

JEFFREY: Yes.

CONAN: Yeah.

Gov. RICHARDSON: Well, I appreciate those nice words and I'm very grateful. And I just want a chance for the voters to hear my message. I'm not going to have the money these other do. But I'm going to be working very hard and talking to the American people. I just want to bring this country together. I think we think too much as blue and red states, Republicans and Democrats. This war has really divided this country.

And people feel nasty, they feel divided, the Congress is not listening and, you know, the tension is - you can feel it. You can feel it in New Mexico. You can feel as I campaign in Nevada and New Hampshire and Iowa and all around the country - South Carolina.

So I appreciate those nice comments. And if the American people see the experience, the background I've had and what I've done in these areas that deserve attention, I don't just get - I don't just give speeches and vote, I've actually done some of these things that this country needs to turn around.

CONAN: Jeffrey, thanks for the call.

JEFFREY: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's go now to - this is Troy(ph). Troy's with us from Iowa City.

TROY (Caller): Yes, I've got a couple questions for you. Are you going to rent out the Lincoln Bedroom for campaign contributions or pardon rich people who gave you money? Or maybe you could ask these questions to Hillary.

CONAN: Well, when Hillary's on, you can ask them. But go ahead, Governor Richardson.

Gov. RICHARDSON: No, I wouldn't do that. I certainly wouldn't do that. In fact, I just hope that in the Congress that we do have strong ethics legislation. It seems some of it is moving forward, so it's a little better. But you know what I would like to see is a public financing system that is equitable, that involves all electoral decisions, and I voted for that McCain financing my last year in the Congress, McCain-Feingold.

But I don't know if that's ever going to happen. But no, I think…

CONAN: Will you in this campaign accept federal matching funds, or will, like Senator Obama and Senator Clinton, will you decide to go outside that system because you can raise more money than that?

Gov. RICHARDSON: Well, I'm not going to be one that raises a lot of money compared to these other guys. I haven't decided yet, because we have to figure out what the limits are. See, what they do to you is they put limits on you state by state and, you know, there are certain early states where I have to do well. If I go in and have limits, then I can't put that early money in those states.

So my people are making recommendations on that. You know, we just announced three weeks ago. We don't have these huge campaign operations that these others have, these hundreds of lawyers that can tell them what to do.

TROY: Are you going to come to Iowa City, Iowa?

Gov. RICHARDSON: Yes, I am. I'm going to be in Iowa in a couple of weeks, and I'm going to contest Iowa. And I hope to meet you there. I'm going to try to go to as many places in Iowa as I can.

TROY: Well, you can come to the University of Iowa. I'm sure they'll…

Gov. RICHARDSON: I'd love to do that. I'm going to Drake University. I know that that's my first university appearance in a couple weeks, but I will certainly come to the university. I certainly will, and I thank you.

TROY: Thank you. Have a nice week.

CONAN: Thanks for the call. Bye-bye. Let's go to John(ph), and John's with us from Hickory, North Carolina.

JOHN (Caller): Yes. I'm very happy that Mr. Richardson's running. I think his experience is very valuable, and I have two questions. One, to kind of tie in with the previous thing on the Bank of America - and I'm not going to ask him to comment specifically on that - but what's his opinion about companies that are employing illegal aliens, which is, I think, making matters worse.

And two, the situation - I think we have the worst foreign policy that I can remember - I'm 58 years old - in my lifetime. And what's his opinion about Iraq and our status and situation in the world?

CONAN: So you're only asking the small questions, John.

JOHN: Oh yes.

CONAN: Yes, right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Governor Richardson.

Gov. RICHARDSON: Well on the second issue, I'd get out of Iraq this year. I would say to our military commanders: How soon can we do it within a year? This is not working. I would use the leverage of that withdrawal of our troops to say to the Iraqi government you've got to get into serious reconciliation talks with the religious groups, where power is divided with the Shiite, with the Sunni, where there's some kind of Dayton-type accord that deals with boundaries and security. And it's going to have to happen.

CONAN: A Dayton-type accord helped carve up that country into ethnic divisions. Would you advocate that for Iraq?

Gov. RICHARDSON: Not - I think we can do a Dayton-type accord without necessarily dividing up the country in three. I think that is doable. But yeah, I do think you have to have certain boundaries. You have to share oil revenue. You have to find ways to make sure that that does happen.

I would also call in Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, NATO countries to deal with security and reconstruction, to look at the future of Iraq, especially security. But right now our policy of advocating more troops is just going to bring more sectarian violence. I don't see how it can get any worse.

Now on our standing of the world…

CONAN: Can we just pause one second?

Gov. RICHARDSON: Yeah.

CONAN: What if your plan doesn't work? What if, in fact, the civil violence gets worse, escalates to the open civil warfare? What if, as people have said, al-Qaida in Iraq is able to carve out a little protected area for itself to have training bases, ala Afghanistan 1999?

Gov. RICHARDSON: Well, this is why you bring in Iran and Syria. You look at the totality of an agreement in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf that may involve lessening tension on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

Look, it can't get any worse right now. There's sectarian violence, it's a civil war. I don't believe those that say if an alternative plan doesn't work, there'll be - there is civil war. So you have to cut your losses, leave with dignity, but find ways to preserve Iraq's security, American security, our interests in that region. And you do that through diplomacy. There is no military solution.

I believe there is a political solution if you put the full power of the United States behind diplomacy, behind this reconciliation conference, behind bringing Iran and Syria. And be tough with them. You know, they're not helping. Look at what Iran's doing.

But if you just are hostile to them - you know, just yesterday it seems we may have a little progress on North Korea because finally the Bush administration talked to the North Koreans directly. Now that's yielding possibly a little bit of a breakthrough.

It's not going to eliminate all the nuclear weapons in the Korean Peninsula, but you've got to talk to - you don't make peace with your friends. You make peace with your enemies, and it's called diplomacy. I believe that can find a way to extricate us from Iraq but still preserve our interests and preserve the interests of Iraq, too.

CONAN: John, thanks very much for the call.

JOHN: Yeah, thanks. I think that's excellent. Thanks, Mr. Richardson.

CONAN: Okay. And we're speaking with Governor Bill Richardson, who hopes to be the Democratic presidential nominee in 2008. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's see if we can get Charles(ph) on the line, Charles with us from Lansing, Michigan.

CHARLES (Caller): Good afternoon, Governor Richardson, how are you?

Gov. RICHARDSON: I'm fine, thank you.

CHARLES: My partner and I, Harry, had the good fortune of meeting you in Boston at the DNC.

Gov. RICHARDSON: Oh good, good.

CHARLES: …2004. But my question is this. My partner of 15 years, we're Catholic, former seminarians, committed to one another. And I'm wondering from your perspective, what do you propose to do for folks like us in terms of wanting to get married?

Gov. RICHARDSON: Well if you look at my record as governor of New Mexico, there is no more progressive governor when it comes to partnerships, civil unions, hate crimes. We have passed - I have executive orders to cover state employees with insurance. And I believe that record - and, actually, I'm the only candidate that I believe mentioned sexual orientation in our speeches last Saturday in Washington at the Democratic National Committee.

I don't know if you were there. So you will find…

CHARLES: No, I wasn't there. But when are you coming to Michigan, because that's what my partner and I needed to hear from you before throwing our support your way.

Gov. RICHARDSON: Well I appreciate that. I'll be in Michigan sometime soon, especially if you guys move up your primary. Are you going to do that, you think?

CHARLES: I'm not sure, but I'm going to reach out to you. I'll call your office and…

Gov. RICHARDSON: Please do.

CONAN: Okay, and along with that, Governor Richardson, you mentioned a lot of words in that but not marriage. Are you for or against gay marriage?

Gov. RICHARDSON: I think that has to wait. I think let's find ways to make sure that we have enough civil union protections, non-discriminatory protections. That's what I would advocate.

CONAN: Okay. Charles, thanks very much for the call.

CHARLES: Thank you so much, Governor Richardson.

Gov. RICHARDSON: Thanks.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's turn now to - this is Amin(ph). Amin's with us from Hickory, North Carolina.

AMIN (Caller): Hi, thanks for accepting my call.

CONAN: Sure.

AMIN: I would like to tell Mr. Bill Richardson first that I'm not a U.S. citizen, so I don't know (unintelligible) if my opinion's going to count.

CONAN: Well, your vote sure won't.

AMIN: And actually my wife is a U.S. citizen, (unintelligible) almost like a (unintelligible) analysis talking about the candidates and everything and trying to make up our mind. And objectively speaking, Bill Richardson had actually, I would say, a lead compared to the other Democrats, not Democrat candidate, not (unintelligible), but he has a great resume. And so, like, I should congratulate him for actually running.

Gov. RICHARDSON: Thank you.

AMIN: My question actually is two-fold. Number one, (unintelligible) given all this hype around Hillary Clinton, I would say how are you going to distance yourself from Hillary Clinton, given the fact that once you were working for the Clinton administration? And then would that be any kind of discomfort when actually the election's going to get nastier as the closer we get to that time?

Gov. RICHARDSON: Well, you know, one other point - this gentleman is not a citizen, but I would also raise the legal immigration quotas. You know, there's a huge backlog and there are individuals from certain countries that, based on their skill set, we could use.

Now let me go to his question. President Clinton was really good to me. He made me U.N. ambassador, secretary of energy. He's my friend. I'm very loyal to him. But, you know, running for president is something that you do because you want to make a difference. I want to make the lives of people better. So I'm obviously not stepping aside for Senator Clinton, who's a good candidate, a strong candidate.

I believe that I offer more in terms of experience, but at the same time I'm not running a negative campaign. In fact, what I proposed at the Democratic National Committee session two weeks ago is I said let's have the DNC pass a resolution preventing primary candidates from attacking each other, TV ads that are attacking each other, because that's the worst thing we can do.

So I'm not going to run a negative campaign. It's not going to affect me, the personal relationship I have with the Clintons, both of whom I like. But I'm not here just to, you know, just to step aside. I'm running and I've got an agenda. And, you know, I hope this race doesn't get nasty, and this is why I proposed this initiative. But thanks for your nice words.

AMIN: You're welcome.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Amin. And Governor Clinton, we just - Governor Richardson, excuse me. I apologize for that. We just have a few seconds left, but we have an e-mail question about global warming and pollution. What would a President Richardson do to move the United States to a sustainable energy supply?

Gov. RICHARDSON: I would have a man on the moon policy, not a little energy bill, that reduces our energy independence from 65 to 10 percent, 10 years, through renewable energy technology, conservation, fuel efficiency. I'd lead an international effort to fight global climate change. I'd rejoin the Kyoto treaty. I would make up for the lost time. You know, we haven't had six years of observing Kyoto. I would have mandated caps on emissions, reductions. We've done this in New Mexico. We're one state that is observing the Kyoto Treaty.

This would be a massive international effort that I would lead as president to reduce our dependence on oil but also…

CONAN: Governor Richardson, I'm afraid we're going to have to cut it off there. I apologize.

Gov. RICHARDSON: All right. I'm sorry.

CONAN: Pleasure to have you on the program today.

Gov. RICHARDSON: Thank you.

CONAN: And good luck to you.

Gov. RICHARDSON: Thank you.

CONAN: Bill Richardson, governor of New Mexico.

I'm Neal Conan. This is TALK OF THE NATION, NPR News.

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