Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 558
Earlier today, I conducted an exclusive one-on-one telephone interview with New Mexico Governor and presidential candidate Bill Richardson as he traveled on his latest Iowa campaign swing.
iPol: Governor, welcome back to Iowa. Where are you calling from - travelling from where to where this afternoon?
Governor Richardson: “I’m going right now to Cedar Rapids from Waterloo. I’ve got my final event in Cedar Rapids. Then I go to Cincinnati, and then to the debate in Detroit tomorrow.”
iPol: So, you’re back in Iowa again after visiting just 2 or 3 weeks ago. What’s the purpose of this trip, and what do you hope to accomplish?
Governor Richardson: “The purpose of the trip is to connect with Iowa. I’m a grassroots candidate. I don’t have the glitz and the money the other candidates have, so I’m going to outwork them. I’m going to go to house parties, and I’m going to try to visit as many counties as I can, visit businesses, shake hands. What I’m trying to do is visit the little towns; I’ve gone to several little towns that haven’t had too much attention. I was in Independence, I was in Manchester, I was in – well, Dubuque – I was in Maquoketa. And now we’re off back to Cedar Rapids.
“I’m talking about issues. I’m basically saying that I’m the best prepared candidate with the most experience and I bring the best of both worlds: change and experience. My message is one of change: change in approach to foreign policy, energy, the economy, health care. And I’ve got the experience to get it done and the ability to bring people together and get legislation passed that is needed for this country. “
iPol: What do you say to voters here and around the country who may be thinking, “Sure, Bill Richardson – nice guy, funny TV commercials, impressive resume and credentials, but he’s only at 10% in the polls and I don’t want to throw away my vote on a long shot. Can he win?” What do you say to them?
Governor Richardson: “I say to them that we ought to start thinking about electability in the general election, that I can win in regions where other Democrats have not been able to win, like the Southwest, Ohio, some southern states. Secondly, that Bill Richardson can win, because he’s going to outwork everybody. We’ve got seven months to go, and there are a bunch of debates coming, and he’s going to outwork everybody.
“I’m just saying to Iowans that you have the formidable decision to make the first shot at who the president is, and it should be done on substance and on merit, rather than on glitz and money and political legacies, and that message will get across. There’s plenty of time.”
iPol: People familiar with you and your candidacy of course know about your extensive record in public service: congressman, Energy Secretary and United States Ambassador to the United Nations during the Bill Clinton administration, Governor of New Mexico, nominated for the Nobel Prize 4 times. In all of that, what has been your biggest success in public life? What one thing has brought you the most satisfaction, looking back?
Governor Richardson: “Improving New Mexico’s schools; raising teacher’s salaries, moving from 49th to 27th in teacher salary increases; increasing academic standards in the state. That would be followed by my being able to insure kids under five. Those, I think, would be, policy-wise, would be the most satisfying of what I’ve been able to do throughout my career. It’s been helping people, and that’s what I like to do as a public servant.”
iPol: Flip side of that same question: if there was one thing you wish you could do over or do differently, what would it have been?
Governor Richardson: “I wish I had been less aggressive and less bombastic with the New Mexico legislature when I wanted them to pass an increase in the minimum wage. Instead of negotiating and instead of working with them, I got a little irritated that it wasn’t happening. And we had a wait a year for that to happen, probably because of my impatience. But we finally got it done in this last session, and increased the minimum wage to $7.50 an hour, so I’m satisfied. But that always will be a regret, that maybe because of my aggressiveness, and that I didn’t follow my diplomacy, which I always do, that I delayed people getting an increase in the wage for a full year.”
iPol: Let’s talk about immigration for a moment. Specifically, immigration reform measures directed primarily against Latino immigrants to this country are shaping the race on the Republican side, and will undoubtedly be an issue in the general election. As the only Latino candidate in the race, how to you see this issue impacting your campaign, and how do you plan to respond?
Governor Richardson: “Being Latino should not effect me, because I need to do what’s best for the country as president, or as governor, what works best for my constituents. Three years ago I angered many Latino leaders nationally by declaring a border emergency on my border with Mexico because my constituents in New Mexico, especially southern New Mexico, were asking me to do something. There was a flow of people and drugs, and killings, and the federal government wasn’t doing anything. So I ordered a border emergency so that we could hire, the state could hire, law enforcement officers; the federal government, the Border Patrol, weren’t doing anything.
“But, yeah, I have personally felt the sting of being a Latino, looking a little different, especially when I was growing up. So you can empathize a little bit; my mother’s Mexican. But it’s important not to get your personal prejudices and biases…although I am sometimes upset at the media for depicted those film images of illegal immigrant climbing across the fence, but they don’t seem to focus or picture immigrants working hard in the corn fields of Iowa, back-breaking jobs, or an immigrant being in Iraq as a soldier who gave his life for this country. So sometimes I get angry, but what I think is needed is a bi-partisan solution to the immigration problem.
“You never get any votes out of this issue, I have found over the years. But what is important to do is to do the right thing.”
iPol: Let’s talk about energy policy and climate change. This past weekend, of course, there have been the Live Earth events taking place here and around the world. In conjunction with that, MoveOn.org was holding what they called a Virtual Town Hall on energy policy and asking people to rate the energy proposals of the various Democratic candidates, yourself included. They sent out the results of that earlier today, and it shows that your proposal came in 5th, with 12.6 percent of the votes from the participants; you came in behind John Edwards, Dennis Kucinich, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Does that result surprise you, and do you have any comment?
Governor Richardson: “Well, my program on greenhouse gas emissions, the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters, they rated it the most aggressive. So I think a lot of these are popularity polls; they’re not based on substance. I certainly have the most aggressive [plan] on greenhouse gas emissions. I have an Apollo program that is very decisive. I don’t worry about those polls. I believe, by far, not only do I have the most aggressive plan, but I’ve been Energy Secretary, and New Mexico is probably a cleaner energy state than in any of the states where these candidates represent. So I believe my record is the strongest, and also I have direct experience getting clean energy done at the state level, at the federal level; I increased efficiency standards of air conditioning by 30% when I was Energy Secretary. So I believe my plan is the strongest.
iPol: Let's talk about Iraq for a moment. Every candidate on the Democratic side has their plan for bringing troops home and ending the war. What do you say to voters evaluating your plan, and why should they support it over the other candidates’ plans?
Governor Richardson: “Because my plan is the clearest and most decisive. I say get out by the end of this calendar year, and unlike other candidates, I say no residual forces. Every other candidate has residual forces. I believe they’ve become targets, our troops, and that diplomacy can’t begin until they’re out. If our troops stay, they’ll be attacked, and it will prolong the war.
“But what I also offer is a diplomatic plan; a diplomatic plan to partition the country, not into three states, but possibly three entities; a reconciliation process of the three groups in Iraq, and an all-Muslim peacekeeping force, inviting Iran and Syria to participate. So, I know how to get it done. I’ve been to the region. I’ve been in Iraq. I negotiated with Saddam Hussein, I know the leaders of the other countries. I believe my plan is the most viable.
“I also believe that Congress is abdicating. Instead of passing appropriations measures to reduce funding and to deal with benchmarks, they ought to pass [a measure] deauthorizing the war; a clear, Article I initiative that the President can’t veto, that would be decisive. That would be much more effective than these measly appropriations bills, where we have not stopped the President one iota; he’s basically got a blank check.
iPol: On a related note: how many New Mexico National Guard troops are currently serving in Iraq? How many fatalities have they suffered?
Governor Richardson: “I believe we’ve had 45 fatalities in the state, total. How many Guardsmen we have in Iraq, probably about 200 right now; they come in and out, they’re deployed in and out. We have a total Guard force of about 4700, and most of them have been there, have been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
iPol: Finally, a question that has been kind of floating out there for a while now, but never directly answered. Unfortunately, it’s a question that’s been raised by your own campaign, and I hope you’ll be able to provide a definitive answer here and now. And the question is: If you were a tree, what kind of a tree would you be?
Governor Richardson: “I would be an oak tree!”
iPol: Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, thanks very much for taking time to speak with me today – it’s been fun. Let’s do this again, only next time face-to-face, and in the Oval Office.
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 558