Preface: This post is part of a series started by Andrea, on her challenge to write about why a Bill Richardson Presidency would be good for your state.
I just posted a link to an online poll. You may want to know who I voted for. I voted for Bill Richardson.
There are a lot of reasons for this. One reason is because I've actually had the chance to watch Governor Richardson for more than twenty years, since he was my Congressman while I was living in Socorro, New Mexico. In fact I've met him at least a couple of times (though I doubt if he remembers the meetings because they were very brief) but I do remember a town-hall type of meeting that he held there on the end of the Rural Electrification Administration (which was announced by the Reagan administration in 1986, claiming that the job was '99% complete'). Governor Richardson was against ending it until the job was 100% done, as the original promise had been when the REA was created in 1935. And that's the way he is. Where I live now, in northeastern Arizona, I have met a lot of people living on the Navajo reservation who don't have electricity; despite the objections of Bill Richardson and a few others, the Reagan administration unfortunately won that battle-- so millions of Americans in hundreds of communities still are not on the electric grid (even though it really would not take all that big an investment to finish it). But Bill Richardson stood out to me then as a thoughtful man who was willing to take on even battles that didn't make headlines, like that one.
Another reason is that living in Arizona, I'd have to say that Bill Richardson understands our issues in a way much different from all the other candidates in the race. There is more to the term 'neighbor' than just living next door. Your neighbor has pretty much the same perspective as you do on a lot of things in life; the view from your neighbor's house is much the same as it is from yours. If the street needs to be fixed or it snows or a stray dog is getting into people's garbage, it is something that you go through and deal with together with your neighbor. Governor Richardson, to begin with, understands the unique issues involved with matters like tribal sovereignty, water issues and the border much more than, say, a Clinton of New York, an Obama of Illinois or an Edwards of North Carolina. In fact, of all the announced or likely major Democratic candidates, only Clark (of Arkansas-- right on the Mississippi river) and Richardson are from anywhere west of the Mississippi at all-- and Governor Richardson is the only one who is from a place where water generally even is an issue.
Governor Richardson has also taken a balanced approach to the border, of the type that is favored by most Arizonans. At a time when most national politicians-- of both parties-- are struggling to find themselves on the issue, Bill Richardson seems to have a good handle on it. Last year, together with our own Governor, Janet Napolitano, Governor Richardson announced a state of emergency along the border which allowed for the stationing of the National Guard along the border in order to enhance border security. At the same time he has opposed building a wall along the border. That fits the views of most Arizonans. The Arizonans who took the hardest lines on immigration-- Gubernatorial nominee Len Munsil, Attorney General nominee Bill Montgomery, Congressional candidate Randy Graf, and Congressman J.D. Hayworth, all lost in their election bids this year. The reason is plain-- other than the Minutemen and a few other loonies out there, people don't want a wall around the country. In Arizona, as in New Mexico, the ability of people and goods to pass over the border easily helps the economy and keeps thousands of people employed. Many businesses near the border make their money from trade with, through and in Mexico. Former Republican congressman Jim Kolbe understood this, as does Republican congressman Jeff Flake. So do Democrats like Raul Grijalva and Gabrielle Giffords, who beat Graf handily and will succeed Kolbe. They understand that Mexico is a partner, not an enemy. And Bill Richardson also understands this.
Further, what a lot of politicians don't understand about immigration is that the whole border issue is tied up with family. Many families run the gamut, with family members who are U.S. citizens, family members living happily in Latin America, and perhaps with family members who are here legally or illegally as aliens. So when people talk about building a wall or making being here without documents a felony, it is a personal issue that strikes to the core of family values. I know this is true in my own family. My father's family has been here since 1630 (in fact I had an ancestor who was a ship's chandler in Southampton who rented the Mayflower to the pilgrims, and himself came over ten years later.) My mother's parents were both Ellis Island immigrants during the early part of the last century. I have a cousin (on my father's side) who is today married to a Latin American man (he is a legal resident) and they go back every couple of years to visit his parents and other family members still living there. I know he has other family members living in the United States, and I haven't asked what their immigration status is (because it doesn't matter to me-- if I meet one of them then they are my family by marriage, and whether they have a green card or not won't change the family relation.) Bill Richardson's mother was from Mexico, so he certainly understands the family issues like no one else who is running. And further, whether we like it or not, the relations the U.S. has with Mexico are more important than the relations the U.S. has right now with probably any other country in the world. Geography, history and family have made it that way. Both Bill Richardson's knowledge of issues, his knowledge of Mexico and his negotiation skills would make him the best choice for someone who could work out a plan with Mexico that would secure the border, get a handle on who is going in and out and allow the free flow of trade and legal immigrants across the border. Stopping terrorists, criminals, drugs and maybe even WMD at the border won't work unless we have cooperation with Mexico, and Bill Richardson is a guy who I think can get it.
Water is another critical issue in the Southwest. We have a rapidly expanding population in Arizona (in fact Arizona just recently outpaced Nevada in this category to become the fastest growing state in the nation), and the limit on how far it can expand is dependent on one thing more than anything else: the water supply. New Mexico is also experiencing rapid growth (I went back with my wife a couple of years ago to visit Moriarty and Los Lunas, communities where we used to live, and was amazed at the growth that has occurred in both places.) The water issues in New Mexico, if less stressing than they are in Arizona, are very much the same. In 2003, a dry year, Governor Richardson was willing to endure the heat from outraged boaters and others when he released 122,500 acre feet instead of the expected 217,000 from Elephant Butte reservoir. While he has since visited the area and funded classes on boating safety and other issues, his decision then showed that 1) he understands water limitations, and 2) he is willing to make an unpopular decision that he thinks is right even when it costs him political support; that's a rarity in a politician these days.
Bill Richardson has always respected the Native American tribes in New Mexico. He hasn't tried to interfere with the free exercise of tribal soverignty, and (as I mentioned earlier) he is aware of the fact that on some reservations the electric grid was never completed, and felt that it should have. I am involved right now with a project to bring electricity to a community that has been waiting for decades to receive it, and my belief is that if Bill Richardson becomes President this issue, and others on reservations (such as the high numbers of meth labs) will be addressed, but in a way that respects and works with, rather than dictates to the sovereign governments that exist on the reservations.
Those are some reasons specific to Arizona that I support Bill Richardson, and believe that if it came to it he is the one Democrat who might be able to force John McCain, if he is the GOP nominee, to campaign at home (particularly with the McCain-mafia connection that is likely to come up sooner or later). There are some other reasons as well, that would apply no matter where I lived. The biggest one, now that we see the disastrous consequences in Iraq of our policy of unilateralism and the doctrine of 'pre-emptive war,' is that Bill Richardson's foreign policy (and he has extensive experience in the area) is based on diplomacy and peaceful resolution of conflict. That doesn't mean that he couldn't make a hard decision if he had to-- for example, in a speech to the U.N. in Stockholm in 1998 then-U.N. ambassador Richardson, speaking on behalf of the Clinton administration policy, said that it was possible that use of force might be needed to get Iraq to comply with U.N. sanctions (which the threat of did in fact get Saddam Hussein to let the inspectors back in before President Bush decided that he would rather just unilaterally ignore that the Iraqis had done what he asked and invade anyway.) Bill Richardson is a man of peace though and I know from having watched him for twenty years (during which time he has engaged in successful hostage negotiations and other negotiations with some pretty dangerous and unsavory characters) that he would consider war as a last resort only, and only if all other options for resolving a situation have failed. Further, he brings something that is sorely needed at this time-- a voice that is respected in the world and would begin to return the U.S. to a position of leadership in the world. No other candidate, of either party has the credentials and respect around the world that Bill Richardson has that will enable him to do the long, hard job of repairing America's reputation in the world and re-establishing America's moral authority to lead.
Bill Richardson also is innovative and willing to use the Government to help ordinary people. One example of this was his landmark initiative for providing a quarter million dollars of life insurance for each member of the New Mexico National Guard, including those deployed in Iraq. The effect of this was to eliminate one of the main concerns that our soldiers have-- worrying about how their loved ones will get along if they don't come back, and allow them to focus on the task at hand. The innovation by Richardson eventually embarrassed President Bush into doing the same thing on a national level.
New Mexico has also always been a very poor state with thousands of people in grinding poverty. It's still a poor state, but with Richardson's leadership as governor it is starting to grow and inch up on all those lists where it has been at or near the bottom for decades. New Mexico is blessed with a budget surplus again this year-- largely because of Richardson's willingness to resist the urge to throw money at problems while still increasing funding for specific areas to address specific and well-defined deficiencies. He has cut a few taxes in New Mexico, but the taxes he has cut-- like sales tax on things like groceries and medical care-- really are targetted towards everyone, not just the wealthy.