Political Postpartum: My Interview With Bill Richardson

Bill Richardson is in his second term as New Mexico's governor. In January, he ended his bid for the Democratic nomination for US president.

JG: I like your beard.
BR: Well, thank you. I'm going to have it on probably another month and then get it off.

Have you been surprised at how much commentary it's engendered?

Yeah, you know, I just really am. People are fascinated with not my views on health care or foreign policy, they care about the beard [laughs].

The LA Times recently described you as sulky following the end of your race [April 12: "Why Gov. Bill Richardson Didn't Endorse Clinton"]. Were you sulky?
No, I went right into the [legislative] session. I went right back into riding my horse. I was back doing my governor stuff, going to concerts, going to boxing matches, going to art museums. No, I wasn't sulky, I did see that...was it the LA Times? I felt, after the race, I was satisfied. It was a little bit of a physical letdown, because you were on for 20 hours a day and all of a sudden going to 12 hours a day...

Would you ever run for president again?
Yeah, sure.

Did you expect your endorsement [of Obama] to have such an impact?
I didn't think it would have that much of an impact. I was just overwhelmed the day we did the endorsement [that] it just got so much attention, and then that weekend and then when [James] Carville started attacking me; it was continuous. It's almost stopped.

So, without having time to think: secretary of state or vice president?
Well, I'm going to give you my traditional answer: I'm very happy where I am, but of course I can't shut the possibility of either of those two; I'd be honored, but I'm not pining for it, I'm not planning any campaigns for it. Right now, I'm just very happy where I am. Don't I look happy?

You look awesome. Closer to home, the summit over the problems with the Democratic caucus here has been postponed. Is this an indication that we may not have another caucus?
No, no, we postponed it because the timing of it was too tied to the regular convention. I expect we'll have the summit sometime in the fall and the purpose is to ask voters, county chairmen, party activists...: What do we do with the caucus? My view, which I will not try to impose, is we keep the caucus in February, but that we do it as a state election and try to enlist Republicans to do theirs too.

Beyond the caucus, there have been concerns about the ES&S voting machines [SF Reporter cover story, March 5: "Ballot Booth Woes"]. What is the governor's office proposing?
Well, we just approved close to $600,000 for the Secretary of State's Office today [April 15] for training for the primary, and there's about $3 million we anticipate the secretary of state will need to spend on the general election, and we were informed today they may need $1 million more and we will support that.

And you're still planning a special session for May focused on health care?
I believe this is a matter of great urgency that we try to achieve universal health care in the state. Since I threatened the May schedule, I'm having, all of a sudden, quite positive cooperation by members, especially of the Senate. So if we have a successful meeting next week with our staff and senators, then I may reconsider and...do it in the summer.

Are you worried this prolonged [presidential] race will hurt Democrats in the fall?
Yes, I am. I worry if we head into the convention without a candidate, and into August, that it will severely cripple our candidate and give ammunition to the Republicans...we've given John McCain months of campaigning, fundraising, penetrating Democratic territory...

What will your role be at the convention?
Limited, I'm not chairman of the convention. I'm going to ask [Lt. Gov. Diane Denish] to take over most of the ceremonial activities for the New Mexico delegation. I'll still be a delegate, I'll still be there.

Was your endorsement in the presidential election different than your vote on Super Tuesday?
No, it was the same.

Do you think there will ever be a rapprochement between you and the Clintons?
Probably not for a while...possibly forever. You know in politics...I still keep President Clinton's pictures in our private home, it's very much a part of my life. It was painful, but I felt I was making a decision on what was best for the country, and those personal/political ties, you can't just go back and do them all the time. I really felt Obama was something special and good and I still do.

Do you think you were changed by running for president?
I do. I feel I learned a lot about myself, I learned a lot about the country, I tested myself and even though I came up short in money and votes, I ran a credible race...Had we not been faced this year with two mega-star candidates, we might have been in contention, but clearly I felt the campaign was very worthwhile. I still miss it. I still miss being out there every day.