Inside the Capitol

Monday, December 13, 2004

Don't Count Gov Out Yet

SANTA FE – Gov. Bill Richardson may look like dead meat, but don’t count him out just yet.
A great many prognosticators have been writing his epitaph ever since the Nov. 2 election when he failed to deliver the Hispanic vote by a wide enough margin to carry the state for Democratic nominee John Kerry.
But Richardson doesn’t knock out easily. He has bounced back with a flurry of activity. Picking up on dissatisfaction with vote-counting procedures, he has announced an ambitious election reform package as part of a packed legislative agenda that includes more tax cuts.
Sensing a desire on the part of Los Alamos National Laboratory employees to keep the University of California running the lab, he has flown to California to urge the Board of Regents to bid on the contract again. He has gone to Little Rock for the opening of the Clinton Presidential Center. And he is getting ready to plunge into his new responsibilities as chairman of the Democratic Governor’s Association.
Richardson also takes care to keep us reminded of national publications in which he appears. Last week, former Republican presidential candidate Steve Forbes mentioned our governor quite positively in Forbes magazine as someone who would have given Democrats more firepower on the national scene in the past election.
In a section titled, “Imagine: A Democratic Tax-Cutter,” Forbes mentioned Richardson’s tax cuts, his efforts to improve public schools, his aggressive pursuit of new businesses and his ability to turn ideas and goals into hard realities.
Richardson also reminded us that the state was cited earlier this year by the Wall Street Journal for an attractive and improving tax climate. The Journal article noted that New Mexico moved from 10th to 29th in the nation in the amount of tax burden.
Richardson’s endorsement of the University of California to continue its management of the Los Alamos lab came as a surprise to many. When he was degraded by Congress for security lapses at the lab, it was essentially the University of California that let him down as secretary of Energy.
But what Richardson saw in the recent presidential election convinced him that the way to Los Alamos voters’ hearts was through the University of California. Scared that a vote for President Bush was a vote for the University of Texas taking over the lab, somewhere in the neighborhood of a thousand Republican votes that Bush normally could have expected, went to Sen. Kerry.
Richardson will be running again in two years and he hopes some of those Los Alamos voters will remember their gratitude to him for backing the University of California.
The president actually has given mixed signals about his support for the University of Texas taking over LANL management. The president is a major supporter of privatization and may likely prefer to see that bid go to private industry, as is the case with New Mexico’s other national lab at Sandia in Albuquerque.
Richardson should like that idea too because a private contractor would pay taxes, which the University of California does not. And Richardson needs all the extra money he can get for his tax cuts and new programs.
The governor’s election reform proposals also have some surprises. For instance, after seeing the public polls, he has indicated a willingness to work something out with Republicans on voter identification.
After New Mexico took so many knocks for its slow vote counting, Richardson jumped on that bandwagon and voiced his displeasure too. Last year, he appointed a bipartisan task force to study election law reform and make recommendations. But the committee’s effort melted down to not much of anything due to partisan bickering.
This time around, there is no time for a study committee so the governor has come up with seven major recommendations, which he will push in the 2005 Legislature beginning in January.


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