Fw: 12-2 Richardson Struggling to Make Top Tier
SANTA FE -- Gov. Bill Richardson has been pegged by one national political pundit as having the perfect profile for a presidential candidate. He's a Western governor in a red state. He has experience in two cabinet positions, one dealing with domestic issues and one international. He's bilingual, a tax cutter, a leader in his national party and in governors' organizations.
So why isn't he leading the pack? Well, he's from a small state and he doesn't look or act particularly presidential. He's been a leading diplomat, but not your usual distinguished, reserved type. Richardson is an outgoing, fun-loving glad-hander.
Somehow, his suits don't seem to fit. It's probably more due to his casual demeanor rather than poor tailoring. At the governor's news conference following the mistaken report of his death in an airplane crash, the joke was that Richardson looked good, but his suit appeared to have been in a plane crash.
Richardson's vetting as a possible vice-presidential candidate in early 2004 didn't go well, either. He seemed too much a loose cannon to some party strategists. During the controversy about digging up Billy the Kid and his mother, I was contacted by a member of the vetting team, concerned that the governor didn't quickly back off when Silver City and Fort Sumner protested digging in their cemeteries.
But Richardson has paid his dues. He has been a leader among governors. He was the first governor to propose life insurance for Guard members on active duty. That initiative has since been copied widely.
Richardson sometimes is called the most powerful governor in the nation. But the title doesn't really fit. New Mexico has what is called a plural executive, in which other elected officials help administer government.
The situation was vividly demonstrated recently with the extortion charges against the state treasurer. Although Richardson had nothing to do with the situation, the assumption in many parts of the country was that the state treasurer works for the governor. That's not going to help him nationally.
If Richardson does end up being seriously considered as a presidential contender, detractors will have little trouble finding problems he has encountered in New Mexico. The governor's high-speed trips around the state in a large SUV caused him trouble. He since has turned in his Lincoln Navigator for a more modest and energy-saving hybrid vehicle. But somehow, the public hasn't noticed.
A $5.5 million jet airplane also helped garner him a reputation as a big spender. And even though other agencies have used it more than the governor, he still gets the blame for the plane.
Now, the problem is a fib about his budding career as a young baseball pitcher 40 years ago. Richardson claimed to have been drafted by a major league team while in college. But after the Albuquerque Journal checked the claim, it learned there never was paperwork to back it up.
It seems that although the young Richardson was scouted several times and although scouts did talk to him and express an interest, no team ever offered Richardson a contract. At about that time, Richardson's pitching arm gave out from throwing too many curve balls at too young an age. Baseball was forgotten and he moved on to graduate school.
There was no doubt that the young Richardson was a good athlete. He starred in House-Senate softball games while in Congress. I got to play with him in a 1980 July 4th fundraising baseball game soon after he moved to New Mexico. In those days, he looked good in shorts and a muscle shirt and excelled at every position.
But today, he is in trouble for having thrown one curveball too many concerning his baseball credentials. It may not seem major, but a few years ago, a Notre Dame coach claimed a degree he didn't have and lost his job. Similar fates have met titans of industry, who fudged on a resume.
But in the world of politics, untruths are expected and often forgiven.