Our first meeting was when I was a moderator for a 2002 gubernatorial debate against Republican John Sanchez and David Bacon of the Green Party. Richardson was so unconcerned with his opposition that he instead focused on Democrats in the state Legislature, warning them not to get in the way of his big tax cut.
Richardson’s plan was to pass tax cuts for corporations and rich people, then advertise them on a billboard in Times Square with his face on it. Ambitious.
After having previously served in Congress, as ambassador to the United Nations and Energy secretary, Richardson saw the job of governor as the final step toward his ultimate goal, president of the United States. His pitch to voters in 2008 was that he was the most qualified candidate in the race. And, on paper, he did have a better resume than Barack Obama. Both were ambitious.
Richardson once commissioned a study intended to eventually bring an NFL team to New Mexico. His plan was to have a bi-national team that would play home games in Albuquerque, El Paso and Juarez. Blindly ambitious.
He invested $60 million in the Rail Runner and another $218 million in Spaceport America. The train spurred new economic development around the Santa Fe depot, but has not taken as many cars off the road as expected. The jury is still out on the spaceport. Maybe Virgin Galactic will get its stuff together someday. Expensively ambitious.
Richardson loved to mingle with rock stars and movie stars. A guitar signed by the Eagles was one of his prized possessions. The New Mexico film industry was born of his love for stars. Generous tax credits lured film and TV production to our state. Albuquerque is now known more for Breaking Bad than hot-air balloons. But rural taxpayers who contribute to the tax credits have seen few benefits. Starry-eyed ambitious.
I was hired as the Santa Fe bureau chief shortly after Richardson took office, and it was one of the best times of my career. Richardson was named chairman of the 2004 Democratic Convention, meaning all of the candidates were required to make a pilgrimage to Santa Fe to kiss the ring. I was at the Fleet Center in Boston when an unknown Obama introduced himself to the nation.
I had a chance to ask Dennis Hopper questions about the movie he was shooting in New Mexico. Sadly, it was a wasted opportunity.
I covered a speech by President George W. Bush in Albuquerque touting an increase in home ownership delivered a few years before the housing bubble burst. I talked with John Kerry outside the Santa Fe Boys and Girls Club when he was down in the polls and couldn’t draw a crowd, then rode on a train with him from Albuquerque to Gallup after he had won the Democratic nomination.
Covering Richardson was a blast. I’m not sure that his two terms were as good for the state. The tax cuts may not hurt now, with oil producing record levels of revenue. But those booms don’t last. And, his second-term ended in a pay-to-play scandal that prevented his return to Washington.
But there’s a part of me that has to admire somebody who's not afraid to dream big … even ridiculously big sometimes.
Walter Rubel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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