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Bill's back

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By Jay Miller

SANTA FE — Gov. Bill Richardson answered a number of questions when he withdrew on Thursday from the presidential race.Among them were whether he would be around the following Tuesday to address the opening of the 2008 Legislature, whether he would be spending much time with the 30-day session and whether he might still be considering a run for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by the retirement of Sen. Pete Domenici.On the night of the New Hampshire primary election, Richardson told supporters he would head out West to continue the fight. But within the hour he was on his way back to New Mexico and the following afternoon the Associated Press announced Richardson would be withdrawing.That answered the question about whether Richardson would be present to address the Legislature on opening day. But what about the rest of the session? Would the governor endorse another candidate and be out stumping for him or her?At his Thursday withdrawal rally in the rotunda of the state Capitol, Richardson announced he would not endorse anyone at that time. He urged his supporters to independently choose another candidate to back.And the question of whether he would jump into the Senate contest alongside Rep. Tom Udall was answered when Udall stepped to the podium to introduce Richardson. Udall’s remarks centered on their joint experiences as he accompanied Richardson on the campaign trail.That should put aside the ceaseless speculation that Richardson would decide before the Feb. 12 filing deadline to run for the U.S. Senate. It should also be noted that Richardson’s deputy presidential campaign manager is Udall’s daughter, Amanda Cooper.Other questions remain unanswered. Richardson will remain on the New Mexico Democratic caucus’ Feb. 5 ballot. It is too late to withdraw. Will he run as a favorite son? Will he throw his support to another candidate? Or will he let politics take its course? It’s hard to imagine that Richardson would not want to gain whatever bargaining advantage he can with the other candidates.What sort of a mood will Richardson be in after seeing a year of tough campaigning go down the drain? He has always had the presidency to work toward as his ultimate goal. Will he be demoralized now that his dream has been dashed?Several of the hundreds of Richardson appointees to top government posts have complained to me about how demanding he has been about them taking leave to campaign for him in Iowa and New Hampshire.Their worries are summed up in the phrase “Bill’s coming back. And he’s mad.” The concern is strengthened by reports that Richardson chewed out his staff and volunteers the night of the New Hampshire election.The upcoming legislative session may not make Richardson any happier. He still has his good friend Rep. Ben Lujan running the House, but Senate majority leader Michael Sanchez has always been a thorn in his side and now Sen. Tim Jennings of Roswell appears to be the new Senate president pro tem, replacing Sen. Ben Altamirano who died recently.Even with that battle setting up, the session should run more smoothly than if the governor was not present. Lawmakers have been basically understanding about Richardson’s long absence. But that absence began before the end of the 2007 Legislature when several lawmakers known for their opposition to Richardson’s initiatives, complained that Richardson wasn’t present to provide them guidance.In his withdrawal speech, Richardson pledged to return with an optimistic spirit and devote his full efforts to the 2008 Legislature. He has to be hurting from his losses but there are big issues here in New Mexico to face.He fought a good fight and brought attention to our state. It is unfortunate that his claim to being the most experienced of the candidates was trumped by calls for change. You can bet that with Big Bill in the White House there would have been plenty of changes, also.

Jay Miller is a syndicated columnist in Santa Fe. He may be reached by e-mail to insidethecapitol@hotmail.com.