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Governor Bill Richardson (NM).

Special Dossier: Presidential Primaries

Remarks by Governor Bill Richardson

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson is the only governor and the only Hispanic candidate for the Democratic nomination. He was first elected governor in 2003 and was recently re-elected with the support of 69 percent of voters, representing the largest margin of victory for any governor in state history. Richardson was a member of Congress for 15 years, having served New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District in the House of Representatives from 1983 to 1997. He was appointed United States ambassador to the United Nations in 1997. From 1998-2000, he was United States Secretary of Energy under President Bill Clinton. He recently completed his second straight year as Chairman of the Democratic Governors’ Associations.

Richardson officially announced his candidacy for President May 21, 2007 in Los Angeles, CA.

Richardson recently addressed the National Jewish Democratic Council's Washington Policy Conference. Miami Real Estate Developer Steve Patell introduced him by saying that Richardson is has experience "getting things done," in Congress and having "real world, hands-on experience" meeting with heads of state and with hostage-release negotiations. Patell said Richardson was the only candidate for President who has done something for energy policy, has the executive experience it takes to be President and "speaks the truth."

Governor Bill Richardson: I want to talk to you a little about a variety of issues, and why I am running for president.

More than anything, I think we need to bring this country together, apart from all the issues, and all the foreign policy and national challenges that we have, I think that is what we need more than anything.

I know that Israel is key to this organization as are other domestic issues, but I wanted first to say that as I see the split over the war, as I see the debate on immigration, as I see the enormous divisions between the rural and urban parts of our country, I see an American middle class striving to just get an even shot – high health care costs, pensions, wages, can’t afford having kids go to college, poverty in our major cities, one out of two African American and Hispanic kids not graduating from high school.

We need to bring this country together, but I am an optimist. I think we can do it. I think we can do it with governance, with responsibility, and I think we can do it mostly by recognizing that this country right now needs change.

Now, on Israel, I have dealt with many of you on this issue. I was in Congress 15 years. I have always been there for Israel, and Jewish community organizations like yours have always been there for me helping me with my races for Congress, making sure that we take the right positions and explain them. I’ve been with you at the United Nations when I, my first week, cast two votes to protect Israel from a General Assembly that wanted to make dramatic statements about settlements.

As Secretary of Energy when we shared a number of solar energy projects and what you know about Israel, and I have been to that great country twelve times, is that on solar and renewable energy, we can learn a little bit about it from Israel rather than the other way. And I found that we’ve built some very strong relationships.

My state of New Mexico has three trade offices in the world. We are a small state; we are not like New York or Illinois. We have a trade office with Mexico, Japan and Israel.

Thirty million dollars in trade.

And I am the first governor that purchased Israeli bonds -- $15 million. We did it. So one of my messages among all these candidates, and they are going to talk to you about foreign policy and how I am going to vote, how we brought countries together, how we created jobs, how we stood with Israel, how we stand for civil rights and pro-choice and what we are doing about sexual orientation, here is the difference. I have done it. I have done it.

I want to just say to all of you, what would I do as President in the Middle East as it most vitally affects Israel?

First, I would say to you honestly, candidly, that today, Israel is less secure than it was six years ago. Hamas announced they’re going to start bombing the southern side of Israel because this truce is not going to work. I see Hezbollah stronger. I see Iran saying they’re going to have nuclear weapons. I say an Israeli-Palestinian peace process is not happening. Israel is not more secure.

As President, I would bring back the Middle East peace envoy. I would ensure, and this is one thing I believe because of this dramatic possible change in the geopolitical situation in the region. I would ask the question: are we providing Israel with enough military and economic security funds. Possibly we may need to increase that. But most importantly, I would advocate the two-state solution. I would push forward on a peace process. I would find ways desperately to see the Middle East in the context of an American foreign policy that is obsessed with a war in Iraq. And what that has caused, that obsession with Iraq, has caused us as a country to fail to focus on the real threats to America. The threats of international terrorism, the need to built international coalitions to fight it, nuclear proliferation, a dirty bomb or a loose nuke, or a terrorist putting his hands on uranium or nuclear material, or a rogue nation selling nuclear materials on the black market. We don’t have policies to deal with securing all this fissionable materials.

Global climate change.

This is a national security issue, too, not just an environmental issue because the planet is saying to us that we have to dramatically change and treat it with less fossil fuel pollution and man-made efforts to control it. So, I believe what we need is a policy that deals with all of these issues in the Persian Gulf. That deals with the transnational issues of nuclear proliferation, of terrorism, of a peace process that is so necessary, of environmental degradation.

I also want to say to you that I think it’s critically important that we be honest about Iraq. A lot of candidates, they have all these positions – on the one hand, on the other hand, on this hand – here’s what I would do on Iraq and I’m going to be very clear. If I were President today, I would withdraw all our troops, all residual troops, by the end of this calendar year

Diplomatic Engagement.

Now, what I would do as part of that effort is three dramatic, diplomatic engagements.

One would be a reconciliation effort that would bring the three entities – the Sunni, the Shiite, the Kurds, they all hate each other – in a political compromise led by the United States that deals with boundaries, like the Dayton Accords, separate each of the three; that deals with a division of energy ministries, divide up the oil power, divide up oil revenues; and a coalition government that would be lead by an Iraqi federal government. That would be using the leverage of withdrawal to make that happen.

The second effort, I would bring an entire security and reconstruction strategy.


Saudi Arabia, Turkey, I would invite Egypt, Muslim countries to be part of a future security framework led by the Iraqis by the way who should be handling more of the security than they’re doing today. You know what else I would do; I would bring in Iran and Syria. And those would be tough negotiations. And by the way, I would find it unacceptable if Iran had nuclear weapons. But at the same time, I think there is a community of interest, potential common interest that could be sought to bring some stability to the area. That’s what I would do with Iraq.

I would then have a donor conference so that issues related to reconstruction…I’d bring the Saudis, I’d bring Europeans, I’d bring the World Bank to find ways to find ways that we can rebuild this country. I would reposition those forces that we have in Iran in areas that we need to fight international terrorism. It could be Kuwait, it certainly would be Afghanistan, where we have to find ways to deal with Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in a growing threat. It would also preposition us in the Persian Gulf to deal with any contingency that we might have.

Day One: Get Out Of Iraq

I will be brief and tell you what I would do as President in my first six days. Let us say the election just happened and I am taking office. The first day I would announce this plan on getting out of Iraq because I think that’s the center of the divisions in this country. Because you take the closest $600 billion that we have in this war and shift it to other foreign policy priorities that I mentioned, but also to dramatically needed domestic needs, like a national health care plan or a national scholarship for every American. That would be Day One. You get out of Iraq.

Day Two: Energy.

I notice the candidates talk about energy. Well I was Secretary of Energy, so I know a little bit about this. And they all have their energy plans, I would pass this bill, I would pass that bill. This is what I would do. I would have a Marshall Plan, an Apollo plan, that says America is going to shift its dependence from foreign oil, which is 65% to 10% in ten years. And we can do it. And it will be solar, wind, biomass, public and private investment in renewable technologies and renewable fuels. It would be fuel cells distributed generation. It would be 40-mile-per-gallon vehicles, it would be a commitment to biodiesel, it would be a commitment to ethanol, a commitment to biofuels.

But I would also say to everyone one of you, and I’m going to use the word that is not politically popular, its called a sacrifice. I’m going to ask every American to do their bit to sacrifice in the name of energy efficiency, but also national security. Where is this 65% coming from? Its Saudi Arabia, it’s Nigeria, its Venezuela, its Persian Gulf countries that exactly are not our friends. So it’s a matter of energy security and national security.

And at the same time on this second day, I would announce a global coalition to not just return to the Kyoto Treaty, but replace it with a stronger treaty that has mandated reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, that has cap and trade entities, that has a major effort to say to the Chinas and Indians that are not participating that you now have to participate because we, America, will lead the effort.

And I would have goals that are dramatic and strong because I believe that today, what you’re seeing is an intensive degradation of our seas, of our ecology, planet that is basically saying to all of us, you need to change. That would be the second day.

Day Three: Universal Health Care.

The third day, I would announce a plan to say that every American has a right to universal health care. And we can do that. With the ingenuity of recognizing that 30 percent of health care costs are mired in bureaucracy, and mired in red tape, and that we have to do better. But I would focus on areas that we have neglected in our national health care plans. It’s called prevention; it’s called dealing with health care.

With kids, I would get rid of junk food in schools as I’ve done as governor of New Mexico. I would adopt initiatives that promote healthier lifestyles. Give incentives to companies that let their employees work out and lose weight like I’m trying to do. Find ways that we have healthy breakfasts for every child. National smoking bans that deal with preventive health. Efforts, too, to recognize that we should be a nation that is investing in medicine and science, and stem cell research. That we’re investing in preventing cancer and preventing diseases like malaria that afflict the Third World, preventing ways that we can say that the Democratic Party is once again the party of research and development, science, a party that cares deeply about finding cures for the diseases that wracking every American today.

Day Four: Education.

The fourth day I would announce a plan for revitalizing American schools.

You know, we are not competitive in science and math; we are not. China and India graduate more engineers. They test better than our kids. Our competitiveness is here at risk.

I would have preschool for every child under four. I would have a national system that pays our teachers better. I would have minimum wage for our teachers. I would find ways, too, that I would have full-day kindergarten. I would find ways that we revitalize the K through 12 curriculum to emphasize not just science and math, but emphasize languages, arts in the schools, a total revitalization of our high school curriculum to make us more competitive.

I would shift the massive bureaucracies and funding that we spend in our schools away from bureaucracy and staff into teaching, into advance placement, into curriculum changes. I would find a way, too, for every American to have the ability to get a scholarship to go to school, to go to college, to go to vocational training, to go find community college assistance. That would be the cornerstone of my presidency.

Why me?

Now, let me conclude with, why me? Right, you want to hear that? Or, some of you are saying, this Richardson guy seems like a nice guy, well qualified…but can he win?

I think this election should be about who is the most qualified and who can win. You’re Democrats, this is a partisan group. I think we have to look at those factors intensively.

First, who is the most qualified? Well, all the candidates that you’ve heard here, and I think I’m the last, I think that they’re all qualified to be in the White House…as my Vice President. But when I say that, I think you have to look at not just what have you done and where have you been, but have you delivered? You know, I have delivered as a governor for my state. We have created jobs, we made schools better. I cut taxes, the fastest growing economy in the Southwest, sixth fastest growing in this country. We brought renewable energy companies, we brought movies to our state, per capita’s moved up. They call it New Mexico miracle. We have made our schools better. We have become the clean energy state because of our incentives for solar, wind, biomass. I would do all that as President.

But we have been able to bring people together – Republicans, Democrats, business community, churches, community groups to pass massive amounts of legislation to deal not just with recognizing that New Mexico is a state that needs to move forward, but we built a sense of community. And I got 40 percent of the Republican vote. Now, I do not know what they were smoking that day, but I did.

In New Mexico, we became the ninth state to pass a medical marijuana bill. Now, I’m against decriminalizing marijuana, but I saw people suffering and I pushed this bill, 199 people with proper safeguards in matters of human rights. I mean, these were cancer-stricken victims that were simply saying, "I would like a chance to grow and to find peace," and so we made it happen. And it passed, and I am catching grief over that. You know, all the sheriffs are mad at me around the country, but its the right thing to do.

So, being a governor, history has shown that governors are elected – Carter, Reagan, Clinton, Bush. We are CEOs. I have managed a state; I have run a state. I have managed a bureaucracy -- 110,000 people in the Department of Energy. History is with governors.

Foreign Policy Experience.

Number two, foreign policy experience. You know, I have been there, I’ve negotiated with Saddam Hussein, with North Koreans, with Sudan, and I want to commend you for the work you’ve done on Darfur, this great organization. I thank you, and you’re part of the Save Darfur coalition. But I was there two months ago in Darfur. We got an American journalist out, Paul Salopek, we got the government and the rebels to get a 60-day cease-fire, very fragile, but we improved things for humanitarian workers. We found ways to set up a process to stop one of the huge atrocities in this world. Rape is a weapon of war. I have been there; I have done this. I have brought these countries together.

In fact, President Clinton used to say North Korea, Iraq, Sudan, send Richardson. Bad guys like him. And so, what I’m trying to say is that I think we need to remember what Yitzhak Rabin said. And he said, that great Israeli prime minister, Nobel Prize winner, he said, "you make peace with your enemies, not with your friends."

National Appeal.

And so, the third point. We need to have candidates that can win around the country. You are all from everywhere in the country. Not just Los Angeles and New York City. There is a Midwest out there, states like Ohio, states like Florida, and the Southwest, where we can bring several states.

Now Sen. Kerry, who was our strong candidate, lost Ohio. But had he won three states where he lost by slight margins -- New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada -- he’d be President today. And today five out of seven governors from Canada to Mexico are Democrats. Four years ago, seven out of the seven were Republican. So that is a part of the region in this country that I believe we can bring. And I will work everybody. You’re going to see me everywhere.

Competitive financially, I’m there, I am not in the stratosphere, but you know money should not be what dictates who is going to be president. It should be issues, where you stand. And rock star status should not be that. I mean, some of us are working on it, but you know, it should be what are we ready to do for this county.

Now, I know I’m moving up. I have been. I’m the only candidate that is moving up. Of course, I started out below the margin of error, but you know I’m moving up. You know the polls, we’re doing fine.

You are going to see some of these debates. I think you should demand that we have plenty of debates. I know you are very closely tied to the Democratic National Committee. We should have debates, candidates should attend, there should be forums…and we should be in the arena. This party needs a debate about its heart and soul, and there’s nothing like a primary process that, once again, is important. The voters in the living rooms of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina, the early primaries, they haven’t made up their minds. And maybe when you’re here and you talk to all the pollsters, you’re in the East Coast and they tell you the election’s going this way, this is what’s going to happen.

I am sorry I did not give you my prepared speech. But this is a group that I have known a long time and I wanted to speak to you from the heart. .

Question and Answer Session

Q: Governor… I’ve got Days One through Four of your administration, and I know Day Seven, but I want to know about Five and Six.

A: OK, well, one was Iraq.

The second was a plan to become energy independent.

The third was climate change.

The fourth day I said I would have a national health care plan.

The fifth day was education.

The sixth day, I would state that, as President, I don’t know if we need legislation immediately, but I was very concerned about what the Supreme Court did on abortion, on partial-birth abortion, because I think it shows that an erosion of the right of a woman to choose has been started and I see possibly a rash of 5-4 decisions there. I think that is unhealthy.

Let me also say something that I believe is a coming civil rights issue in this country and that is an issue of sexual orientation. I believe very strongly that we should be a nation of civil rights for all people and that means sexual orientation. And I would push for federal legislation that enhances and protects domestic partnerships, civil unions, as in New Mexico we have the most progressive laws effecting gay and lesbian and transgender people.

We would push for legislation that recognizes that this country should not discriminate. And I would restate those formal values of the Democratic Party, and that is a woman’s right to choose. That is the importance of establishing protection for sexual orientation. That would be issues relating to affirmative action and civil rights.

I would also say that as part of that, I would make a concerted effort to pass a national immigration plan, a comprehensive immigration plan. And its foundation would be four principles: One, it would be, we’ve got to secure our borders, there is no question about it. More border patrol, more technology, not this silly wall that the Congress has put up between Mexico and the United States clearly.

Secondly, a legalization plan based on a path to legalization that deals with you speak English, you pay back taxes, you pass a background check, find ways to embrace American values, not get ahead of those legally trying to come forward.

Third, those who have knowingly hired illegal workers need to be punished, prosecuted. That doesn’t happen in this country.

Fourth, its call foreign policy. A relationship with Mexico where you say, "Mexico, my god, you’re our friends," and you speak candidly to your friends. And that is, let’s have some joint border job creation, but at the very least, stop giving maps to those workers and those people that come in finding the most porous areas in this country. That would be the Sixth Day.

Q: In talking about immigration, one of the things that I talked to you about before is 40 percent of all our inmates in penitentiaries across the country are illegal immigrants, and they cost us on an average of $150,000 a year per inmate. So my question is, wouldn’t that, shouldn’t that, be a part of the immigration plan, to have other countries responsible for their own citizens that come here illegally to commit crimes?

A: Yes, obviously, and this is why I believe you have to have a background check. That anybody that applies for legalization, that has to happen. There has to be more personal responsibility by other countries, but I think fundamentally what we need to look at is how do we find ways to deal with those who are coming in illegally and what do you do realistically with those that are here. And, what makes everyone feel good is, all right, let’s deport everybody, I’m talking about the Congress. Let’s find ways to deny citizenship to those children of immigrant kids. Constitutionally, they have a right to be Americans. I don’t think that’s a solution. That’s not American.

What I would do is you try to be practical and you find ways to set up a path to legalization and that is a path that has requirements, like speaking English, passing background checks, paying back taxes, embracing American values, paying a fine for those who have come here illegally, not get ahead of those that are trying to come legally. The last point I would do on immigration is I would deal with legal immigration. You know, there are a lot of people that are trying to come here on a legal basis that because of backlogs can’t come in. They’re European, Israeli, Irish, Indian. Based on job skills, I think based on family reunification; we should up that legal immigration number.

Previous Interviews

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