Talking with Gov. Bill Richardson

Election '04
Julia Goldberg: Why was New Mexico a swing state?

Gov. Bill Richardson: Because of its high Hispanic population, close to 45 percent, the fact that in past presidential elections it's reflected national voting results and thirdly because we maneuvered New Mexico into becoming a battleground state with early debates and caucuses. So for those reasons, and the fact that New Mexico probably looks today like America will look in 10, 15 years. And, lastly, in a close election, five electoral votes might make the difference.

Do you think the electoral college system needs to be revisited?

No, the electoral college helps small states like ours. Without it, the importance of small states would be diminished, both policy-wise and politically.

You look kind of tired.

Well I am tired.

What have you been doing?

Saturday: Shiprock. Yogi's [Bhajan] funeral. Kerry rally, Las Cruces. Church with Kerry. Um, Ruidoso, Sunday ...

Do you think politicians are different than normal people?

Politicians have a certain amount of power-driven blood that makes them more active than normal. Politicians feel they have to be everywhere, tireless. I have a sense of there's little time to do all the things we need to do in New Mexico and nationally and around the world so I rush myself.

Do you think that stems from childhood issues?


Why do you think New Mexico has so many new voters who didn't choose a political party affiliation?

Especially in Santa Fe. Well, the good news is they're not going Green. The bad news is they're not registered Democrats. There are a lot of voters who think for the first time their vote might make a difference, given the closeness of the last election plus their disaffection with President Bush. But they don't want to send a signal they're in the pocket of any party so they register as independent and they are independent. I think it's a healthy trend, because I think for the first time in this election, voter turnout will be one of the highest we've had. It's still pretty pathetic. We'll only hit the 50 percent mark of eligible voters and Afghanistan is in the 90 percent.

The New York Times recently speculated that if Kerry loses it will force the Democratic Party to redefine itself.

If he loses? Well, I don't think he's going to lose. I have this sense that all those voters my organization registered are lying in wait, ready to explode with their voter protest and make Kerry president. So in the event that he loses ... God, I would just hate to see another session where the party reinvents itself. The party has basic values, good, basic values. Kerry has been a good candidate. If he loses, it will be by a very small margin and perhaps unforeseen circumstances.

You began the campaign season by saying how important Hispanics would be in this election. After the Miami debate Jorge Ramos criticized the candidates for not mentioning Hispanic issues.

Hispanics are the most courted ethnic group. Kerry and Bush have gone to "Hispanic" states more than any candidates ever had in the past, by that I mean the big five, the most contested: Florida, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada. Now, Jorge may be saying that immigration was not debated ... well it was, first of all, in the Arizona debate. But there's this perception that Hispanics only care about immigration and civil rights and affirmative action. Hispanics care about mainstream issues, they care about education, health care, home ownership, entrepreneurship, like anyone else.

The attorney general's office announced they were making preparations in case of some disaster on election day. Is it going it be a horrible mess here?

It makes sense to be prepared but I'd like our officials to be more positive. Instead of accenting the potential disasters, we should look at safeguards and having more people helping facilitate voter information, take people to the polls and more public announcements about how to vote, rather than, "Jeez, this is going to be a disaster so let's get ready to file lawsuits." Let's maximize voter turnout, voter participation, instead of finding ways to assume either side is going to cheat.

What do you think is going to happen in District 1? God, that's been an expensive race.

My hope is [Richard] Romero by a percent, but it could go either way. District 1 will be the closest race in the country, congressionally, but Romero, with some coattails from Kerry and me, could pull it off.

What was your favorite part of the election season? Was it bringing that salsa to the convention?

Chairing the convention was a lot of fun, watching the maneuverings of politicians and movie stars trying to get attention. The most exciting thing was seeing New Mexico become a major player in the presidential race, the totality of it.

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