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High Ambition: Richardson Eyes the White House - Part 4

By Thomas J. Cole Journal Investigative Reporter
Copyright 2007, Albuquerque Journal
   
Editor's note: This is Part 4 of an in-depth biography written by Journal reporters Leslie Linthicum and Thomas J. Cole, who spent months researching this project. It is appearing over five weeks in the Sunday Journal.

    SANTA FE— Twenty days after being sworn in as governor, Bill Richardson walked through the cherry-wood doors and onto the blue carpet of the House of Representatives to deliver his State of the State Address.
    He made his way slowly through well-wishing lawmakers and past desks decorated with flowers for the Legislature's first day of the 2003 session.
    "The wind was blowing strong that opening day," recalls Sen. Dede Feldman, D-Albuquerque. "It was the wind of change."
    After eight years of a Republican governor known more for saying "no" than pushing change, there was a new sheriff in town.
    This governor, a Democrat, packed an ambitious agenda: cut taxes, abolish the state board of education, help seniors with prescription drugs, crack down on drunken drivers and more.
    Wearing a dark suit, white shirt and blue tie, Richardson stood in the well of the House to deliver his address, the giant silver seal of the state of New Mexico serving as a backdrop.
    He quoted lyrics from Bob Dylan's '60s protest song "The Times They Are A-Changin'," warning lawmakers not to "stand in the doorway" or "block up the hall" as he pushed his agenda.
    "We won't be impeded," Richardson said.
    The governor departed briefly from his prepared text to deliver another message: "We will move so fast you're not going to see us."
    The hard-charging Richardson, known to some as King Bill or GovZilla, has seemingly been on the move ever since that January day in Santa Fe.
    Richardson consolidated power in his office, rewarded loyalists, brazenly punished opponents and polished his image as a tireless self-promoter while tightening controls over information.
    Richardson has used his power to seek and get change in virtually every corner of New Mexico life, from slashing income taxes to creating pre-kindergarten to planning for a spaceport.
    Even some Republican heavy hitters have been impressed with the breadth of his accomplishments.
    "Everyone who has seen what Bill Richardson has done has seen he's a go-getter," says U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, one of the nation's most powerful senators and the godfather of the New Mexico GOP.
    Former state Sen. Billy McKibben, R-Hobbs, says Richardson "has energized New Mexico."
    "He's caused all kinds of people to think, 'Why not?' '' McKibben said.
    Richardson hasn't always gotten what he wanted from the Legislature, most notably an increase in the minimum wage and comprehensive tax reform.
    His tax cuts— at least initially— were more than offset by increases in other taxes and fees.
    There also have been questions about Richardson's friends and appointees and about campaign contributions from people or companies who have gotten state government contracts or favors.
    Richardson is widely known for his gregarious personality, beefy frame (before his recent diet) and love of sporting events, cigars, fine food and good drink.
    In keeping with that image, he hired a chef at the Governor's Mansion and entertained Hollywood stars and foreign dignitaries.
    He zipped about New Mexico in helicopters and speeding SUVs and jetted around the country in private aircraft to politic and attend major sporting events.
    Richardson also has had his minions fetch his Starbucks and New York Times, apply his makeup and closely script his words— jokes included.
    While serving as governor, Richardson has worked to maintain his role as a player in national politics.
    A former congressman, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and energy secretary under President Clinton, he served as chairman of the Democratic National Convention in 2004.
    He traveled extensively as head of the Democratic Governors Association, handing out campaign contributions, speaking and making valuable contacts.
    Richardson also has been a frequent guest on TV network news shows, weighing in on topics ranging from North Korea to Iraq, immigration to gay marriage.
    Twice since becoming governor, Richardson has met in Santa Fe with North Korean diplomats. He also has flown to Pyongyang for talks on the country's nuclear weapons program.
    In September, he went to Sudan to negotiate the release of Paul Salopek, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper reporter who lives in southern New Mexico.
    In January, Richardson went to Sudan again to try to persuade Sudanese officials to accept a peacekeeping force in the war-torn Darfur region.
    His work outside the state and his record as governor helped him win re-election by a romp in November and set the stage for his creation of a committee to explore a possible run for the presidency.
    The move comes after two brushes with a candidacy for the vice presidency, the last in 2004.
   
Big fish swims in
    Richardson was out of a job for the first time in his political life after Clinton's vice president, Al Gore, lost the 2000 election to George W. Bush.
    Cashing in on his government experience, he went to work for an international consulting firm in Washington, D.C., joined corporate boards, taught and hit the speaking circuit.
    But the worst-kept secret around was that Richardson would make good on his years-old promise to run again for public office in New Mexico.
    He announced his candidacy for governor in January 2002, promising to move the state forward after eight years of "gridlock" in Santa Fe caused by a Democratic-controlled Legislature and a stubborn Republican governor who disliked government.
    "The issue is who has the experience and the background," Richardson said during the campaign. "I've trained for this job all my life."
    The big fish had moved home to the small pond.
    Richardson forced out any competition in the Democratic primary and was, as always, a relentless campaigner, working small-town parades as well as business lunches.
    He spent $7.3 million on his campaign— more than twice that of Republican gubernatorial nominee John Sanchez.
    Sanchez says that as the end of the campaign neared, he felt as if he were in a fight with an M1 Abrams tank while armed with only a small sword.
    "If the resources (campaign money) had been even, I think the outcome would have been very different," he says.
    Richardson promised during the campaign to cut the personal income tax, increase state investment in New Mexico businesses and ensure health care coverage for all.
    Richardson said he wanted to be governor "because a governor can make a difference" in people's lives.
    Sanchez, a roofing contractor who had won a spot in the Legislature by ousting longtime House Speaker and Democratic Party power broker Raymond Sanchez, countered that Richardson wasn't a true believer in tax cuts. He noted that Richardson had voted for Clinton's tax increase in 1993.
    Another issue in the campaign was Richardson's tenure as a member of the board of directors for Peregrine Systems, a California software company that later went bankrupt.
    Investors in the company, including pension and school funds in New Mexico, suffered hundreds of millions of dollars in losses when it collapsed.
    The head of the company was a brother-in-law of Richardson's wife, and Richardson was on the board from February 2001 to June 2002.
    Public reports filed by Peregrine while Richardson was a director showed that the company was headed toward possible failure at a time it spent millions of dollars on bonuses and golf club memberships for executives.
    Richardson said he was confident he fulfilled his legal duties as a director even while acknowledging that he missed board meetings and didn't read key corporate reports.
    Sanchez called Richardson "an insider who got paid, while honest people got hurt."
    Nevertheless, on election night, it was a blood bath, with Richardson winning about 55 percent of the vote.
    His margin of victory was the largest of all 23 newly elected governors that year, according to The New York Times.
    Four senior Clinton administration officials ran for governor in 2002, but Richardson was the only one to win. He was sworn in as governor on Jan 1, 2003.
   
Don't cross the boss
    With a mandate for change, Richardson quickly moved to strengthen the powers of the governor and to work those levers of power to get his agenda passed.
    He hadn't even taken office when he asked hundreds of members of state boards and commissions to submit resignations, prompting concerns by the administration of outgoing Gov. Gary Johnson that the work of the panels would come to a halt.
    Richardson asked his replacement appointees to sign letters of resignation he could invoke at will.
    The administration said that Richardson's agenda would be implemented partly through the boards and commissions and that the governor wanted accountability.
    He later backed off requiring university regents to sign resignation letters in the face of widespread criticism and after the attorney general said the practice was illegal because of the regents' special protections in the state constitution.
    Richardson also swept out nearly all top government officials and other employees who serve at the pleasure of the governor— the so-called exempt workers— and replaced many of them with campaign contributors or relatives of financial backers.
    Richardson also added more than 140 new exempt workers and nearly doubled the size of the governor's staff, to about 50.
    He had to enlarge the round marble table in the Cabinet room, prompting a visitor— Eliot Spitzer, then New York attorney general and now governor— to ask where King Arthur sat.
    The state Supreme Court in 2003 upheld his housecleaning of the Judicial Standards Commission, which oversees the conduct of state judges.
    That same year, Richardson persuaded the Legislature to repeal a law that restricted his ability to put his appointees on the state Highway Commission.
    And voters in 2003 approved Richardson's takeover of the Public Education Department.
    Richardson, during the campaign for governor, warned fellow Democrats not to oppose his proposed economic package, including tax cuts.
    "You're either going to be with us or against us," he said.
    In 2004, after passage of his tax cuts, Richardson openly supported some Democrats who faced challengers in the primary election and even backed some friendly Republicans.
    Democrats and Republicans who crossed Richardson felt his wrath.
    In 2004, Richardson vetoed $11.8 million in pet local construction and equipment projects sponsored by Republicans and $2.4 million in Democratic projects.
    The state Retiree Health Care Authority sued Richardson that same year, alleging that he slashed its budget in retaliation for its opposition to an administration health care plan.
    The agency also was moved from its Santa Fe offices to a building in Albuquerque that was deemed a safety hazard by the fire marshal.
    The agency later dropped its lawsuit, and its executive director was fired.
    Supporters and critics alike agree that Richardson has proved masterful at working the political system.
    "When it comes to politics, he's the dean," says former Sen. McKibben, a Republican who supported Richardson's election and re-election.
    Some, however, have accused Richardson of being "drunk with power," quick to punish those who disagree with him, regardless of party affiliation.
    Sen. Tim Jennings, D-Roswell, says that Richardson has done much good for the state, like sparking job growth, but that he objects to his style.
    "Everyone has a right to a difference of an opinion, and they shouldn't be punished for that," Jennings says. "Maybe that's big-city stuff. Maybe we've been naive down here. It's a whole new level of politics."
    Jennings had some of his pet local projects vetoed by Richardson after he publicly rebuked the governor for what he called bullying tactics and abusive behavior in meetings with lobbyists and representatives for the health care industry.
    Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, says Richardson expects lawmakers to vote with him 100 percent of the time, but he adds, "None of us are right all the time."
    Sen. Joseph Carraro, R-Albuquerque, says he initially thought Richardson would be a great governor, given his talents, but says his ego got in the way.
    "He just had to be the only game in town," Carraro says. "That shows a lack of confidence. ... Why else would a person stifle dissent?"
    State Republican Party Chairman Allen Weh has compared Richardson to an emperor.
    "And that's how he comes across— as an emperor. He's heavy-handed," Weh has said. "He's heavy-handed with his own party, and he's heavy-handed with everybody he deals with."
    In response, Richardson said in 2005:
    "Do I play hardball? I believe that if you're going to get something done, you have to be aggressive. I think some people resent the fact that we've had such unprecedented success. But am I vindictive personally? No."
    The next year, Richardson vetoed Republican-sponsored local projects twice as often as projects sought by Democratic legislators.
   
Image is everything
    To trumpet his accomplishments, Richardson— who long has been tagged as a publicity hound— has created a public-relations machine, with more press aides that any previous governor.
    He hired more than two dozen print, TV and radio reporters, many of them filling newly created PR jobs in state agencies.
    The result is a steady stream of news releases, well-orchestrated public appearances by Richardson and prompt responses to requests to appear on TV network news shows.
    "Everything is geared toward the 24/7 campaign," says Sen. Rod Adair, R-Roswell.
    Some of Richardson's initiatives are designed at least partly to get good publicity and build a stage for a run for national office, Ingle says.
    "Probably the best governor I've ever seen get press for himself," Ingle says.
    Adair says Richardson is driven by how he is perceived nationally.
    "His motive is to do well for himself first, and if it's good public policy, so much the better," he says.
    The governor has found ways to promote himself nationally, while insisting he's pushing the state, not himself.
    A Wall Street Journal ad on Richardson's tax cuts in 2003 featured a quarter-page portrait of the governor.
    The ad said, "A Democratic governor? Who cuts taxes? By 40 percent? Hey, we've been telling you it's different in New Mexico."
    A billboard showing Richardson and touting New Mexico as a tourist destination went up in New York's Times Square in March 2003 for a 45-day run.
    And at a cost of $165,000, New Mexico had a float in the 2006 Tournament of Roses parade in Pasadena, Calif. Richardson and his wife rode on the float.
    "He is an expert at self-promotion," Rep. Dan Foley, R-Roswell, has said. "I applaud the guy. He makes Karl Rove and those guys jealous."
    While hiring lots of journalists, Richardson has publicly supported the news media's government watchdog role, backed a federal shield law for reporters and courted Internet bloggers.
    Nevertheless, the administration has tightly controlled the release of information to the media.
    At the agency level, reporters in some cases have been required to file written requests and wait weeks to inspect basic and readily available government records.
    Geno Zamora, former general counsel in the Governor's Office, says the administration formalized the records-request process to ensure that reporters get what they are legally entitled to but don't receive protected information, such as state employees' birth dates or Social Security numbers.
    "The history seemed to be that when requests were rushed, mistakes were made," Zamora says.
    He says the controls on the release of information aren't an attempt to unlawfully restrict or monitor what is given to reporters.
    Robert Johnson said the administration has been the most restrictive he's seen in his 17 years as executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government.
    He recalled one reporter who was told that her e-mail seeking records from the Taxation and Revenue Department didn't qualify as a formal written request.
    "You'd laugh if it weren't so painful," Johnson says.
    One point of contention between the news media and the administration apparently was resolved last week with settlement of a lawsuit filed against the Department of Public Safety by the Journal, The Santa Fe New Mexican, Rio Grande Sun in Española, Albuquerque Tribune and FOG.
    Under the agreement, DPS turned over a number of records and the parties worked out a framework for handling future requests for police information.
   
All about taxes
    Tax cutting was job No. 1 for Richardson when the Legislature convened in January 2003, just weeks after his inauguration.
    Lawmakers quickly passed a plan to cut personal income taxes and capital gains taxes by $360 million over five years.
    The plan called for the top personal income tax rate to fall from 8.2 percent to 4.9 percent and for capital gains taxes to drop by 50 percent.
    Richardson said during the campaign that he would slash government spending to pay for the tax cuts but there was no need.
    The governor sought and got a 70-cent-a-pack increase in cigarette taxes, generating an estimated $47 million a year in additional revenues.
    Richardson also won approval of legislation to spend the state's $40 million annual share of a nationwide tobacco settlement rather than place the money in a special trust fund.
    The first state budget signed by Richardson provided for a 5.6 percent increase in spending.
    Pressing for still more change, the governor called the Legislature into special session in the fall of 2003 to consider a comprehensive overhaul of the state's tax system.
    Richardson supported a bill that would have resulted in a net $135.5 million increase in state and local taxes and fees in the next budget year.
    But lawmakers left town after failing to address many of the tax changes sought by Richardson.
    The governor did get a $1.6 billion transportation package that included about $60 million in state tax and fee increases to pay for road projects.
    Richardson took some of the blame for the collapse of his tax-reform proposal, saying he had failed to effectively communicate with legislators.
    But the governor wasn't finished seeking and getting tax cuts.
    In 2004, he secured passage of legislation to eliminate gross-receipts taxes on most groceries and on certain medical services.
    "I'm a pro-business Democrat," Richardson said that year.
    In 2005, he signed legislation for tax exemptions for low- and middle-income families, a three-day back-to-school tax holiday on store purchases and one-time tax rebates for New Mexicans to help offset higher energy prices.
    While cutting taxes, Richardson has signed budgets that have increased annual general-fund spending by an average of 6.7 percent a year.
    Many legislators expressed concern about two of Richardson's big-ticket items: a $393 million commuter train for the Albuquerque-Santa Fe corridor and a $225 million spaceport.
    Richardson will be long gone from the Governor's Office before the long-term costs of the train are known and before the spaceport proves whether it's an economic boon or cosmic boondoggle.
    "He's more akin to the snake-oil salesman who comes into town," Sen. Ingle says of Richardson.
    Studies commissioned by the state say the spaceport could generate thousands of jobs but also caution that New Mexico faces competition from other states and that the space tourism industry may never get off the ground.
    The increased spending in government has been made possible by two major factors— additional state revenue fueled by higher prices for oil and natural gas, and increases in other taxes and fees.
    An analysis by the Legislative Council Service showed $566.7 million in tax decreases from the time Richardson took office through June 30 of last year, but $740.8 million in tax and fee increases, producing a net increase of $174.1 million.
    Sanchez, who ran against Richardson in 2002, says the governor's claim that he's a tax-cutting Democrat is "kind of a shell game."
    The Richardson tax cuts are expected to finally overtake the increases sometime in the fiscal year that began July 1, provided there are no major changes in law.
    Meanwhile, high oil prices that had motorists crying at the pump made the governor's spending plans relatively painless.
    Oil and gas taxes and other industry revenues accounted for $552 million, or 14 percent, of recurring money for the state's general-fund budget when Richardson took office.
    The numbers were $1.2 billion, or 21 percent, for the fiscal year that ended last June 30.
    "He has had the greatest opportunity of modern times to be a great governor," Sen. Domenici says of Richardson's benefit from the higher energy revenues.
    For his tax cutting, Richardson has received kudos from conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh, former GOP presidential candidate and magazine publisher Steve Forbes and the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute in Washington, D.C.
    The institute's report card for Richardson in 2005 read:
    "Bill Richardson is, bar none, the best new Democratic governor in the nation— for that matter, he is one of the best new governors of any party."
   
The patronage team
    Eighteen months into his administration, Richardson had doled out at least 122 state jobs, many of them high-paying, to campaign contributors or family members.
    There were problems with some appointees, forcing several resignations.
    One appointee had a prior conviction for voting fraud, another had been arrested for drunken driving in a government vehicle and a third had been convicted in a fatal alcohol-related motor-vehicle crash.
    Another appointee had been married to two women at the same time, and one was accused of embezzling money from a nonprofit group fighting domestic violence.
    A Richardson pick for a state judgeship resigned after a Journal report that he had been disciplined for marijuana use, improper use of a weapon and other charges while a State Police officer.
    "When you come in and make changes after eight years in the whole board and personnel system, there are bound to be some problems," Richardson said in 2003. "We're moving fast, and my philosophy is, bring my own team in."
    Some major contributors also got plum appointments to boards and commissions.
    Jerry Peters, a Santa Fe businessman who contributed more than $100,000 and the use of his Learjet to Richardson in the 2002 campaign, was given a spot on the powerful state Board of Finance.
    Also getting a seat on the board— sitting next to the governor— was Albuquerque businessman Paul Blanchard, who served as Richardson's campaign finance chairman and is part-owner of two horse-racing tracks and casinos.
    Peters and Blanchard have since left the Board of Finance, with Blanchard being named by Richardson to a slot on the State Investment Council, another powerful board.
    Albuquerque investment broker Guy Riordan was appointed to the Game Commission after giving at least $28,000 to Richardson's campaign and helping him raise other money.
    The governor and Riordan also palled around, going shooting at Riordan's hunting preserve and attending boxing matches and a Super Bowl.
    Richardson removed Riordan from the Game Commission last April after the broker was implicated in a kickback scheme in the corruption scandal of former state Treasurers Robert Vigil and Michael Montoya.
    Montoya testified that he collected up to $100,000 in kickbacks from Riordan, with money passed in men's rooms at restaurants where they met.
    Riordan, through an attorney, has denied wrongdoing and hasn't been charged with a crime.
    Vigil, who became treasurer in 2003, was convicted, and Montoya, the previous treasurer, has pleaded guilty in the scandal, which centers on kickbacks in exchange for investment business from the Treasurer's Office.
    Riordan was a top broker for the Treasurer's Office, handling more than $1 billion a year in investments.
    The state Board of Finance, which Richardson chairs and controls, has some oversight authority over Treasurer's Office investments.
    The administration has repeatedly tried to distance itself from Vigil's activities, saying the board's powers over him were limited by the constitutional authority of the treasurer.
    Another Richardson fund-raiser and friend who has faced troubles recently is Eric Serna.
    Serna retired in May as state insurance superintendent after repeated accusations of favoritism and conflict of interest.
    The allegations have revolved around his leadership of a nonprofit foundation that collected donations from businesses Serna regulated or hired while he was superintendent.
    Serna, who has denied wrongdoing, worked for the Public Regulation Commission and wasn't appointed to the superintendent's job by Richardson. But the two have long been political allies.
    Serna was the Democratic Party's pick to replace Richardson when he resigned from Congress in 1997, but lost the election in the overwhelmingly Democratic district, partly because of ethical questions.
    Two others close to Richardson have fared much better during his administration.
    Walter "Butch" Maki, who worked for Richardson when he was in Congress and is a close friend, first registered as a lobbyist when Richardson took office and built a long list of clients, including companies that have done millions of dollars of business with the administration.
    Denver political consultant Mike Stratton has worked as a paid adviser to Richardson and as a lobbyist in New Mexico. His clients also include a major government contractor.
   
The Midas touch
    New Mexico is one of a few states that don't limit the amount of a single campaign contribution, and Richardson has taken advantage of the law, often collecting money in large chunks.
    He raised nearly $13.6 million for his re-election campaign last year, spending almost $12 million as he easily eclipsed the spending record he established in 2002 for a gubernatorial race.
    In addition to his campaign, the governor raised millions of dollars for Moving America Forward, a political action committee he formed to increase Hispanic and American Indian voter turnout nationwide in the 2004 elections.
    As chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, Richardson also helped that group raise money from corporate interests, labor unions and others for gubernatorial races around the country.
    There were questions about Richardson's fundraising even before he took office.
    Richardson returned about $20,000 in contributions from insurance interests during the 2002 campaign because Serna's wife helped raise the money. Serna was insurance superintendent at the time.
    After the governor took office, a partnership of three law firms that contributed more than $169,000 to his campaign and Moving America Forward won a contract to represent the state in securities-fraud cases.
    The contributions included $5,000 to cover Richardson's expenses to travel to Las Vegas, Nev. The purpose of the travel wasn't disclosed.
    Moving America Forward repaid the $5,000 after a Journal report that the contribution was made while the contract competition was ongoing.
    Moving America Forward also returned a $10,000 donation from a Pittsburgh company after the Journal reported that the company made the contribution while a subsidiary sought a contract from the administration.
    The subsidiary eventually got the contract, potentially worth more than $100 million.
    The administration bought 12 acres of vacant land in Santa Fe from a major Richardson campaign contributor and his family, paying $3.2 million more than the family bought the property for 28 months earlier.
    The contributor made a $50,000 donation to Richardson about two months after the sale was completed.
    The administration said that the governor didn't know about the land deal until after it was completed and that the purchase wasn't a sweetheart deal.
    In other cases, a developer lobbying Richardson's Transportation Department for an improved interstate off-ramp contributed $75,000 to Richardson's campaign. And members of an Albuquerque family and their businesses gave at least $130,000 after the Department of Transportation helped the family get rare road access for a shopping center on busy Paseo del Norte in Albuquerque.
    Other developers and a county fire station were unsuccessful in their attempts to get access to Paseo del Norte.
    The Transportation Department said it supported road access for the shopping center for traffic flow reasons and said there was no favoritism in the recommendation.
    In general, Richardson says, his financial supporters "get good will" and access but "that's all," and his administration has repeatedly denied any connection between political contributions and government actions.
    Critics aren't buying it.
    "New Mexico has one of the most corrupt and misguided administrations in the country," a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee said in July.
    State Sen. Jennings says the question of whether campaign contributors to Richardson get favors has created a cloud over the administration.
    "We've never seen this kind of money," Jennings says.
    One outspoken critic is state Sen. John Grubesic, D-Santa Fe. He says his sense is, "You don't get airtime with the governor unless you contribute."
    Special interests also have helped foot the bill for Richardson's travel around the country.
    A subsidiary of a tobacco and food conglomerate paid nearly $17,000 for air travel by Richardson and several aides on a trip to Washington and Chicago.
    The subsidiary also provided a jet to fly Richardson, his wife and an aide to Cape Cod, Mass.
    In his role as head of the Democratic Governors Association, Richardson has taken tens of thousands of dollars worth of free corporate jet flights from the world's largest smokeless-tobacco company.
    The association also has received thousands of dollars in free travel from a payday-loan company with jet aircraft at its disposal.
    The administration has declined to say whether the travel was for Richardson.
    The smokeless-tobacco industry recently sought a tax break in New Mexico. The payday-loan industry also has faced efforts to restrict its lending practices.
    In response to the scandal in the Treasurer's Office, Richardson appointed a task force to propose ethics reform.
    After the commission did its work, the governor proposed creation of a state ethics panel, a limit on the dollar amount of campaign contributions and a ban on public officials accepting gifts valued at $250 or more.
    He also has proposed public financing of more campaigns, starting with judicial races.
    He said during the 2002 campaign that he opposed public financing of campaigns but later signed a law to use the state Public Regulation Commission as a test group for public financing beginning in 2006.
   
Taste for high life
    Often using private jets, Richardson has traveled out of state frequently to raise money, campaign for others, lobby federal officials, meet with corporate executives and tend to other business.
    He also has a state jet available for trips inside and outside New Mexico.
    Republicans, in radio ads that aired in the early presidential battleground of New Hampshire, chided Richardson after his administration paid $5.5 million for the new jet.
    "Is it P. Diddy? Britney Spears? No, it's Governor Bill Richardson," one ad said.
    Although the governor has flown on the Cessna several times, the jet has been used much more for other state business, including ferrying children to and from a school for the visually impaired.
    Richardson has been a frequent flier on a State Police helicopter but has taken the most political hits for his travel by speeding SUV.
    A Washington Post reporter wrote that he was with Richardson when the governor's security detail drove at speeds of up to 110 mph through Albuquerque to get Richardson to a political party.
    The party followed a Democratic presidential candidates' debate in 2003 at the University of New Mexico. Richardson was credited with helping to bring the debate to the state.
    Consumer advocate Ralph Nader criticized Richardson for the speeding incident, saying the governor's vehicle was a danger on the highways and setting a bad example for young drivers.
    In another publicized episode, an Albuquerque police detective briefly chased Richardson's speeding sport utility vehicle before discovering the SUV was the governor's.
    The administration defended speed as matter of security, but Richardson vowed to slow down and said he had instructed his drivers to follow the speed limit.
    Speeding became less of an issue after Richardson traded in his large luxury SUV for a smaller, hybrid SUV in 2005.
    "I can't fit in it. It goes about 20 miles per hour, but it's energy efficient," the governor joked.
    Late last year, he moved up to a large SUV that can run on a blend of ethanol and gasoline.
    The administration hired a chef at the Governor's Mansion at a salary of about $58,000 a year shortly after Richardson took office.
    "I just think he loves living high on the hog," Ramsay Gorham, then chairwoman of the state Republican Party, said in 2003.
    Those entertained by Richardson at the mansion have included former Mexican President Vicente Fox, Prince Andrew of Great Britain and several Hollywood celebrities, including starlet Jessica Simpson.
    Richardson, using campaign and personal funds, in late 2003 reimbursed the state about $6,500 for expenses that included his coffee and cigars and lodging for security officers during a summer vacation to Cape Cod.
    Richardson has his staff help him with makeup, and he hired a humor writer for an appearance at the Gridiron Club's annual dinner and political roast in Washington.
    Former Gov. Johnson says Richardson is a 180-degree change from his days in the Governor's Mansion.
    "I stood in line when I was governor," Johnson says. "I carried my own luggage."
    Boxing is a Richardson passion, and he has traveled to Las Vegas, Nev., with friends for matches.
    "I've always loved boxing," he has said. "I think it's an ultimate contest. You're alone in that ring. You can't depend on anybody but yourself."
    Richardson, a standout baseball player in his youth, frequently drops in to see the AAA Isotopes baseball team in Albuquerque. He has attended the Super Bowl, the World Series and at least one NCAA basketball championship game.
   
Love him, hate him
    That Richardson has been a popular governor would be an understatement.
    Since his election, Journal polls have consistently shown that a majority of New Mexicans approved of his work, with a large percentage of Republicans giving him a thumbs-up.
    He won re-election in November with 69 percent of the vote over GOP hopeful John Dendahl, a former chairman of the state Republican Party.
    Dendahl accused Richardson of using the state as a political steppingstone, and the Republican Governors Association ran a TV ad showing Richardson traveling out of state instead of taking care of business at home.
    "What is he doing? Running to be president or governor of New Mexico?" the ad asked.
    But Dendahl's campaign never got traction, with Richardson refusing to debate him after Dendahl insisted the showdown be televised live.
    The Republican candidate also had trouble raising money, collecting just $313,600— a fraction of what Richardson spent on the race.
    It wasn't the first time that Richardson and Dendahl had tangled over the years.
    Dendahl was an early supporter of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, an underground landfill for plutonium-contaminated waste and other radioactive materials used in building nuclear weapons.
    Richardson initially was an opponent of WIPP and later fought for improved health and safety rules before the plant was allowed to open.
    Dendahl says Richardson, not long after he moved to New Mexico in 1978, called him because of Dendahl's role as head of New Mexicans for Jobs and Energy.
    Dendahl says Richardson told him he supported the group's efforts but says he ran into Richardson a few weeks later at a cocktail party where he was distributing campaign literature in opposition to WIPP.
    "I think he was morally corrupt from the beginning, and I still think it," Dendahl says.
    Richardson has a different story for every audience and has used politics to benefit himself, he says.
    "For him, politics is the end ... not a means to an end," Dendahl says.
    On election night, Richardson never broke a sweat, winning all but one county. He also had a message for those who would oppose him.
    "My hope is that this strong mandate is a message to the Legislature that the public supports my initiatives," the governor said.
   
During Richardson's First Term:
    NEW MEXICANS NOT COVERED BY HEALTH INSURANCE
    2002: 388,000, or 21.1 percent, of population
    2005: 396,000, or 20.4 percent, of population
    National ranking: second highest
    STATE AND LOCAL TAX BURDEN ON INDIVIDUALS
    2002: 10 percent of total income
    2006: 9.9 percent of total income
    National ranking: No. 36
    PER CAPITA INCOME
    2002: $24,246
    2005: $27,912
    National ranking: No. 45
    UNEMPLOYMENT RATE
    2002: 5.4 percent
    2006 (December): 3.8 percent
    National ranking: No. 15 (tie)
    JOBS
    2002: 832,547 employed
    2006 (December): 913,220 employed
    National ranking: No. 10 in job growth
    CRIME
    2002: 739.5 violent crimes per 100,000 residents
    2005: 702.2 violent crimes per 100,000 residents
    National ranking: No. 6
    2003: Average scale score of 223 in math for fourth-graders
    2005: Average scale score of 225 in math for fourth-graders
    National ranking: No. 50 in percentage of fourth-graders attaining math achievement level of basic or above
   
Sources: U.S. Census Bureau, Tax Foundation, U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, U.S. Education Department, Federal Bureau of Investigation

   
The Richardson Record
    TAXES
    Top personal income tax rate lowered from 8.2 percent to 4.9 percent. Capital gains tax cut 50 percent. Gross receipts taxes eliminated on most groceries and on certain medical services. Cigarette taxes increased by 70 cents a pack.
    SPENDING
    General fund spending up by annual average of 6.7 percent. Higher spending made possible in part by increases in some taxes and fees and additional tax revenues generated by steeper energy prices.
    HEALTH CARE
    Nearly 17,000 more children covered by Medicaid. Promised in 2002 that all New Mexicans would have health care coverage within four years. New target date is 2008. Opposed single-payer health care plan.
    Creation of governor-appointed secretary of public education. More state trust money spent on education. Started pre-kindergarten program. Proposed unpaid work leave for parents to visit schools. Opposed vouchers.
    DRUNKEN DRIVING
    Increased jail time and mandatory treatment for some repeat drunken drivers. All convicted drunken drivers required to install alcohol-sensing ignition interlocks. Made it a felony for an adult to provide alcohol to minor. Alcohol-related traffic deaths totaled 194 in 2005, down from 221 in year before Richardson took office.
    ENVIRONMENT AND ENERGY
    State joined greenhouse gas emission-reduction program. Tax credit for solar energy systems. Renewal energy standard for utilities. Opposed development of roadless areas in national forests.
    ECONOMY AND JOBS
    Tax credits for creation of higher-paying jobs. Increased state investment in New Mexico businesses. Failed in efforts to raise minimum wage but pledged to try again. More state investment in TV and film productions.
    IMMIGRATION
    Declared state of emergency along New Mexico's border with Mexico. Illegal immigrants allowed to obtain driver's licenses. Signed legislation making children of illegals eligible for in-state college tuition. Supported National Guard troops on border.
    NATIONAL GUARD
    Successfully sought legislation for the state to pick up the tab for $400,000 life insurance policies for National Guard troops, many of them in Iraq. Dozens of states have followed with similar programs.
    TRANSPORTATION
    $393 million passenger rail service between Belen, just south of Albuquerque, and Santa Fe. $225 million spaceport in southern New Mexico. British business tycoon Richard Branson plans to base space vehicles there for passenger flights.
    GUN CONTROL
    Supported law allowing New Mexicans age 25 or older to carry concealed handguns. Richardson passed the test to carry a concealed gun. Spokesman said governor didn't intend to carry but went through application and testing process to show support for law.
    DIVERSITY
    Executive order extending employee benefits to domestic partners of gay and lesbian state workers. Opposed to same-sex marriage. Nearly half of first Cabinet appointees were either Hispanic or American Indian, and seven were women.

   

  • Read Part 5 of High Ambition: Richardson Eyes the White House