WASHINGTON – Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson announced Monday that he has donated his trove of political papers and memorabilia to the University of Texas and explained why he didn’t give the collection to the University of New Mexico.
“They didn’t ask,” Richardson said in a telephone interview with the Journal after Monday’s announcement in Austin, Texas. “After I left the governorship, there were three entities that approached me, and the University of New Mexico wasn’t one of them.”
Richardson said he did not intend disrespect for New Mexico’s flagship university, although comments on New Mexico-based social media sites ranged from dismay to disgust about his decision. A UNM spokeswoman confirmed that the university never sought out Richardson’s papers.
“The University of New Mexico has never pursued those particular papers, and Gov. Richardson never contacted UNM to discuss leaving them to the Center for Southwest Research and Special Collections,” said UNM spokeswoman Cinnamon Blair.
“I’m not snubbing the University of New Mexico,” Richardson said. “I was a very generous supporter of their budgets (as governor). I’m very fond and am a strong supporter.”
Richardson pointed out that he taught a semester of government classes at the University of New Mexico, and that his official public papers from his tenure as New Mexico governor will be housed in the state archives in Santa Fe.
In addition to the University of Texas, Tufts University in Boston, where Richardson attended college, pursued his collection of papers. A spokesman for New Mexico State University in Las Cruces said the school had offered to house Richardson’s papers.
“NMSU did make an offer to Bill Richardson when he was still governor,” NMSU spokesman Justin Bannister said Monday. “At the time, he said he would get back to us, but apparently he has chosen another school. We’re disappointed he has chosen to go to the University of Texas with them, but we wish him all the best.”
Bannister said NMSU is “proud” of its collection of political documents, which includes those of former Sen. Pete Domenici and former Gov. Garrey Carruthers. Former Sen. Jeff Bingaman donated his papers to the University of New Mexico’s Center for Southwest Research and Special Collections upon his retirement in 2012.
Richardson said the Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas has one of the nation’s most “state-of-the-art” collections of papers and memorabilia from prominent Americans – including Hispanic political figures such as former U.S. Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez, D-Texas. He also said he was “flattered” that the Briscoe Center pursued his collection so aggressively.
“The Briscoe collection is outstanding – it has Willie Nelson, Dan Rather and Walter Cronkite, political leaders and an established international and national collection,” Richardson said.
Richardson, a two-time former New Mexico governor, represented the state in Congress for 14 years, from 1983 to 1997, and served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 1997 to 1998. In 1998, President Bill Clinton tapped him as secretary of energy, a position Richardson held until 2001. He was elected governor of New Mexico in 2002 and served two terms, until 2010. The UT collection will also house documents related to Richardson’s 2008 bid for the Democratic nomination for president.
Dan Carleton, executive director of the Briscoe Center, told the Journal the University of Texas is elated to have Richardson’s collection, which includes official correspondence; campaign documents and materials; dossiers on select political issues; memos, negotiation transcripts and travel documents from diplomatic missions; photographs; audio and video recordings; digital files; ephemera; and research materials related to books he has published.
Carleton said the varied nature of jobs Richardson has held is “extremely unusual.”
“It’s very valuable, and it will be extremely useful for research and teaching,” Carleton said of the Richardson collection. “We think there is potential for widespread use of the collection. There is a wide range of things the governor has been involved in in terms of his career. He’s done a little bit of everything.”
Carleton said the Richardson collection could be ready for public view by the end of the summer.
“We just literally received the papers a couple of weeks ago,” he said. “We need to sort them and get them organized so people can find things.”
Richardson said the University of Texas will digitize much of the collection, meaning it will be available for viewing online. And perhaps New Mexico students can make a trip to Texas to see the collection in person, he said.
“Future digitization is going to open up my collection to all students and there are going to be travel awards available for visiting scholars,” he said. “I’m going to do everything I can to make sure New Mexico students have that if they want to visit Austin. There is a very close connection between Texas and New Mexico.”