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Tuesday, January 06, 2009
Painful Decision: Gov. Says He Was Hurt Over Losing Post But Is Focusing on State Again
By Michael Coleman And Dan Boyd
Journal Staff Writer
SANTA FE Gov. Bill Richardson said Monday he withdrew from his nomination as U.S. commerce secretary without pressure from President-elect Barack Obama, but he refused to answer questions about the federal inquiry that derailed his move from Santa Fe to the Cabinet.
In his first public appearance since Sunday's surprise announcement by the Obama transition team, Richardson conceded that he was emotionally wounded by the turn of events.
"(On Sunday), I was hurting over this decision. I lost a Cabinet appointment," he said, adding he was now turning his attention to state business.
[+] Click for full cartoonJohn Trever / Journal
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"I am moving forward aggressively in what is going to be my focus from now on," Richardson added. "My focus is going to be New Mexico."
Richardson read a statement reiterating that there was nothing improper about his administration's dealings with a Beverly Hills financial firm that landed $1.4 million in state business.
Richardson said he decided to withdraw from consideration because he could not "in good conscience" allow legal questions to delay his confirmation and the important work of America's economic recovery.
"I want to emphasize that I acted properly and my administration acted appropriately," a somber Richardson said during a late-morning news conference at the Capitol in Santa Fe. "A fair and impartial review of the facts will bear that out."
Richardson said he notified Lt. Gov. Diane Denish of his decision to withdraw his nomination on Sunday morning and described her reaction as "disappointed."
In a telephone interview with the Journal on Monday, Denish said she was stunned by Richardson's call but downplayed any disappointment she might have felt when he broke the news to her.
"Fortunes in politics can change overnight," she said.
Denish has been preparing to take the reins of state government from Richardson in the coming weeks and has already announced her intention to run for governor in 2010.
Richardson was tight-lipped when it came to answering questions about the state's relationship with California-based CDR Financial Products. He said he would not answer those questions because doing so could compromise an ongoing federal investigation.
The governor refused to answer when asked whether the state was conducting an internal investigation into its dealings with CDR and walked out of his Cabinet room with reporters still asking questions.
However, Bill Sisneros, chief executive officer of the New Mexico Finance Authority, which did state business with CDR, told The Associated Press on Monday, "I have never been ordered to do business with CDR."
Federal investigators are looking into a possible connection between the state business with CDR and about $100,000 in contributions the company's owner made to two Richardson political action committees.
"I have faith in the criminal justice process, and we must allow it to run its course," Richardson said at the news conference. "I also don't want to jeopardize the process by commenting on it today."
Meanwhile, key staffers on the Senate commerce committee which would have conducted Richardson's confirmation hearing in Washington this month told the Journal they were surprised by his announcement on Sunday. They said they were unaware of any serious problems regarding his nomination.
Committee staffers told the Journal last month that they knew that federal investigators were looking into the Richardson administration's dealings with CDR but that they did not expect it to be a major issue in his confirmation.
A senior Democratic committee staffer said Richardson had not yet submitted answers to a committee questionnaire required of all Cabinet nominees, and that the results of an FBI background check had not yet been made available to committee members.
A senior Republican committee staffer said GOP committee members had not planned to make the investigation a "focus" of Richardson's hearing.
The Obama transition team released a statement Sunday describing Richardson's withdrawal as his decision. A spokesman for the transition team declined to elaborate on that statement Monday.
CNN reported Sunday that Obama "advisers" had urged the governor to give up his nomination. And some Washington insiders speculated Monday that Obama, already working to distance himself from a so-called "pay-to-play" scandal involving Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, could not afford to be associated with another governor facing a federal inquiry.
Richardson said Monday that he will direct his energies at preparing his agenda for a state legislative session that begins Jan. 20 and a budget proposal. He plans to meet with members of his Cabinet today and is scheduled to attend a groundbreaking of a new Hewlett-Packard customer service support center in Rio Rancho on Wednesday.
Richardson said he retained hope that he might one day still serve America's 44th president, who is to be sworn into office Jan. 20.
"The president-elect said in his statement yesterday that he looks forward to my future service to his administration," Richardson said. "I still have a lot to give in public service."
Richardson, 61, is a former New Mexico congressman and has served in a presidential Cabinet before. He was both energy secretary and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations for President Clinton.
His second, four-year term as governor extends to 2010.
Michael Coleman reported from Washington. Dan Boyd reported from Santa Fe.