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          Front Page




Richardson Is Not Quite the First ...

By Leslie Linthicum
Copyright 2007 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Staff Writer
    Gov. Bill Richardson said on the national "Latino USA" radio program last week that he was proud to be the first Latino to run for president.
    "I'm the first Latino— we checked this— to run for president," he said.
    "We" didn't check carefully enough.
    Benjamin Fernandez, a California financial consultant, ran in the Republican presidential primary in 1980, saying he was the first.
    Fernandez campaigned in New Mexico in 1979 and 1980 when Richardson was running an unsuccessful campaign to unseat Republican U.S. Rep. Manuel Lujan Jr. in the 1st Congressional District.
    All three were on New Mexico primary election ballots in 1980.
    Fernandez ran again in 1984— when Richardson was running for a second term in the 3rd Congressional District— but Fernandez wasn't on the New Mexico ballot.
    Fernandez got stomped both times, but his story was remarkable and his candidacy was written about in the Journal more than three dozen times and in The New York Times and Time magazine.
    Born in a boxcar in Kansas to Mexican immigrants who were farmworkers, Fernandez picked sugar beets as a child before going on to college and becoming a millionaire.
    Fernandez got close to 1 million votes nationally, enough to send three delegates to the Republican nominating convention in 1980. He died in 2000.
    The Richardson camp brushed off the mistake on Tuesday.
    "The campaign was looking at the Democratic side of things," campaign communications director Pahl Shipley said. "But it's also clear that the governor is the first serious Latino candidate."
    "Latino USA" is produced at the University of Texas and distributed by National Public Radio and airs on 172 stations in 31 states.
    Richardson was interviewed by host Maria Hinojosa in a piece that aired Saturday. She began their interview by saying, "This is historic." And Richardson responded that he had determined he is "the first Latino ... to run for president."
    Mincho Jacobs, who worked on the segment, said he believed the governor's camp when they told him Richardson's campaign was historic.
    "I took that at face value," he said.
    Fernando C. de Baca, chairman of the Bernalillo County Republican Party, said Fernandez was a mover in the Republican Party before he decided to take on Ronald Reagan.
    C. de Baca, an aide to President Gerald Ford, worked with Fernandez in Washington, D.C. when Fernandez was president of the National Republican Hispanic Assembly.
    "He filed papers. He ran. He was the first," C. de Baca said.
    Lujan, the former congressman from New Mexico, helped Fernandez found the National Republican Hispanic Assembly and remembered his presidential campaigns.
    "He was serious about running," Lujan said. "He was in New Hampshire and Iowa, I know."
    He said Fernandez liked to explain that he became a Republican because he heard they were rich and he wanted to be rich.
    In 1980, Fernandez was in a crowded primary field. He raised $180,000 and campaigned in 18 primaries, including Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and New Mexico.
    The always-genial Lujan said Richardson, a Democrat, should get a pass for forgetting a fellow Hispanic's history-making campaigns.
    "There's no reason for him to have known that," said Lujan, a Hispanic who served 20 years in Congress and was secretary of the interior under President George H.W. Bush.