Gov Richardson Stops in for a Cup of Tea

Richardson stops in for a cup of tea

It has been a hot summer. Honestly, an unusually hot summer. It’s hard tokeep your cool on a 95-degree day, but New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, aDemocratic candidate for president, managed to pull it off.

He stopped by recently for a glass of iced tea and a chat, and I was both impressed with and jealous of just how crisp and fresh he looked as he got out of his car on this particularly sweltering day. Dressed in a light-colored suit and tie and ambling slowly down the sidewalk like he had nowhere else in the world to be, he was Cool Hand Luke incarnate.

“Is that a bougainvillea?” he asked as we approached the porch.

“I really don’t know,” I told him, practically melting in the heat. “I’ve always called it a rose of Sharon . . . but I’m no gardener.”

He admired my flourishing butterfly bush – which I was pleased to see full of butterflies – as we passed and slowly made our way to the door and into the house.

Richardson is running the show for the beautiful Southwest state of New Mexico– with 2 million residents, it is twice the size of the Granite State.

He lives there with Barbara, his wife of 35 years. Theirs is really a sweet story. They have known each other since they were teens. As a senior at Middlesex High School in Concord, Mass. – there’s his New England connection – she offered him a ride, and they have been together, as the governor says, ever since.

I had interviewed Richardson once before, on my radio show, and knew of his expansive resume. He has been a congressman, U.N. ambassador, secretary of energy under President Clinton, hostage negotiator and governor.

Those radio interviews are policy-oriented and campaign-driven. This time together at my home was different, more about family and inspiration than about health care and war.

He was relaxed and thoughtful, his answers deliberate and well-considered. He was interested in my family and my garden.

Most of all, he seemed to be at ease with himself. While we both had a tendency to wander into policy talk – it is a presidential campaign, after all– he left the campaign speak and sound bites in the car. Not all the candidates are able to do that, and I really enjoyed our conversation as a result.

He also actually ate the cookies I made him – something else not all the candidates do, and something else I really appreciated.

Richardson is a Mexican-American, born in California to an American father and a Mexican mother. He spent his first 11 years in Mexico before being sent home to the United States to attend school.

As we talked, I realized we had much in common, beginning with our religion (Catholic) and our fathers (firm, but loving). He spoke respectfully of the influence his father has had on him and lovingly of his grandmother who helped raise him.

He shared that his faith has influenced his politics. When it comes to the difficult social issues our country faces, he believes tolerance and compassion must guide our policy. He has a close relationship with a Catholic monsignor at home with whom he has worked to develop social policy in New Mexico.

I am the product of Catholic education. My Christian upbringing informs everypart of my life: parenting, professional pursuits, even my politics. That is why I am always particularly fascinated to meet Catholic politicians, and always interested in how the same faith experience can lead to different political philosophies.

I asked Richardson about the dichotomy of being both Catholic and pro-choice.

He spoke about creating a nation in which abortions are sought less frequently, about developing social policy that supports families and children, but stopped well short of supporting a ban on abortions.

“I believe that is something that is between a woman and her God, a woman and her church. The government doesn’t belong in that,” he said.

It was a fascinating 45 minutes.
Here are more interesting facts:
Richardson won the last gubernatorial election with the support of 70 percent of the Republican voters in his state.
He is a firm supporter of the Second Amendment, and is a regular hunter, estimating he hunts three or four times a year.

When I asked about the illegal immigration problem our country faces, he talked about keeping families together and what he calls a “reasonableand strict path to legalization.”

He likes chocolate chip cookies, and thinks the world of his wife, who campaigns with him when she is not too busy with her obligations as first ladyof New Mexico.

The most intriguing story he told me was about negotiating the release of hostages in Darfur, Sudan. He has, more than once, literally rescued individuals from the hands of some of the most brutal regimes in the world.

How, I wondered, did one accomplish such a thing?

“You have to develop a relationship, a connection,” he said.“There has to be respect. You can’t just say, ‘Hand them over.’ He wanted $10 million. I told him, ‘Look, that’s not going to happen.’

“But I knew that his daughter had died the day before from an infection– I knew that through my contacts in the country.

So I told him I could get him a Jeep – something he really needed, and, more importantly, medicine for the children in his country.”

Like all of these meetings, the time passed much too quickly. Richardson was running behind schedule the day we met, and our tea was cut short by a crowd of supporters waiting for him at the Nashua Public Library.

He apologized as he left, offering to make himself available to me by phone for any length of time should I need it. I thought that was generous for a guy running a presidential campaign.

I enjoyed the main man from New Mexico: compassionate, tolerant, incredible resume, fascinating life story and sincere.
I am beginning to believe sincerity is an underrated attribute in presidential candidates; it seems to have been replaced by raw ambition. I am pleased to say Richardson struck me as being particularly sincere.

He believes he has the strength and vision to fill the top job in our country. If his upward climb in some recent polls is any indication, there is a growing number of voters considering him for the position, as well.

©2006, Telegraph Publishing Company, Nashua, New Hampshire

Alex Goepfert

New Hampshire Communications Director

Bill Richardson for President