Bill Richardson, appraising his legacy

Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson has died. While we at the Rio Grande Foundation often disagreed with the former Gov. we also had our areas of agreement. Here are a few thoughts on him and his legacy.

Compared to today’s Democrats Richardson was a moderate. He genuinely seemed to desire economic growth for New Mexico and had a plan (which was fairly successful) to grow NM’s economy. He cut NM’s top income tax rate from 8.2% to 4.9% and reduced capital gains taxes as well.

Sadly, Richardson ALSO fell into the trap of big government boondoggles. His purchase of a supercomputer was one, but his Rail Runner and Spaceport have been very costly. The RailRunner continues to lose ridership while the Spaceport remains unproven even as Virgin Galactic FINALLY has started manned tourism launches. Subsidies for Eclipse Aviation and Schott Solar also failed to create long-term economic success.  Richardson also laid the groundwork for New Mexico’s costly film subsidies which have helped film while failing to more broadly develop New Mexico’s economy despite hundreds of millions in subsidies.

Richardson was pro-2nd Amendment, especially compared to modern Democrats. He was endorsed by the NRA twice. 

In broader terms Richardson was a consensus-builder who genuinely tried to represent the entire state whereas current Gov. Lujan Grisham often ignores rural New Mexico in favor of vote-rich urban areas.

Richardson (gently) reproached Gov. Lujan Grisham for her overly-zealous failed COVID lockdown strategy. He also (sagely) pushed NM legislators and Lujan Grisham to avoid raising taxes in the most recent legislative session.

Finally, as with so many other New Mexico politicians, ethical questions abound. Richardson was associated with noted sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein and missed out on a key role in the Obama Administration due to ethical questions. There is likely a great deal to both of these stories that the public is not aware of, but they highlight deep-seated problems with New Mexico’s political culture and Richardson’s own character.

Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson dead at 75


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4 Replies to “Bill Richardson, appraising his legacy”

  1. Bill Richardson’s election as a NM Congressman is really a remarkable story. A high school classmate of mine was in the same class as Richardson at Fletcher (Tufts) and stayed close to him. I may have a tiny bit more insight than the general public that I thought some readers might be interested in.
    After graduating from Fletcher, Richardson moved to DC where he first worked for a MA Congressman and that as a staffer of for Senate Foreign relations committee. While in DC, her learned that because of population growth, NM was going to get an additional Congressional seat after the 1980 census.
    In the late 1970’s, NM had just 2 Congressional districts. District 1 was Albuquerque who was represented by Republican Manuel Lujan. Nice guy, not especially bright but good conservative. His family had made it big in the insurance business. I believe that his father was the last Republican mayor that Santa Fe had in the 1950s. Lujan was considered to be unbeatable. Richardson, knowing about the new 3d district wanted to make a name for himself. He’d move to NM, by force of will get the Dem nomination against Lujan, lose to Lujan, and then move to Santa Fe in a few years where he’s run as a Dem for Congress from the new 3d district.
    Somehow, Richardson got the Dem nomination against Lujan. He ran a tremendous race and only lost to Lujan by about 10,000 votes. November 1980 was the year that the networks made the early announcement Eastern time that Reagan was going to win the election. As a result, hundreds of thousands of people in the western US didn’t vote because they thought their vote was meaningless. NM was one of those states. Had the networks not made the announcement, it is very possible that Richardson would have won the 1980 election for the 1st congressional district.

    Anyway, after the loss, Richardson moved to Santa Fe from Albuquerque, won the 1982 congressional race for the new 3d district. The rest is history. His story as an outsider is really quite remarkable considering how insular NM is.

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