Friday, May 15, 2009

Just Like the Richardson of Old?

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
May 15, 2009

The governor was trying to be nonchalant. He didn't quite pull it off.

"This morning I was with the president of the United States," he told reporters at a Thursday news conference. "This afternoon I'm with Robert Redford."
Gov. Bill Richardson and Robert Redford
It was almost like the old Bill Richardson. Back in the early years of his administration, it seemed he was always appearing beside Washington bigwigs and hobnobbing with Hollywood celebrities.

Had a few North Korean diplomats dropped by the Roundhouse on Thursday afternoon, the picture would have been complete.

President Barrack Obama was in Rio Rancho to talk about credit card legislation and take questions from New Mexicans about economic issues. Redford showed up at the Santa Fe news conference to announce his planned Sundance New Mexico training facility for young Native American and Hispanic filmmakers at the old Los Luceros hacienda near Española.

Meeting with Obama and Redford in one day is nothing to sneeze at any time. But in Richardson's case it seemed particularly noteworthy because for the past five months — since he withdrew as Obama's nominee for commerce secretary — Richardson has kept an unusually low profile. A grand jury investigation into possible pay-to-play dealings involving state bond funds apparently still isn't over.

Once a frequent guest on cable-TV talk shows, Richardson's shadow has almost never darkened the Capitol television studio in recent months. And except for one interview in The Washington Post a few weeks ago, the one-time presidential candidate has even shunned the national print media.

But it's far too early to say the clouds of scandal over New Mexico are lifting. About the same time he and his pal "Bob" Redford, (as Richardson repeatedly called him) were talking to reporters, Bloomberg News was breaking the story that federal prosecutors have subpoenaed documents from New Mexico's state endowment funds.

State Investment Council spokesman Charles Wollman told The New Mexican he couldn't discuss specifics of the subpoena, which was issued earlier this month. Wollman said his agency's lawyers haven't decided whether the SIC can release copies of the subpoenas to the public.

New Mexico state government's $11.8 billion in investments have made headlines in recent weeks because some of the same figures embroiled in a kickback scandal in New York have handled some of this state's investments — and contributed to New Mexico politicians — as well.

On Wednesday, Julio Ramirez Jr. pleaded guilty to securities fraud in New York's pension fund case. "Between 2005 and 2008 (Ramirez's former company Wetherly Capital Group) secured its money manager clients more than half a billion dollars in New Mexico state investments," TPM Muckrucker reported Wednesday. Ramirez, according to campaign finance records, has contributed $10,000 to Richardson political committees.

But Obama didn't mention any scandals or the aborted Cabinet nomination during his Rio Rancho appearance. He started his speech by recognizing Richardson, who sat in the VIP section with other state officials near the podium. Obama called Richardson "a great friend" and "one of the finest governors in the country." At one point the president said, "New Mexico's been fortunate partly because of some good administration from the New Mexico governor."

Thursday was the first time Obama and Richardson had seen each other since late last year when Obama announced his choice of Richardson as commerce secretary.

Obama and Richardson had what the governor described as a "very brief" meeting before the president's speech. Also at the meeting were other state leaders — including Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, House Speaker Ben Luján, Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez and Albuquerque Mayor Marty Chávez. Richardson told reporters that he and Obama didn't talk about the aborted Cabinet nomination. They talked about the state's economy, the federal stimulus package and problems along the Mexican border.
Richardson leaving Obama event
Richardson said he told Obama there should be more flexibility with federal matching fund requirements for the "green grid" program, which would improve the electrical transmission system to promote the use of renewable power.

Referring to Obama's public compliments, Richardson said, "I appreciate his warm words."