Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Roundhouse Roundup: Richardson Makes it to the White House

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving came early this year for Gov. Bill Richardson. After more than 10 months of virtual political exile — at least on the national level, which is the level he likes best — Richardson and First Lady Barbara Richardson were happy recipients of what has been described as the most coveted invitation in the political world: President Obama's first state dinner.

The dinner was in honor of India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. I'm not sure whether Richardson knows the guy, because he's never held any American hostages.

Just about a year ago, everyone assumed Richardson would be going to these type of events all the time. After all, Obama had nominated him for a cabinet position and he was making plans to move back to Washington, D.C. But then in January, Richardson abruptly withdrew the nomination due to a federal grand jury investigation of an alleged pay-to-play scheme involving key members of his administration. Months later, the Justice Department dropped the case.

Some pundits in national online publications speculated about the significance of Richardson's presence at the exclusive White House soiree.

"Whether the fact that Richardson was invited to a party for Singh has any further significance is anyone's guess," wrote Santa Fe-based writer Sally Denton in Politics Daily. Talking about rumors of a job in the national administration, Denton added, "But Richardson insiders say the deal has been clinched — he's eager to leave New Mexico and its pesky $650-million budget deficit — and Tuesday's state dinner will be his coming-out party."

The governor, of course, has denied such speculation. "This is not about a job, it's about having dinner," he told KOAT-TV this week. "I'm going to finish my term as governor."
Steve Clemons, author of The Washington Note blog, wrote in The Huffington Post that Richardson might have had something specific he wanted to discuss with Obama.

"... House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman will be there tonight — and so too will be New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. The connection? Cuba," Clemons wrote. "Both strongly support moving the US-Cuba relationship into new territory and ending the restrictions on travel to Cuba for American citizens. ... This is a self-damaging restriction on American rights that should be ended — and Berman and Bill Richardson are on the case. Look for them whispering in the President's ear."

Conservative blogger Michelle Malkin offered her typical thoughtful and constructive perspective about Richardson being at the White House. "Like Tom Daschle, this Beltway fixture is a human toe fungus," she said. He won't go away." (Yes, Malkin makes Anne Coulter look like Little Mary Sunshine.)

Now nobody likes to be called fungus of any sort. But I bet Richardson looked on the bright side.

At least the talking heads were talking about him again.

Reunited and it feels so good: The late Gov. Bruce King used to pride himself on his ability to bring opposing political forces together. Perhaps he was smiling from beyond Saturday, looking down on his own funeral as two politicians — whose relationship for more than a year could only be described as frosty — shaking hands and speaking civilly.

I'm speaking of course of former President Bill Clinton and Gov. Bill Richardson. Their brief encounter was the first time the two had interacted, at least in public, since the 2008 Super Bowl, when Clinton came to New Mexico. The former prez was just here to watch the game with his old Department of Energy secretary at the governor's mansion. But everyone knew Clinton's real purpose was to convince Richardson to endorse his wife Hillary Clinton, who was running for president.

But Richardson ended up endorsing Obama, which angered the Clinton camp. As recently as May, The New York Times reported that Clinton hadn't forgiven Richardson.

Immediately after giving a eulogy to King on Saturday at the services at Moriarty High School, Clinton went down the line of dignitaries on the first row stopping to greet former U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, who was standing by Richardson. Clinton then stopped in front of the governor and smiled. The two shook hands and chatted briefly.

Right before Clinton began walking away, Richardson gave him a quick pat on the shoulder.