Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Roundhouse Roundup: Advice to the New Guv From the Old

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
December 30, 2010

When I interviewed Gov. Bill Richardson last week, some of our talk turned to politics.

Though he said he got frustrated being a punching bag for Republican Gov.-elect Susana Martinez during this year’s gubernatorial campaign, Richardson said, “I’m not going to get into New Mexico politics for awhile. I’m not going to criticize Gov. Martinez. I’m not going to praise her.”

But just a few moments later, Richardson, uh, criticized her.

“She needs to stop using campaign rhetoric and realize that she’s now governor and has to govern,” he said. “You know, the state jet business and the exempts and the budget stuff. This is time to govern, to learn about the budget and to pick good people.”

Asked his opinion of Martinez’s appointments so far, Richardson said, “I don’t know many of these people. There seem to be a lot of Republican Party operatives. I think you want to have more substantive people. You need people you can trust, but I’d reach out more. I’d like her to appoint some Democrats.”

Republicans in Richardson’s original cabinet included Joanna Prukop, who was secretary of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources for almost seven years, and Ed Lopez, his original General Services secretary.

Martinez transition spokesman Danny Diaz responded this week:

“Gov.-elect Martinez has nominated highly qualified individuals who represent diverse backgrounds and viewpoints, including three Democrats. Her nominees fulfill a commitment to seek out individuals who reach beyond state government and add depth and breadth to the agencies they manage. The end result will be greater efficiency and effectiveness in government delivering change on behalf of New Mexico citizens.”

Diaz said Martinez’s Democratic cabinet nominees are Jose Z. Garcia for Higher Education secretary, Lupe Martinez for Corrections secretary and Yolanda Berumen-Deines for secretary of Children, Youth and Families. (In fairness to Richardson, our interview took place before these nominations were announced.)

The note on the desk: Asked what advice he would leave for Martinez in the traditional note left on the governor’s desk, Richardson said, “It’s going to be personal stuff, not policy stuff. Things like ‘Don’t take yourself too seriously,’ ‘Be strong with the Legislature.’ It’s going to say stuff like ‘the state needs healing’ and to remember you’re governor of all the people, not just the hard-right Republican Party.

“But I wish her well. I really do,” Richardson said. “And even if she tries to tear down some of my legacy, I’m not going to be out there lobbying or defending anything. I think that it’s up to the Legislature and the public.”

More advice on the Legislature: “Realize that traditionally the New Mexico governorship is a weak governorship,” Richardson said he’d tell Martinez. “The New Mexico Legislature is traditionally strong. So if you want to have a strong agenda, you have to be strong and not cave in to their every whim and desire.

"Consult as much as you can. Reach out, but in the end, you’ve got to lead," he said. "You’ve been elected governor to lead and not always make nice. Sometimes you have to be tough like I was. But we got tremendous accomplishments by being strong and, you know, having a few conflicts and fights, but in the end coming together.”

Richardson acknowledged that he’d had some loud fights with the state Senate. He summed it up this way: “My agenda was to move the state forward. Theirs was to watch every penny, which they have a constitutional right to do. But that doesn’t mean you stop all progress.”