Monday, November 5, 2012

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: The Rehab of Richardson

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
Nov. 5, 2012

Is this the rehabilitation of Bill Richardson?

Late last week, I found a big surprise in a short email message from the former governor’s office: “Gov. Bill Richardson will be in Miami and Orlando, Florida on Friday, November 2, to take part in early vote rallies for President Obama. He will also appear on network and cable channels this weekend leading up to the Election Day in support of the President’s campaign.”

Richardson speaking at the 2008 Democratic National
Convention in Denver 
Ever since early January 2009, when Richardson had to withdraw his nomination as secretary of Commerce because of a grand jury investigation dealing with possible “pay-to-play” campaign contributions and state highway project bond funds, Obama has kept him at arm’s-length.

True, Richardson was invited to a state dinner or two at the White House, but you haven’t seen him as a campaign surrogate for Obama.

As it turned out, neither Richardson nor any of his administration involved in the investigation were indicted in the scandal over the program known as Governor Richardson’s Investment Partnership — though the U.S. attorney noted that decision came from the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., not the Albuquerque office.

BILL RICHARDSON AT HIS POOL PARTYAnother grand jury investigation into state investments, reportedly begun years ago, also hasn’t produced any indictments.

This new announcement reminded me of a day in May 2009, when Obama spoke in Rio Rancho. It was the first time the president had met with Richardson face to face since the Commerce withdrawal.

Obama began his speech that day by recognizing Richardson, who sat with other state officials near the podium. He called Richardson “a great friend” and “one of the finest governors in the country.” Later, Obama told the crowd, “New Mexico’s been fortunate partly because of some good administration from the New Mexico governor.”

Richardson later told reporters that he’d had a “very brief” one-on-one encounter with Obama before that speech. He said they didn’t talk about the Cabinet nomination.

Beginning in 2009, Richardson’s approval ratings in the state took a nosedive, and many have said that was a huge factor in Lt. Gov. Diane Denish’s loss to Susana Martinez for governor the next year.

It’s not clear when New Mexico Democrats will ask Richardson to campaign for them here.

Our celebrity govs: The Richardson announcement means that we have had three New Mexico governors out on the campaign trail this year. Martinez, in recent weeks, has been a Romney surrogate in swing states such as Colorado and Nevada, which have large Hispanic populations. Former Gov. Gary Johnson has been all over the place in his quixotic quest as the Libertarian Party presidential nominee.

Strummin’ on the old banjo: Maybe it’s because she has been so far behind in all the polls — except for her own — that Republican U.S. Senate candidate Heather Wilson has dared to do something I haven’t seen any other candidate in New Mexico do — run an ad that makes her look fun and a little goofy.

I’m referring, of course, to Wilson’s recent “banjo ad” featuring her two teenage kids, Josh and Caitlin. It shows Wilson playing the banjo and home-movie footage as a child riding a unicycle. From the start of this campaign, Wilson has tried to soften her image. We’ve seen her choke up talking about her childhood in one previous spot. But the banjo commercial is one designed to make you smile.

And the banjo’s not just a prop. In 2007, I revealed in this very column that Wilson played banjo. I learned this from Al Hurricane — the godfather of New Mexico music — who told me that he and Wilson had been at a presentation for students at an Albuquerque middle school, and she joined him on banjo for a song.

Hurricane, a longtime friend of the candidate, has been playing at Wilson rallies in Northern New Mexico in recent days. In Las Vegas, N.M., Wilson got out her banjo and played some tunes with Hurricane. (There's some photos of Heather and Hurricane HERE)

Here's the ad below.