Bill Richardson’s early childhood was characterized by an atypical biculturalism, strong family bonds, and a consistent commitment to giving back to the community.
Bill Richardson was born on November 15, 1947 in Pasadena, California to William Richardson and Maria Luisa Lopez-Collada. William Richardson was a banker who had been working in Mexico City for decades and he settled his family there shortly after Bill’s birth.
Growing up in Mexico City, Bill Richardson experienced a unique blend of American and Mexican cultures. His parents wanted to make sure their children were proud of both their countries and felt comfortable in both cultures and languages. Hamburgers and hotdogs were served on the Fourth of July, and parties were held on September 16th, Mexican Independence Day.
William and Maria expected great things from Bill and his younger sister Vesta. Governor Richardson attributes his work ethic and striving nature to the lessons his parents taught him. “My father made it very simple, he used to say, ‘If you’re going to do something, be the best at it, that usually means you have to work harder than everyone else.'”
Vesta and Bill also learned that giving something back to your community was part of what it meant to be successful. These lessons have driven Vesta’s career as a successful pediatrician in Mexico, and have been a constant stream in Bill’s life of public service as Congressman, Energy Secretary, UN Ambassador and Governor of New Mexico.
In 1961 a young Bill Richardson left his family in Mexico City to attend high school in Massachusetts. It was tough for teenage Bill to be the new different looking kid at his school; he was the only Hispanic student there. But with the help of a coveted slot on the Varsity baseball team, and a few good friends, he began to bridge the divide between these two worlds.
Barbara Flavin and her family lived across the street from the school, and they had heard about the new student from Mexico with a vicious breaking ball. One afternoon Barbara saw Bill walking out of town. She offered him a ride back to school. The next January, Bill left a sombrero and a love note on her porch. They were married in 1972.
Bill followed in his father’s footsteps and entered Tufts University in Boston in 1966. His interest in politics was sparked while on a school trip to Washington, D.C. during which Senator Hubert Humphrey stopped to talk to Bill and his classmates about American values and the power of public service. Governor Richardson calls this a turning point in his political awareness: “Senator Humphrey was a proud Democrat and presented his convictions with such strength, that I began to realize how a progressive vision could change the world.”
The newlyweds Bill and Barbara Richardson headed to Washington, D.C. after college. Bill worked on Capitol Hill and began to understand how politics could create positive change. After a few years in D.C., the Richardsons decided it was time to move west to New Mexico.
Once he arrived in New Mexico, Bill worked as a staffer for the local Democratic Party and taught Government at a Santa Fe Community College. In 1980, Bill entered his first campaign to challenge Republican Manuel Lujan in New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District. That first campaign taught Bill the basics of campaigning: he worked for months, and shook practically every hand in Northern New Mexico, he pulled together a grassroots organization that had the support of many local leaders and motivated the Hispanic electorate like never before. And he lost by less than one percent.
But he tried again, and two years later 35 year old Bill Richardson became one of the youngest freshman Congressmen of the class of 1982. He represented the newly created 3rd Congressional District, one of the nation’s most diverse.
Congressman Richardson got straight to work for the people of New Mexico, and was known for holding more town-hall meetings with his constituents than any other Congressman over 2,500 eventually. Reflecting the values his parents had instilled decades before, Bill wanted to make a difference, not just for the people in New Mexico, but for the whole country.
From his position on the Energy and Commerce committee he proposed an amendment to the Clean Air Act that mandated cleaner gasoline; a law that has made a significant contribution in the fight against pollution and global warming.
Bill Richardson has always fought for environmental protections, and when he was in Congress he also led the fight to protect and preserve thousands of acres of New Mexico’s wilderness. After the Exxon Valdez spill, Congressman Richardson also encouraged research into preventing oil spills with his contributions to the Oil Pollution Prevention Act.
Bill spent fourteen years in Congress and also sat on the Interior Committee and the House Select Committee on Intelligence; he was also Chair of the Hispanic Caucus and was later picked as Chief Deputy Whip.
Congressman Richardson’s position on the Interior Committee allowed him to fight for one of New Mexico’s, and one of the country’s, most underserved populations: Native Americans.
New Mexico has a substantial population of Native Americans and is home to dozens of tribes, pueblos and reservations. For too long, politicians had been breaking promises made to Native Americans, and Bill was determined to change this. The Interior Committee focuses on the environment, land use, water, and Indian affairs; all issues of great importance to New Mexicans, and the entire Mountain West. As Congressman and Governor, Bill Richardson has been committed to working with Native Americans to protect their land and improve their quality of life. Bill returned important tribal land to local control, sponsored or cosponsored legislation that improved tribal health care and schools and sparked economic development. Bill was also the first chairman of the newly created Subcommittee on Native American Affairs. As Congressman Richardson so colorfully put it, the Indians had been getting screwed by the United States Government for two centuries. I couldn’t even the score, but I could try to do what was right.
Chief Deputy Whip Richardson worked tirelessly to pass legislation, and always kept an open door policy. He worked with members of both parties to build support for bills and keep Congress moving forward. During the 103rd Congress (1993-1994) he introduced 56 bills and 17 of them became law, accounting for 7% of all legislation that became law that year.
Bill has gone toe-to-toe with some of the world’s toughest characters — Saddam Hussein, North Korean generals, Burmese military leaders, Sudanese President al-Bashir and Fidel Castro — to name a few. Presidents, Secretaries of State, and Prime Ministers soon came to know Bill as the go-to guy for tough hostage negotiations.
In 1994, Bill was on a fact-finding mission in North Korea when he learned that the North Koreans shot down a U.S. Army helicopter that had strayed into their airspace. President Clinton asked Bill to stay in North Korea until he got the soldiers out, and he went right to work. After days of tense discussions and stonewalling by the North Koreans, the world learned that pilot David Hilemon died when the helicopter went down, but that Bobby Hall, his co-pilot, was fine. Richardson refused to leave North Korea until he secured Hilemon’s remains, and Bobby Hall was released a few weeks later.
The next year, two American contractors got lost in the Iraqi desert by mistakenly crossing the border and were arrested as spies by Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard. The negotiations weren’t going well and Bill was sent to see what he could do. Bill met with Iraq’s Ambassador to the United Nations, and Tariq Aziz, Iraq’s foreign minister — but the discussions kept stalling. Saddam would make the final decision, so a resolution depended on Bill’s ability to negotiate a meeting and convince Saddam himself to release the hostages.
Bill traveled to Baghdad and met with Saddam and Aziz in one of the Royal Palaces. Saddam kept stalling for concessions and refused to consider release at first, but Bill eventually convinced Saddam to do the right thing. The two Americans were released to Bill and were home days later.
Governor Richardson knows the Middle East, and he knows diplomacy can work there — he has done it before. Bill’s understanding of the Middle East, and his belief in international diplomacy, have come together to form Bill’s plan for Iraq. He knows that the only way to begin to stabilize Iraq, and the entire region, is for all American troops to be withdrawn. Once we are completely out of Iraq, then the hard diplomatic work must begin. (Click here to read more about Bill’s 7 Point Plan for Iraq.)
Every time Bill would go on one of his diplomatic international adventures his mother would ask him, “Why do you have to go Billy? Can’t they find someone else?” Bill Richardson has never been content to leave the hard work to someone else. It surprised some outside observers that a relatively young Congressman from New Mexico would be the one to travel around the world, put his life on the line and negotiate with dictators. But those who know Bill Richardson know that he’s always trying to focus on how to make the biggest difference — not just for his constituents at home, but for people around the world.
Governor Richardson’s diplomatic missions have given him valuable first-hand experiences in some of the world’s most dangerous places — and in areas that America must focus on as we move deeper into the 21st century.
The United Nations
In recognition of Bill Richardson’s leadership and diplomatic experience, President Bill Clinton appointed Bill the United States Ambassador to the United Nations.
Ambassador Richardson might have been surrounded by tradition and formality — but the cowboy boot-wearing New Mexican was always true to his Western heritage. On his first day at the UN, Bill tried to shake the hand of every single delegate — an idea that baffled his colleagues — there were just too many of them! Bill was also a frequent visitor to the U.N. cafeteria; he would eat lunch and get to know the UN’s regular employees — many of whom spoke Spanish and who lived in New York and New Jersey. It has always been Governor Richardson’s style to reach out to everyone around him and to try to hear every point of view — he may have the ears of Presidents and international leaders, but he always listens to the men and women working in the kitchen too.
Bill Richardson has traveled to Africa multiple times on diplomatic missions. As Ambassador he traveled to Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) to try to ease that country’s transition to Democracy. He has secured the release of hostages from Sudan and just this January negotiated a fragile cease-fire in Darfur. The trips to Africa have changed Governor Richardson’s life — he has seen first-hand the suffering that can exist in the world, and he has seen the hope that persists in the most persecuted heart. Touring refugee camps, witnessing the effects of famine, disease and unnecessary violence, has given Bill a uniquely personal perspective on global conflict, and what the United States can do to prevent needless suffering.
When the Governor was recently in Darfur, he kept being asked the same questions: “Where is America? Why don’t they do anything? ” He didn’t have an answer.
The United States has moved away from diplomacy under the Bush administration, but Bill Richardson believes that America must work with the rest of the world to solve our common problems. He has seen the impact of war, and it has reaffirmed his belief in the power of America and the power of diplomacy to end suffering.
In recognition of his efforts around the world, Bill has been nominated five times for the Nobel Peace Prize with the most recent nomination in the fall of 2007. Each nomination has focused on his international peace mediation, hostage rescue and his commitment to justice. One of the nominating letters put it best: “Bill Richardson has shown his fight in the struggle of humanity by shining the beam of reason into those corners of the world darkened by nuclear peril for far too long, helping to ensure that we can live in a world where arms hold us together — they don’t keep us apart.”
This is the kind of leadership America needs.
Department of Energy
In late 1998, Bill left his post as Ambassador to the U.N. to serve as Secretary of the Department of Energy. Bill Richardson has a clear understanding that energy will be one of the dominant issues of the 21st century.
Where do we get our energy from? How do we end our dependence on oil? How can we lower gas prices? How can we stabilize the Middle East? How can we beat global warming?
These issues will dominate our economic, cultural and political lives. Bill Richardson has proven experience working on these issues, and is the best equipped to tackle these problems head on.
Bill’s current plan to increase our use of renewable energy is based on his experience as Energy Secretary — he knows how to fight global warming because he has been fighting it for years.
Secretary Richardson fought hard for renewable energy, and won the President’s support for requiring that 7.5 % of U.S. electricity be generated by renewable power by 2010. He also enacted tough energy efficiency standards that will save wasted energy and save millions of dollars on America’s electric bills.
Nuclear proliferation is one of the most profound threats our country faces. Bill worked hard to secure our nuclear weapons, and those of other countries. At the Energy Department, Bill signed a series of nonproliferation agreements with Russia. One of these agreements was designed to spark economic growth and private sector research that would be open to out-of-work Russian nuclear scientists — ensuring that they weren’t forced into black market work with terrorist organizations or other countries.
When he started at the Department of Energy, Bill realized that there were large numbers of former government employees and contractors who were sick, dying or had died young. Many of the men and women who had worked on top secret nuclear research were exposed to dangerous levels of radiation and chemicals. They were dying because the government failed to provide a safe working environment. These were men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, but they weren’t being treated with the honor they deserved. For too long the government had refused to compensate these workers and their families, and many of the victims did not want to speak out because the work they had done was still classified. Secretary Richardson defied years of bureaucratic stonewalling and traveled around the country meeting with these poisoned heroes.
It was hard work, but eventually Secretary Richardson got the government to agree to begin paying for the medical expenses of our sick and dying nuclear workers.
Bill Richardson has spent his life fighting for those who don’t have a voice, and for those who have been ignored. With him it’s not a question of if it’s convenient or easy to fight for certain reforms — it’s about doing what’s right, no matter where, or for whom.
New Mexico is a beautiful state and home to some of the friendliest people (and some of the best food) you’ll find anywhere in the world.
But when Bill and Barbara Richardson returned to New Mexico, the state was struggling: unemployment was high, the economy was stagnant, schools were underperforming, and the government was stuck in gridlock.
In 2002 Bill Richardson decided to run for Governor to help improve the state that had been his home for decades.
Bill ran as the guy who was going to make a difference. He covered every inch of the state and talked to people in every corner of New Mexico; Bill even broke the world record for handshakes at the New Mexico State Fair. People began to realize that this was the guy who could make a difference — and he was elected in a landslide in a three-way race.
With an aggressive, hands-on approach, Bill has focused on results — and leading New Mexico in a new, positive direction. Over 80,000 new jobs have been created, and unemployment is the lowest it has been in 30 years. Personal income is rising at near record levels. Teacher pay and standards have risen, and the overall quality of the schools has gone up accordingly. Tax cuts have sparked economic growth. Bill balanced the budget for five years in a row and our rainy day funds have grown by over $4 billion.
Furthermore the state has seen these improvements while at the same time making sure that working families are protected. New Mexico now offers health insurance to every child under five years old. The minimum wage was increased. Tax relief has been passed that focuses on putting people to work and investing in renewable energy development.
And every tax cut and fiscal initiative has been achieved while standing with labor unions and by working families. One of Governor Richardson’s first acts was to reinstate collective bargaining. The prevailing wage is a union wage and New Mexico now has the first public works labor agreement in the state’s history.
Under Bill Richardson’s leadership New Mexico has also become the Clean Energy State. Just this year, Bill signed a law requiring state utilities to quadruple their use of renewable energy. The state’s wind, solar and biofuels industries are booming — creating hundreds of new jobs. And New Mexico has some of the country’s toughest greenhouse gas reduction goals.
George Bush might not want the United States to follow the Kyoto Treaty, but that hasn’t kept New Mexico from being on track to exceed Kyoto in the coming years.
But Bill hasn’t been content to just focus on domestic issues — he has continued his diplomatic missions when called upon.
Just before his first inauguration Governor Richardson received a call from one of the North Korean ambassadors to the United Nations. A delegation of North Korean leaders wanted to come to Santa Fe to meet with Bill Richardson — they wanted to know how they were supposed to work with a President who thought that “Axis of Evil” was a bargaining position. Bill and the North Koreans tried to reach an agreement on nuclear disarmament, but were ultimately frustrated by the lack of diplomatic willingness on the part of the Bush administration.
In September of 2006, Governor Richardson travelled to Sudan to negotiate the release of Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Paul Salopek. Governor Richardson had first travelled to Sudan in 1996 when he met with Sudanese President al-Bashir, and Sudanese rebels, to secure the release of Red Cross workers who had been taken hostage. When Bill heard that Salopek, a fellow New Mexican, had been arrested and falsely charged with spying, he knew he had to do something. After meeting with the Sudanese ambassador in Washington, D.C., Bill flew to Sudan and met with al-Bashir. Governor Richardson successfully negotiated Salopek’s safe return to New Mexico — an act which Salopek and his wife say saved his life.
Bill’s experiences in Sudan led the Save Darfur coalition to ask him to travel to Sudan in January of 2007. Governor Richardson toured refugee camps and met with President al-Bashir and Darfuri rebels; at the end of his visit he brokered a fragile cease fire. The world has failed to stop the Darfur genocide. When Bill Richardson is President he will make Darfur a top priority and bring peace to that troubled country.
In April of 2007, Bill traveled to North Korea to retrieve the bodies of American servicemen who had died during the Korean War. While in North Korea he brought up the issue of nuclear disarmament, and is confident that there is a diplomatic solution to the North Korean confrontation.
The people of New Mexico have responded to Bill Richardson’s commitment to improving their lives and fighting for what’s right. In 2006 Bill was reelected with almost 70% of the vote — and with almost 40% of the Republican vote!
Bill is running for President because he wants to make a difference, and because he has the experience and record of accomplishment necessary to bring this country together. America needs leadership that can bridge the divides in this country and get to work focusing on the issues that are really important. Bill has experience dealing with health care, creating jobs, improving schools and fighting global warming.
The next few years are going to be a turning point for America and the world. It’s time for a President who has the ability and the experience to lead us through the coming trials — and to unite us so we can face the challenges that lie ahead.