Bill Richardson’s career in President Obama’s cabinet was mighty short. It never happened.
The New Mexico Governor withdrew from consideration as Commerce Secretary after media noise about a Federal grand jury probe into at least one state contract. Since Mr. Richardson was on tap to handle Commerce in a crashing economy, questions about financial ethics would not do. While Team Obama’s vetting of Richardson left something to be desired, it is true that the ethical bar was raised recently thanks to the inimitable Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.
Information about this New Mexico legal investigation has been known since the summer. Frankly, many observers thought Mr. Richardson would be denied nods for the VP candidacy or cabinet posts due to a reputation for personal over-familiarity and erratic and impulsive executive style, not because of the Federal probe.
But Blogojevich’s bleeps changed the rules. Reciprocity, cornerstone of social organization and animating priciple of the body politic, has been renamed “pay to play” if a favor-swapper is also a campaign contributor. Mr. Richardson is a highly-intelligent man with a distinguished record in legislative, advisory, and foreign affairs. He is said to be skilled in closed-door diplomatic negotiating, but there are no closed doors in 21st century US politics.
If Mr. Richardson continues as Governor while in legal jeopardy, he will hamstring New Mexico’s government much more than he would have damaged the White House from the Commerce post. The media are already comparing him to Illinois Governor Blagojevich.
Mr. Blagojevich is, to be blunt, the dead roach on the kitchen floors of Illinois and the Democratic party. Governor Rod has no political future, so hanging on despite the world’s opprobrium is sensible if selfish on his part; it merely throws the state he supposedly leads and loves into utter chaos.
Mr. Richardson certainly has more talent and ability to offer the world than Governor Rod, but contesting Federal legal charges while running a state government is unfair to New Mexico’s citizens. They (and Mr. Richardson’s career) would be better served if the Governor stepped down upon any indictment. Announcing this immediately would put prosecutors and grand jurors on the spot. If they decline to indict, Mr. Richardson can return attention to the business of the people of the Land of Enchantment, knowing every state contract though 2010 will be subjected to painstaking scrutiny.
If an indictment is returned against the Governor, he should step down and deal with it.
New Mexico’s political dilemmas would not be exhausted if Mr. Richardson resigns to fight charges regarding campaign contributions. His successor would be Lieutenant Governor Diane D. Denish, someone whose professional career consists solely of raising campaign contributions.
But that’s Santa Fe’s problem. DC is much more concerned about Obama’s next Commerce pick and Bill Richardson’s questionable draft record.
Image by Mike Licht. Download a copy here. Creative Commons license; credit Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com
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