Former governor Richardson dies at 75

By Matthew Reichbach/ NM Political Report

Former governor, congressman and diplomat Bill Richardson died Saturday, Sept. 2, according to the Richardson Center for Global Engagement. Richardson was 75. 

In a statement from Mickey Bergman, the vice president of the organization, said Richardson “passed away peacefully in his sleep.”

Richardson had a long history in New Mexico politics, including serving two terms as governor. But he also worked on the national and international stage.

“He lived his entire life in the service of others — including both his time in government and his subsequent career helping to free people held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad,” Bergman said.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called Richardson a “visionary who saw the potential of our great state before so many others did.” She cited his embrace of the film and space industries, which she said “continue to reap significant economic benefits today.”

“For my own part, Bill was a mentor and advisor who was instrumental in my own journey into elected office,” Lujan Grisham said. “He was a steadfast friend who celebrated my successes, and someone I could turn to in those moments when leading is particularly challenging.”

Lujan Grisham served as the Secretary of Health under Richardson from 2004 to 2007.

Both U.S. Senators from New Mexico issued statements Saturday praising Richardson’s public service. 

U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján noted that Richardson held the same congressional seat as he did.

“Governor Richardson was a close friend who held the same House seat that I was elected to. He knew how to get things done, and he worked closely with my late father in the Legislature,” Luján said. 

“His passing is incredibly heartbreaking for so many New Mexicans who knew and respected him. He leaves behind a legacy that will never be matched, and one that New Mexicans will always take pride in,” Luján continued.

Richardson appointed Martin Heinrich to serve as a Natural Resources Trustee in 2006.

“Governor Bill Richardson believed New Mexico could do big things. His ambition for our state meant he never accepted mediocrity, and always pushed us to fight for the future we deserved,” Heinrich said in a statement. “I was privileged to serve in his administration and will forever be grateful for all that he taught me. Governor Richardson’s legacy will have a lasting impact on the United States and the world, as it already has had on me and so many others.”

Both Luján and Heinrich are Democrats.

In August, the two U.S. Senators nominated Richardson for the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to have repressive regimes release political prisoners and hostages.

Richardson was born in Pasadena, California and grew up in California and Mexico. After going to prep school in New England and college at Tufts, eventually earning his master’s degree in international affairs, Richardson eventually moved to Santa Fe. It was there that Richardson began his political career.

In 1983, when New Mexico first gained its third congressional seat, Richardson won the race for the newly created congressional district. This was his second crack at running for Congress, after narrowly losing to Manuel Lujan in New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District in 1980.

Richardson would end up serving as a member of Congress until 1997, when Bill Clinton nominated him to be the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

After two years as an ambassador, Richardson became Clinton’s Secretary of Energy from August 1998 until the end of Clinton’s term in 2001.

A year later, Richardson easily won election to become governor of New Mexico, where he would serve two terms. Richardson was a big personality and used his influence from the fourth floor of the Roundhouse to push through legislation he found important, usually with the backing of a supportive Democratic majority in the House.

Richardson gained international attention for signing the bill that ended the death penalty in New Mexico.

He remained ambitious, and after winning a second term, Richardson launched a campaign for the Democratic nomination for president. Richardson was ultimately an also-ran candidate, dropping out of the campaign after earning no delegates in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primaries, finishing well behind frontrunners Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

He almost made a return to the cabinet, this time under Obama, but scandals over allegedly steering contracts to political donors came to light and Richardson withdrew his nomination.

After Richardson’s second term ended, he largely left electoral politics, but remained active in diplomacy, particularly seeking the release of Americans held captive by repressive regimes. Even as a member of Congress, Richardson made trips to North Korea, Saddam Hussein-led Iraq and other notorious nations. He continued this after he was no longer an elected official, including travel to Russia and Cuba.

Matthew Reichbach is the editor of the NM Political Report. The former founder and editor of the NM Telegram, Matthew was also a co-founder of New Mexico FBIHOP with his brother and one of the original hires at the groundbreaking website the New Mexico Independent. Matthew has covered events such as the Democratic National Convention and Netroots Nation and formerly published, “The Morning Word,” a daily political news summary for NM Telegram and the Santa Fe Reporter.