Far from galas, Richardson opens session

By Steve Terrell: The New Mexican

He had dreamed of being the one up on the inauguration platform in Washington, D.C.

Instead, Gov. Bill Richardson remains in Santa Fe today, his
presidential hopes long gone and his nomination to a cabinet post
having soured in the face of a federal grand jury investigation.

While Barack Obama, the first African-American ever elected
president, basks in the glow of a landmark celebration, Richardson will
help inaugurate another session of the New Mexico Legislature, one that
many lawmakers predict won’t be a lot of fun.

Instead of festive Washington galas, Richardson will be at the state
Capitol, dealing with declining state revenues and budget cuts — not to
mention dodging questions about pay-to-play scandals and federal
probes, one of which scuttled his nomination for Commerce secretary
earlier this month. Instead of preparing for a U.S. Senate confirmation
hearing, he’ll be fighting with an increasingly uncooperative state
Senate.

Asked Monday where Richardson will watch Obama take the oath of
office and make his highly-anticipated inauguration address, spokesman
Gilbert Gallegos said, “The governor will be preparing for the State of
the State address tomorrow,” referring to the annual speech by the
governor to kick off the legislative session.

Richardson apparently is skipping an inauguration watch party hosted
today by Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, Santa Fe Mayor David Coss and other
Democratic Party leaders at Santa Fe Community Convention Center.

This can’t be a good time for the once high-flying Richardson. The
Obama festivities are bound to remind him of that. Nationally, the
headlines haven’t been kind. The Wall Street Journal last week ran a
story headlined “New Mexico’s Political Wild West,” outlining the
“cascade of recent corruption scandals in New Mexico “ and “the state’s
unusual — and lightly regulated — political culture.”

Though he protests his innocence — confident that he and close aides
would be cleared of any claims that they wrongly mixed state business
with political fundraising — Richardson has become the butt of
late-night comedians’ jokes. David Letterman recently poked fun at what
he imagined was the conversation between Richardson and Obama when
Richardson withdrew.

“You know what, I’ve been doing some stuff that may be too illegal
to be in the cabinet, but just about right to keep me as governor of
New Mexico,” Letterman deadpanned.

Richardson, who used to thrive on his countless appearances on cable
television news shows, hasn’t come down from his fourth-floor suite to
the Capitol studio for an appearance since announcing his Commerce
withdrawal. The New York Times reported recently that the governor had
declined an interview — something that would have been unimaginable a
few months ago.

After dropping out of the presidential race and growing a beard,
Richardson got clean-shaven immediately before the election, as talk
swirled of his possible role in an Obama administration. Now the
whiskers are back and the governor said last week he intends to keep
them.

After being picked for the Commerce position, Richardson said he
planned to go through with plans to deliver the State of the State
address in Santa Fe. But many who know him had speculated he’d fly to
Washington shortly after the speech to at least drop in on a couple of
inaugural balls. That speculation has ended.

He’s bound to get a warm reception at the Roundhouse when he gives
his speech today. Even Gary Johnson, the Republican governor who had
few friends in the Legislature, always got polite reactions. Unlike
previous years, however, Richardson will have a harder time selling
lawmakers on “bold initiatives.” Instead of ambitious projects, he must
address ways to cut back in the face of declining state revenues.

The governor’s speech is expected to begin about 1 p.m. — about three hours after Obama’s inauguration address.

Contact Steve Terrell at 986-3037 or sterrell@sfnewmexican.com. Read his political blog at roundhouseroundup.com