January 21, 2007
Another Bill better than Hillary?
Posted by: Chris
One day after Hillary Clinton announced she's "in," New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson threw his hat in the ring for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008. If nothing else, having Richardson in the race takes the "experience" arrow out of Hillary's would-be arsenal against freshman Sen. Barack Obama. Richardson's deep resume — which includes "doing" as well as talking — makes the rest of the field, including especially Hillary and John Edwards, look like rookies.
Richardson has 15 years in Congress, served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and secretary of energy in the (Bill) Clinton administration, and was elected in a landslide to a second term as governor of New Mexico. In addition, Richardson is Latino, bilingual and has proven amazingly adept at difficult international negotiation where others before him failed.
That negotiation savvy shouldn't be underestimated. Look what it's done for him on the difficult issue of marriage equality for same-sex couples. Richardson opposes gay marriage, but when the New Mexico legislature began pushing a "Defense of Marriage Act" in 2005, Richardson said he would veto it unless the DOMA was enacted alongside civil union legislation. Richardson's position wasn't just expedient, it was fairly principled and would satisfy any but those with a gay marriage litmus test. The DOMA effort failed.
What's more, you don't get better than Richardson on gay issues, and again he's not just talking the talk; he's walked the walk. In his first term as governor, he led the state from nowhere to being ranked among the best in the nation on gay rights protections:
- He signed legislation expanding New Mexico civil rights laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity. (At the time, only three other states had included transgender protections.)
- He signed a hate crimes law that included actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity.
- He signed an executive order in 2003 extending health insurance and other benefits to the same-sex domestic partners of N.M. state employees.
- He's on record backing full-fledged civil unions and (unlike John Kerry) opposes state-level constitutional amendments banning gays from marrying.
- While in Congress, Richardson backed military service for out gay men and lesbians. That means, unlike Al Gore, John Kerry, John Edwards, Hillary and the rest, he was anti-Don't Ask, Don't Tell when it was very uncool to be.
Richardson's record isn't unblemished. He voted for the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, and I couldn't find any statement since recanting that support. Even with such an impressive record on other gay issues, Richardson will need to explain his position on DOMA to gay Democrats. At the very least, he should renounce the portion of DOMA that bans federal recognition of marriage licenses issued to gay couples, and he should back full federal recognition of state-issued civil unions. Given his support for civil unions, that seems likely.
Richardson's resume and savvy at negotiation, which requires bringing people together rather than wedging them, makes him an experienced politician who can legitimately claim to being "a uniter and not a divider." With a bit of massaging on DOMA and federal civil unions, he may well be the best bet for gays in 2008.
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