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    April 01, 2007

    Richardson hits the right notes

    Posted by: Chris

    Bill_richardsonap Bill Richardson continues to hit pretty much all the right notes in his underdog run for the Democratic presidential nomination. In a speech last weekend at the Human Rights Campaign's Los Angeles black-tie dinner, the New Mexico governor justifiably trumpeted a record of actually doing, rather than just talking, when it comes to gay rights.

    A story about Richardson's speech in the Washington Blade gave top billing to his forceful call for repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," which Richardson actually voted against as a member of Congress in 1993 — if Hillary disagreed at the time with her husband's support for the so-called compromise on gays in the military, she has never said so publicly. It's also worth noting that Richardson's HRC speech was pre-announced and open to the press — seven TV stations and a bevy of print reporters were there — unlike Hillary's stealth, press-free chat with the HRC board last month.

    A few of the high notes from Richardson:

    • On domestic partnership legislation in New Mexico: "The reason I have to leave [immediately after my speech] is that I called in my New Mexico legislature into a special session to keep pushing my agenda, which is a full domestic partner rights act.  (Applause) Now, it was a special session, it lost by one vote in the senate on the last night, just eight nights ago.  And the next day, with the legislature adjourning until next year, we thought we had secured one more vote, but we couldn’t get it to be considered on the floor of the senate.  So I said, not good enough! … I’m pushing this bill because I believe all families deserve our respect, no matter their race, creed, or sexual orientation.  I think people realize this bill is a victory to fairness and equality as well as to open hearts and open minds."
    • On workplace protection and hate crimes: "I don’t take just votes, I don’t debate issues; I actually get things done.  And I know that your top priorities this year are passing federal hate crime and workplace discrimination legislation.  I want you to know I don’t just support these bills, because we did it two years ago in New Mexico.  They were my bills."
    • On domestic partner benefits for government workers: "I ordered personally, through executive order, that access to health insurance and benefits be extended to domestic partners of state employees.  And now, I am fighting for full and equal rights for all domestic partners, including gay and lesbian families."
    • On openly gay political appointees: "I also appoint gay and lesbian individuals to important posts throughout my administration: in the cabinet, division directors, boards and commissions, and I’ll do the same if I’m elected president.  Leading an administration that truly looks like America."
    • On "the politics of division": "This country is tired of the politics of hatred and division.  What we need in this country is someone who can bring us together. And we are fed up, we are fed up with Karl Rove’s machinations, and Ann Coulter’s ignorant epithets. (Applause) Actually, we’re fed up with Ann Coulter, period!"  (laughter)
    • On being Latino (note he is unafraid to draw comparisions many white Democrats won't make with race and ethnicity): "As a Hispanic American, I’ve known in my life what it is to be different, to be singled out and throughout my entire career I have fought against discrimination."
    • On "Don't Ask, Don't Tell": "If I’m elected president, I will end this disastrous, disrespectful policy of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ And, once again, I am not a latecomer to this issue.  I voted against this initiative when I was in Congress.  And, I was one of the Democratic whips with President Clinton.  And I continue to oppose it today.  It makes no sense to turn away and turn out well-qualified recruits at a time when our country needs them most.  There are approximately 65,000 gay and lesbian soldiers serving in our military.  They are no less patriotic and their lives and sacrifice no less valuable because of their sexual orientation."
    • On Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace: "Homosexuality, as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said, is not immoral.  Asking someone to hide their identity and devaluing their sacrifice, is."
    • On federal legal recognition for gay couples: "Gay and lesbian families deserve respect.  And, if I’m elected president, [I’ll wage] a principled stand with you to fight for it.  What we don’t need [are] constitutional amendments, designed to exclude supportive, devoted couples.  We need to extend the rights due to all of us as Americans.  For instance, the right to visit a sick or dying partner in the hospital.  The right to make necessary legal and financial decisions when a partner can no longer do so."
    • On HIV/AIDS: "I pledge to you, if I’m elected president, that this will be the highest priority in our foreign policy.  And the AIDS commission that is appointed and disappointed and is not active will be a priority in my administration and the AIDS commission chairman will be the vice president of the United States."

    There are important issues Richardson didn't address, like his 1996 vote for the Defense of Marriage Act. Does he stand by that vote and both of DOMA's twin provisions: banning federal recognition of state-issued marriage licenses to gay couples, and allowing one state to ignore gay marriages from another state?

    He spoke of "domestic partnerships," while Hillary, Barack Obama and John Edwards talk about civil unions. The difference may be simply semantic, since DP laws and civil unions can be rough equivalents (compare domestic partnerships in California and D.C. with civil unions in Vermont, Connecticut and New Jersey). But that should be clarified. And he gave examples of federal recognition for gay couples, but didn't flesh out everything he would support, including tax, Social Security and immigration rights. The three leading candidates are already on record in support of the first two and Edwards for the third.

    But speaking of Edwards, Richardson's L.A. appearance was dramatically better than Edwards' gay debut, at the Atlanta HRC dinner in May 2003. I was there and, like many in attendance, was disappointed. Given the opportunity to make his case for gay votes, the then-senator from North Carolina chose instead to give his stump speech with small additions backing ENDA and hate crimes. Richardson has a much stronger record to run on than Edwards (then or now) and a much better start four years later.

    The important thing to watch now is whether HRC pressures Richardson and the other Democrats to flesh out their positions on federal recognition of gay couples. Even though HRC's top priorities in the current session of Congress are ENDA, hate crimes and perhaps "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal, the Democrats campaigning for gay support in their White House runs should be pressured to hit even higher notes on the long campaign trail ahead.



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    1. Tim C on Apr 2, 2007 8:48:06 AM:

      I have high hopes for Richardson, if he can survive the media meatgrinder over the next 6 months. He's the only Dem I could vote for at this point with few reservations (his earlier statement that he could get universal health care coverage passed in his first year as President makes me want to dump a bucket of reality on his head), but I'm afraid the press will put fundraising ahead of Presidential abilities and essentially drumbeat the message that only Obama and Hillary have a chance.

      My grandfather, who has been heavily involved in Dem politics longer than I've been alive, has said consistently that if the Dems want to win, they have to run a strong governor. A senator will not cut it. Senators are not used to having the buck stop with them. They cannot demonstrate leadership in tough situations. They can't show how they developed a governance visions and guided it through the legislative branch to reality.

    1. Andoni on Apr 2, 2007 1:07:25 PM:

      I think it's unfair to compare Edward's 2003 speech to Richardson's 2007 speech. That's 4 years and 2 elections apart.

      Richardson must be making some traction because a connected friend told me that a rumor campaign has been started against him.....by whom, I don't know.

      As for HRC, they should be pressing all the candidates to step to the plate on ALL our issues. To simply push on ENDA and hate crimes would be missing a terrific opportunity. ENDA and hate crime legislation would be OK if this were 1996, but this is 2007 and we should push for everything and only give a little on marriage.

      Of note, I have given money to Edwards, Obama, and Richardson. Only Richardson sent me a nice letter saying thanks. The other two sent emails.....saying thanks and asking for more. I was impressed with the Richardson letter. Should I be thinking he wasted 39 cents when he could have sent an email? I dunno. Right now, he is the one who is going to get a second round of funding from me.

    1. H.R. on Apr 4, 2007 11:20:45 AM:

      Two days ago on a busy street corner here in this relatively small southern town, I saw an old black man holding a bible in one hand and a sign against 'same sex marriage' in the other. Then this morning in a different part of town I saw him again and I realized that these are the people I have been voting with for the past 20 years. Richardson, Obama, Edwards and Clinton have to play to the ignorant, the extremely conservative black vote and yet appeal to the gay vote at the same time. Those two sets of voters are just as different as you can possibly be on gay rights.(And also different on many economic issues for many of us,too) So I think it takes tremendous courage on the part of Richardson to make the statements of support that he has made for gay rights. The other slimeballs (Obama, Hillary and Edwards) have me thinking of voting for Rudy if the opportunity presents itself. The first time I could even think of voting Republican in 20 years.And even then it isn't easy thinking about it. And Richardson is the only candidate I would give money to at this point.

    1. Brian Miller on Apr 9, 2007 12:13:38 AM:

      I saw an old black man holding a bible in one hand and a sign against 'same sex marriage' in the other. Then this morning in a different part of town I saw him again and I realized that these are the people I have been voting with for the past 20 years.

      It makes you wonder why they deserve your solidarity this time around, doesn't it?

    1. srcastic on Apr 27, 2007 2:38:47 AM:

      After Richardson's statement in the SC debate last night that Byron White, author of Bowers v. Hardwick, would be his model for a Supreme Court justice, I am not so sure Richardson merits a second look. I would certainly fear the type of judges he would appoint.

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