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Saturday, May 26, 2007

Governor Richardson's stop in Seattle draws interest from local Democrats

Presidential hopeful and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson was in Seattle on Thursday to talk about his candidacy for the highest office in the land and to share his thoughts on the direction of the country. He spoke to an audience of local Democrats at a Westin Hotel ballroom before meeting with myself and representatives from the local netroots community for under a half hour.

I have written before that NPI is staying out of the Race to the White House sweepstakes (meaning we will not endorse or concentrate any of our resources behind a campaign) but we will of course take advantage of every opportunity to hear what the candidates are saying.

Of all the contenders, Richardson's campaign probably has the most potential - because while he's not considered to be in the top tier now, he is the candidate most capable and most likely of breaking through to join John Edwards, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton in a four way race for the nomination.

Richardson made no secret Thursday of his belief that Congress could be doing a better job on legislation relating to Iraq and immigration. But it was his comments on restoring Constitutional freedoms that I enjoyed the most. Here's an excerpt.
"I would dedicate [my sixth day in office] to civil rights, restating my support for a woman's right to choose, restating my support for laws that ban discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation. That I would shut down Guantanamo. That I would restore habeas corpus. That I would stop eavesdropping on citizens without a court order. That I would rejoin the International Criminal Court. That I would abandon our policy of condoning torture. That I would respect the Geneva Conventions. That I would shut down Abu Ghraib."
Contrast that answer with Republican Mitt Romney, who said in the last Republican debate that he wants to double the size of our Caribbean prison and continue the Bush policy of infringing upon civil rights.

Richardson said he would support repealing "most of" the Patriot Act in response to my first question early in the conversation.

Transportation policy came up later during our discussion, and as Richardson began talking about mass transit, I asked him whether he would be willing to help out the Puget Sound with federal money for Link light rail.
Q: Would your administration grant a lot of money to metropolitan areas to build new and expand existing electric transit systems?

A: Yes! There is a highway bill that a President has. It's the biggest pork in any bill. And it's billions of dollars. When I was in Congress, it was $120 billion. We did it every three years. It's gone up. And that's money that goes straight to states. I would be a partner. I would say to Seattle: we will have some joint bonding. We will put in a certain amount if you do this and you build smart growth communities, [implement] sensible land use policies, and you commit to light rail instead of just expanding existing highways.
Richardson also pledged to keep Amtrak going and concluded by saying that he would be "a President with a national transportation policy: focused on light rail, bullet trains, more efficient transportation."

Richardson's answers on transportation left me satisfied but wondering about the other candidates. Transportation is not an important issue nationally - presidential candidates don't spend much time talking about it - but it is a huge issue at the state level, and particularly here in Washington, where our infrastructure is aging and in need of new investment.

Transit in key corridors would significantly ease congestion, but building the systems can't be done very cheaply. A big problem is that construction costs keep going up because materials are getting scarcer. If we're to make serious progress anytime soon, we have to get started by passing the Roads & Transit package. Extending Link could happen more quickly with help from the federal government.

Richardson's key advantage over his competition is his strength in international affairs. Though he is a Governor, he has served in Congress and in the Clinton administration, and has excellent diplomatic skills. He has a powerful resume and would undoubtedly be a great asset to a Democratic administration if he does not emerge as the nominee.

The other candidate who would be a great statesman is undeclared and says he is not focused on politics but has not ruled out running - and that's Al Gore.

Richardson's embrace of the Apollo project is refreshing as well, because a lot of lip service is paid to the goal of energy independence and transitioning to renewable sources, but rarely do we see action. On this particular issue of importance, the top tier candidates are pretty much in agreement.

Still, Richardson's background gives him credibility that the other major candidates don't have. They're senators or ex-Senators - he's a governor with executive experience. (Al Gore is again the exception here as he served as Vice President for eight years - but of course he isn't a declared candidate).

Thursday's brief meeting was my second conversation with the Governor (I also saw him in person last year at YearlyKos in Las Vegas but didn't speak to him). I hope Richardson returns to the Pacific Northwest again during his campaign. Since he is from the West, this is a region he should value spending time in.

POSTSCRIPT: Dan Kirkdorffer and thehim have also posted on the meeting.

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