The Governor Bill Richardson debacle is indeed disappointing but not totally surprising. Bill has been known at times for demonstrating some hubris in his public behavior, and there has been the careless chatter about his roving eye. But fortunately, no one has ever put a face and name to any particular woman. Hence this can be dismissed as mere mischievous gossip or speculation, but this contracting business tangle is truly more a ‘trust’ issue with the public and therefore becomes a deal breaker.
At the UN, Richardson had a rap for not really preparing for his brief and winging it. This may have been the career foreign service just grousing over his style since there was never any egregious act or omission cited as evidence of deficiency or neglect. In fact, he was well-liked and viewed as being effective by the other member countries’ diplomats. The betting is that there is probably nothing substantively gone awry in this latest development, but the optic of conflict of interest in the wake of Governor Blagojevich’s scandal is enough to have forced him to withdraw his name for nomination to be Secretary of Commerce.
The fact remains that Bill Richardson has been one of seven Hispanics to have ever been named to the Cabinet in history. He was both UN Ambassador and Energy Secretary under Clinton, yet this does not minimize the deep regret felt among many Latino circles. Richardson has been the numero uno among national Latino political leaders in recent years. His anticipated presence in Washington was widely regarded as him becoming the official Alpha-dog in the Latino community. This now has been snuffed out and reminds one of Henry Cisneros’ political demise, which in his case was riven with high-drama personal scandal. Cisneros too greatly disappointed the Latino community. The new Latino cabinet members Ken Salazar and Hilda Solis come with regional or local stature, not the national one that Richardson represents. Therefore, it remains to be seen if either or both will acquire national presence and more importantly have the ‘power of convocation’ (poder de convocatoria as we say in Spanish).
With no Mexican American in the Senate now that Salazar is going to Interior and the only Latino Governor (Richardson) seriously wounded, the need for more activist Latino leadership would be most welcome. GOP Senator Mel Martinez announced that he is not running for re-election, and this has rendered him less than effective. This leaves Bob Menendez of New Jersey as the principal Latino torch bearer in the Senate, a role he can handle extremely well. In the House, Nydia Velazquez of New York will be the new Congressional Hispanic Caucus honcho. However, she lacks national presence but is viewed as a ‘live firecracker’ in political circles and potentially an ‘unguided missile.’ Let us see how seriously she is taken. Silvestre Reyes will again be the only Latino in Congress chairing a full committee, a most influential one at that: the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
In terms of the Latino agenda, specifically the possibility (remote) of Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) legislation, the obvious Latino lead on this has been interestingly enough not a Mexican American, but the Puerto Rican Congressman from Chicago, Luis Gutierrez. Congressman Gutierrez has been the most vocal advocate in the House on this issue. The interesting fact with Gutierrez is that immigration is not a driving issue among Puerto Ricans, as a whole, since they are born US citizens. Lastly and again, the latest Latino star, Bill Richardson, a truly affable human being, with a brilliant and astute political nose, and the self-confidence and demeanor of a world statesman, has had to remove himself from further national public office. As the Latino community prepares to welcome the Obama Administration, it will sorely feel the absence of Governor Richardson. One can already sense the hurt among the Latino community’s enthusiastic young aspiring leadership. It now remains to be seen where and how many and who of the young Latino Obamistas will get second and third tier or even fourth tier (assistant secretary level) appointments. This will help institutionalize the Latino presence in the federal bureaucracy as well as recast its prior focus, yet the absence of the Gran Jefe Bill Richardson as a guide and mentor will definitely be felt, a political tragedy for the Latino community.
Photo Credit: AP, Bill Richardson meeting with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez