As governor, Bill Richardson lives in a house on a hill in a small town that calls itself the city different, and for the past four years Mr. Richardson has been proving to New Mexicans he's a different kind of Democrat.
He cut personal income taxes, lured new industries with business tax breaks, relaxed gun laws, targeted sex criminals and drunk drivers and paid for it all with a glut of state revenue from high oil and gas prices. Yes, as Democrats go, Mr. Richardson has been different for New Mexico.
But recently he did something that makes him the same as just about every other prominent Democrat these days he announced he was exploring a presidential candidacy.
"Everybody talks about these issues, I've actually done it," he said in his online video announcement.
As Sen. Barack Obama (D-Illinois) rides the wow-factor from his arrival on the national scene in 2004, and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-New York) varnishes her credentials through a seat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Mr. Richardson has been carefully carving his own path to a nomination for decades.
If voters were sorting résumés for this nationwide job interview, there's no question Mr. Richardson's would be near the top.
Looking for a conciliatory voice to represent the United States at the United Nations? He's been the ambassador there. Concerned about energy consumption? Mr. Richardson ran the Department of Energy for two and a half years. Looking for someone to bring the federal budget back in balance? As a governor, he's done that for five years.
FROM MEXICO CITY TO MASSACHUSETTS
Mr. Richardson's personal story makes him all things to all people. He is the first Hispanic his mother is Mexican and father is American to run for president as a Democrat. Born in Pasadena, California, he was raised in Mexico City, then educated in Concord, Massachusetts he was the first non-white student at the exclusive Middlesex Prep and Tufts University in Boston, where his father was a football legacy.
Mr. Richardson credits a speech from Sen. Hubert Humphrey with inspiring his career of public service. But where would this service begin? After staffing Humphrey's Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mr. Richardson looked around and saw New Mexico as a land of opportunity.
After giving a longtime incumbent a tough race in 1978, Mr. Richardson came to Congress in 1980 when a growing New Mexico received a third congressional district, one with a large Hispanic population.
He backed the balanced budget amendment, voted against Democrat gun safety legislation, and was a moderate voice on immigration. But it was luck and timing that pushed his career to the next level. In 1994, he was in North Korea when that country shot down an American helicopter that it alleged was trespassing. One pilot died, and Mr. Richardson negotiated the other's release.
The success led President Clinton to call on Mr. Richardson the next year for help in a similar situation in Iraq.
"They basically said, 'You're on your own on this,'" he says of the Clinton White House. "'... As long as you stay under the radar, as long as you don't screw up, we're not going to say anything, but if you screw up or this gets out, we're going to say we know nothing about it.'"
Mr. Richardson succeeded there, too, being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work, and positioning himself nicely for an appointment as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in 1997. The next year he got his own cabinet agency energy but his tenure proved disastrous.
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