Richardson difficult to predict in 2009

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By Jay Miller

SANTA FE — It is fun at this time of year to make predictions for the coming year in New Mexico politics. Then a year later comes the accountability, the time to tally how well I have done.

This year’s evaluation of my 2009 predictions is not pretty. I usually have quite a bit to crow about. But a year ago today was during that brief period when we thought Gov. Bill Richardson was headed for the big time.

It was only a few days into the new year that Big Bill surprised the world, except for some advisers of president-elect Barack Obama, by announcing that he was staying home.

Even before Richardson withdrew, he had given indications that he would hold on to his reins of power in New Mexico as long as he possibly could.  

The new president was announcing that he wanted all the cabinet secretaries he had appointed to be confirmed by his Jan. 20 inaugural date. Richardson, who had been around that mulberry bush a few times before, knew Obama was still dreaming. Nothing happens that fast in Washington.

Even before his surprise withdrawal, Richardson announced that he would be making the opening address to the Legislature and would be presenting his budget and legislative initiatives.

Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, in the spotlight for the month of December 2008, quickly was back in the shadows.

And then came the announcement that Gov. Bill would not be leaving because of a federal grand jury investigation into pay-to-play allegations. How long would that take? No one knew.

When no charges were brought, new questions arose concerning when Obama would invite him back and to what post. There were many guesses, nearly all in the diplomatic area — Cuba, China, North Korea.

My only guess was that Richardson would be out of here quickly and not return. Shortly thereafter, Richardson announced he would remain in New Mexico to complete his term and then retire here.

I have known Bill Richardson since Gov. Jerry Apodaca brought him from Washington in the spring of 1978 to be executive director of the state Democratic Party.

Shortly after, Bruce King won the state Democratic gubernatorial primary and Bill was out on his ear, replaced by King loyalist Larry Ingram of Tucumcari.

Richardson entered the import-export business. But mainly he began a run for Congress in the northern district, which included Albuquerque at the time. Manuel Lujan, a Republican, had held the post for 10 years and appeared safely ensconced for as long as he desired.

But a whirlwind Richardson campaign in 1980 gave Lujan the scare of his life. In the ensuing congressional reapportionment of 1981, Lujan gladly took Albuquerque and ceded northern New Mexico to Richardson.

Despite being a carpetbagger among families that could trace their roots in the area for centuries, Richardson owned the 3rd Congressional District and could have whatever he wanted.

Those days may be coming to an end. Gov. Richardson has climbed to the top of New Mexico’s political ladder. There is no higher office to seek unless he wants to be another Bruce King and run for governor again in four or eight years.

Richardson does still have an active campaign account that is accepting donations, so don’t write him off. I now know not to predict his next move.

In other predictions last January, I worried about four-fifths of our congressional delegation being rookies in their positions. I predicted that Martin Heinrich in the 1st Congressional District and Harry Teague in the 2nd Congressional District would receive as much favored treatment as the House Democratic leadership could provide.

Both Heinrich and Teague beat Republicans and have 2010 reelection campaigns to worry about. It appears that has come to pass. Both have committee assignments important to their districts and both have been given support that will help in their campaigns.

As for our lawmakers, they managed to dodge ethics reform as predicted. My one miscall was that Sen. Tim Jennings would not find enough Democrats to join him in a coalition with Republicans. He did.