Bill Richardson



The information presented below reflects the 2008 election season and is not representative of changes in titles, roles, or policy views expressed since then.

Bill Richardson As he consistently stressed throughout his campaign, Bill Richardson is no newcomer to public office. He spent fourteen years as a House representative from New Mexico, followed by stints as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and energy secretary under President Clinton. He was elected as New Mexico governor in 2002. During his presidential campaign, Richardson primarily highlighted his diplomatic experience, which includes negotiation with North Korea, Sudan, and Cuban President Fidel Castro, among others. Aside from his extensive resume, Richardson’s campaign is noteworthy in that he would be the first Mexican-American president of the United States. Born to a Mexican mother and American father, Richardson was raised in Mexico City until high school. This background, combined with his large immigrant constituency in New Mexico, has placed Richardson in a unique position in the immigration debate. He has called for broad immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, but has also been a voice for increased law enforcement and surveillance on the border. He deployed the National Guard to the Mexico/New Mexico border in 2006 to curb the flow of illegal immigrants into the United States. Richardson was also a decidedly anti-war candidate and has called for a complete troop withdrawal from Iraq.

Richardson withdrew from the presidential race on January 10, 2008 after poor showings in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primaries. In March 2008, Richardson endorsed Barack Obama. In December 2008, Richardson became President-elect Obama's nominee for secretary of commerce. He withdrew his nomination for that position in January 2009.

Campaign Issues

U.S. Policy toward Africa

Richardson advocates a “multilateral Marshall Plan” for Africa to “prevent societal collapse,” he told Vanity Fair. Such a plan would focus on improved medical care, education, and economic development. “The plan must also anticipate and respond to the impact that global warming will have upon African food and water supplies,” he says.

Richardson, a former UN ambassador, visited Sudan in January 2007 and met with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. He attempted to convince Bashir to allow UN troops to enter Darfur. The Sudanese government has since agreed to allow a hybrid UN-African Union (IHT) force to enter the region. In a June 2007 Democratic debate, Richardson commended President Bush’s funding for the Millennium Development Goals, and for efforts to fight AIDS in Africa in particular.

U.S. Policy toward India

Richardson says the relationship between the United States and India can potentially serve to deter extremism and counterbalance China economically. He also says India should join the G8.

Richardson said, if elected, he would have held an Asian Energy Summit with India, China, Japan, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and the United Nations Environment Program to “adopt a ten-year strategy for a major energy transition in Asia.”

In a January 2008 Foreign Affairs essay, Richardson praised the U.S.-India nuclear agreement, which he said would "help bring a great democracy, a natural ally of the United States, into the global nuclear regime."

Military Tribunals and Guantanamo Bay

Richardson advocates closing the prison camp. “Prisoner abuse, torture, secret prisons, renditions, and evasion of the Geneva conventions must have no place in our policy. If we want Muslims to open to us, we should start by closing Guantanamo,” he said in a February 2007 speech before the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Domestic Intelligence

Richardson stressed the importance of due process in cases of domestic wiretapping. “I believe that the privacy and civil rights of Americans is one of our fundamental rights. And my only point here is, if there is going to be eavesdropping, if there is going to be wiretapping of American citizens, there should be a due process,” said Richardson in a 2006 CNN interview.

Richardson governor did not express support for Feingold’s censure efforts.


Richardson says he believes “there is such a thing as a global war on terror.” He believes the focus should be shifted from Iraq to Afghanistan, al-Qaeda, and “jihadist terrorists.” Particularly, he says, U.S. efforts should center on preventing terrorists from obtaining nuclear weapons.

Richardson says much of the violence in the Middle East, particularly involving Israel and Hezbollah, could have been prevented if the United States had placed a permanent envoy in the region. He has also called for an international peacekeeping coalition force to stabilize the Middle East.

Democracy Promotion in the Arab World

Although Richardson initially expressed support for Bush’s Middle Eastern democracy agenda, he has grown critical of U.S. efforts in the region. “I believe the Bush administration deserves credit for putting pressure and saying that authoritarian regimes have to go,” Richardson said in 2005. He also said in 2005 that Bush’s promotion of democracy in the Middle East “is working,” and that those efforts are “sparking a wave of very positive democratic sentiment that might help us override both Islamic fundamentalism that has formed in that region and also some of the hatred for our policy of invading Iraq.” More recently, however, Richardson has called for a troop withdrawal from Iraq, citing, as he did on Meet the Press in May 2007, a strengthened democratic system there.

Energy Policy

Former Energy Secretary Richardson has called energy security (Albuquerque Tribune) the most important issue facing the United States. He calls for “a massive public and private investment to develop new technologies, particularly renewable technology.” The New Mexico governor once said that he wants his state to be "the Saudi Arabia of Wind, Solar, and biomass." In December of 2006, he signed an executive order requiring state vehicles to use renewable fuels and state offices to have energy efficient appliances (PDF). In this interview with Tavis Smiley, Richardson says that the United States needs to reduce the amount of imported oil to ten percent of its total from the current 65 percent. He suggests achieving this by "getting the 100 mile per gallon (mpg) car into the marketplace," according to his campaign. He also says the CAFE standards should reach 50 mpg by 2020. Richardson says as president, he would push for legislation requiring a 20 percent improvement in energy productivity by 2020. He also believes "carbon clean coal" (Grist) wil play a role in the United States' energy future.

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Richardson says that the United States must “re-engage” both parties in negotiations for peace and a two-state solution. “The suffering of the Palestinians is the most useful propaganda weapon the jihadists have,” Richardson said in a May 2007 interview. Richardson says he would send former president Bill Clinton to the Middle East as a “peace envoy.”

North Korea Policy

The governor of New Mexico, who supports bilateral negotiations (NPR), says “What [North Koreans] respond to is dealing with them directly.” He has visited North Korea six times, beginning with a trip in 1994 when he secured the release of the remains of a U.S. serviceman. He also traveled to Pyongyang while U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. As energy secretary during the Clinton administration, he oversaw the delivery of fuel assistance under the terms of the 1994 Agreed Framework.

Richardson joined a U.S. delegation to North Korea in April 2007, where the trip involved securing the remains of six U.S. soldiers who served in the Korean War. He also pressed North Korean officials to meet a sixty-day deadline to shut down the country’s main nuclear reactor to comply with a February 2007 denuclearization agreement signed by Six-Party Talk members. (The deadline was not met due to the stalled release of North Korean funds from a Macao bank.)

Days after returning from Pyongyang, Richardson gave a speech at the Asia Society focusing in which he voiced opposition to decreasing the U.S. military presence in South Korea near the demilitarized zone (DMZ) and depending on China to negotiate for the United States.

Cuba Policy

Richardson is not in favor of lifting the embargo on Cuba yet, although he has said the United States should be “reevaluating” it. Instead, he said, Cuba’s democratic transition should be a negotiated process with input from other Latin American leaders “where you push for fair elections, where you push for long-term viability of that country and reintegrate it into the Americas.”

Richardson said in a February 2007 foreign policy speech (PDF) that he would “reverse Bush policies restricting remittances and travel to visit loved ones.”

Richardson negotiated the release of three political prisoners in Cuba in 1996.

U.S. Policy toward China

Richardson has stressed the importance of a strong diplomatic relationship with China to ensure U.S. economic interests in the region, and has also pressed sound human rights and environmental conditions there.

Richardson said in an April 2007 speech before the Asia Society that the United States should use trade agreements with China to "incentivize human rights improvements." In that speech, Richardson also said that the United States must be “impeccable in our own behavior” if it wants to influence China on human rights.

On China’s military modernization, Richardson said, “The best way for China to reassure its neighbors and the U.S. that it is not seeking hegemony over the region is to be transparent about what it is doing.” Richardson said the United States should invite China to assist in a large-scale plan to reduce poverty in the Middle East and North Africa. He also says that the United States should support Indian and Japanese entry into the G-8 and UN Security Council to provide “an economic counterbalance to China.”

In terms of energy, the former energy secretary said, “If I were President, I would convene an Asia Energy summit with China, India, Japan, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and the United Nations Environment Program, to adopt a ten-year strategy for a major energy transition in Asia.”

Defense Policy

If elected, Richardson plans to reduce Pentagon defense spending by $57 billion. In October 2007, Richardson criticized current U.S. defense policy for "wasting billions of dollars on Cold War weapons systems designed to fight a long extinct Soviet empire." Richardson also proposed the creation of a civil affairs military personnel to "bridge the gap between soldiers and civilians."

Richardson criticized the 2000 Defense Authorization Bill because, as energy secretary at the time, he objected to the reorganization of the nuclear weapons division of the Department of Defense. That reorganization included the creation of a new, semiautonomous Department of Energy agency that was to oversee U.S. nuclear weapons programs. That bill was passed despite Richardson's complaints.

Richardson was an outspoken critic of Rumsfeld’s 2005 Base Realignment and Closure process, citing the loss of an estimated seven thousand jobs in his state of New Mexico as a result of base closures (PDF). As a New Mexico congressman in 1991, Richardson voted against the Gulf War, a move which he later said he regretted (Albuquerque Journal). He has spoken out against the current Iraq war, however, and has called for an immediate withdrawal of all troops.


Richardson often cites his work in the mid-1990s as a hostage negotiator for the Clinton administration, specifically his efforts to free a pair of American hostages in Iraqi custody, as evidence he understands the politics of Iraq. He calls the current war “a disaster” and advocates a redeployment of U.S. troops. He says some troops should be sent to Afghanistan “to stop the resurgence of the Taliban and to fight the real terrorists who attacked this country on 9/11.” His seven-point "new realism plan" for Iraq calls on Congress to de-authorize the war and set a deadline for troop withdrawal by the end of 2007. Unlike Clinton and Biden, Richardson says there should be no residual troops left in Iraq after the United States pulls out of the region. “Most Iraqis, and most others in the region, believe that we are there for the Iraqis’ oil,” he says. By pulling out completely, “we would deprive our enemies of this propaganda tool,” he says. Richardson also calls for an “Iraqi reconciliation conference” and supports more regional participation from Iraqi neighbors like Syria and Iran.


Gov. Richardson (D-NM) has called himself a “free trader” (Albuquerque Journal), though he has called for increased enforcement of labor standards and environmental protection in free trade agreements. As U.S. ambassador to the UN, Richardson praised free trade and the International Monetary Fund. He has particularly promoted free trade between the U.S. and Latin America, and was a leading voice in the push to create NAFTA in 1993. In a 1998 speech, Richardson called for legislation toward “creating a hemispheric-wide free trade agreement that will establish a $12 trillion market of 850 million people. This free trade zone will create jobs, open new markets and raise living standards from Ecuador to East Los Angeles.”

Homeland Security

As governor, Richardson ordered the creation of the New Mexico Office of Homeland Security in 2003. The Christian Science Monitor in 2006 quoted Richardson as saying he would reallocate funds from the Iraq war to homeland security, especially for protecting U.S. subways and air transportation. Richardson has also said that he believes FEMA should not be housed under the DHS.


Richardson supports engagement (WashPost) with Iran on the issue of nuclear proliferation. In a June 2007 speech, Richardson called for unconditional talks with Iran backed by "tough sanctions." To start negotiations, Richardson said the United States must acknowledge its errors in backing the Shah and supporting Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war, and in remaining silent when Hussein used chemical weapons in that war. In hisspeech, Richardson also said the U.S. must respect Iran's "legitimate right to peaceful nuclear energy" but must also stress to Iran that it will never be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons.

At a February 2007 Democratic National Committee event, Richardson said that he would send former Secretary of State James Baker to run talks with Iran’s foreign ministry with the hope of developing a “broad agreement” that would allow Iran to develop “a civilian nuclear capacity, properly monitored by the international community.”

Climate Change

The former secretary of energy says that reduction of carbon emissions should be mandated. As governor of New Mexico, he entered his state into a five-state agreement that includes Arizona, California, Oregon, and Washington, to lower greenhouse gases regionally (Albuquerque Tribune). “In New Mexico, we’re the first state that followed the Kyoto Treaty. Maybe our country isn’t, but we did,” Richardson said at a campaign stop in Iowa in February 2007.


Richardson’s perspective is distinct among candidates because of his Mexican upbringing. As governor of New Mexico, he declared a state of emergency (CNN) on his state’s 180-mile border with Mexico in an attempt to halt smuggling of illegal immigrants and drugs in 2005. On the other hand, Richardson spoke out against the plan to build a fence on the Mexican border, saying it “gets in the way” (AP) of U.S. relations with Mexico. He has argued that border security on both sides of the border is inefficient, and has demanded increased federally funded border security (PBS). In a speech at Georgetown University in December 2006, Richardson criticized criticized proposals by House Republicans for mass deportations.

United Nations

The former ambassador to the United Nations (1997-98) has adopted a pro-UN stance in his campaign. He said February 2007 that “the United States should build international support for its policies. It should do it at the UN,” and called upon Congress to increase the yearly UN peacekeeping budget (New York Sun). In a January 2008 Foreign Affairs essay, Richardson said the UN Security Council must be expanded to include "Germany, India, Japan, a country from Latin America, and a country from Africa as permanent members."

Richardson has called for the United States to show new leadership in ensuring states meet their UN Millennium goal commitments, which include improving literacy, curbing the spread of HIV/AIDS, and sharply reducing poverty.

U.S. Policy toward Russia

New Mexico Gov. Richardson has said the United States should use diplomatic pressure to get Russia to “control some of the loose nuclear weapons in their domain.” In an April 2007 Democratic debate, Richardson also said Russia should be “more humane in dealing with Chechnya.” He views Russia as a potential “stable source of energy” for the United States. He also said Russian leaders should increase democracy promotion “in their own nation.”

In an October 2007 Democratic debate, Richardson said Russia’s relationship with Iran is “not healthy.”

U.S. Policy toward Pakistan

Among presidential candidates, Richardson has taken one of the toughest lines toward Pakistan’s government. He says Musharraf should step down and allow the formation of a “broad-based coalition government, consisting of all the democratic parties.” Until that occurs, Richardson says, the United States should withhold all military aid to Pakistan. Richardson said in an October 2007 speech that the United States should “redeploy additional combat brigades to Afghanistan” to encourage Pakistan and NATO efforts in the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. In a December 2007 speech, Richardson said the United States should send two brigades to “reinforce our presence along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.”

Nuclear Nonproliferation

Richardson says the United States must stop proliferation and production of nuclear weapons and reduce its nuclear arsenals. The United States should also “halt or secure civilian programs that require or produce bomb-grade materials” and “consolidate and secure” fissile materials, he said in a March 2007 speech entitled “Preventing a Nuclear 9/11.”

Richardson says the United States should renew (PDF) its commitment to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. He opposes building a new generation of nuclear weapons, and pledges to reduce nuclear arsenals if elected. Richardson supports the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and says its ratification will “send a signal to the world that America has turned a corner.”

As energy secretary under Bill Clinton, the Department of Energy increased funding from $85 million to $138 million for the Material Protection, Control and Accounting program, which he says was meant to “protect Russian nuclear warheads and weapons-grade fissile material from falling into the hands of terrorists or black market dealers.” As Energy Secretary, he also led the Nuclear Cities Initiative, an effort to encourage Russia to reduce its nuclear arsenal.


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