Bill Richardson, Former New Mexico Governor and UN Ambassador, Dies at 75

Bill Richardson, a two-term Democratic governor of New Mexico and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who dedicated his post-political career to working to free Americans detained abroad, has died. He was 75 years old.

The Richardson Center for Global Engagement, which he founded and directed, said in a statement Saturday that he died in his sleep at his home in Chatham, Massachusetts.

“He lived his entire life in service to others, including his time in government and his subsequent career helping to free people held hostage or unjustly detained abroad,” said Mickey Bergman, vice president of the center. “There wasn’t a person Governor Richardson wouldn’t talk to if he had a promise to give someone their freedom back. “The world has lost an advocate for those unjustly held abroad and I have lost a mentor and dear friend.”

Before his election as governor in 2002, Richardson was ambassador to the United Nations and secretary of energy under President Bill Clinton and served 14 years as a congressman representing northern New Mexico.

Richardson also traveled around the world as an unofficial diplomatic troubleshooter, negotiating the release of hostages and American military personnel from North Korea, Iraq, Cuba and Sudan. He negotiated with a who’s who of America’s adversaries, including Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. It was a role Richardson relished and once described himself as “the informal undersecretary for thugs.”

Armed with a gold resume and extensive experience in domestic and foreign affairs, Richardson ran for the Democratic nomination for president in 2008 with hopes of becoming the country’s first Hispanic president. He dropped out of the race after finishing fourth in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.

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Richardson was the only Hispanic governor in the country during his two terms. He described being governor as “the best job I’ve ever had.”

“It’s the most fun. You can get the most out of it. You set the agenda,” Richardson said.

Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson has died at age 75. Getty Images

As governor, Richardson signed legislation in 2009 that repealed the death penalty. He called it “the most difficult decision of my political life” because he had previously supported capital punishment.

Other achievements as governor included minimum salaries of $50,000 a year for New Mexico’s most qualified teachers, an increase in the state minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.50 an hour, preschool programs for 4-year-olds, requirements of renewable energy for utilities and financing for large infrastructure projects, including a commercial spaceport in southern New Mexico and a $400 million commuter rail system.

Richardson continued his independent diplomacy even while serving as governor. He had just started his first term as governor when he met with two North Korean envoys in Santa Fe. He traveled to North Korea in 2007 to recover the remains of US servicemen killed in the Korean War. In 2006, he persuaded Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to release Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist Paul Salopek.

Barack Obama, Bill Richardson, Joe BidenBill Richardson ran in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary. AFP via Getty Images

Richardson transformed the political landscape in New Mexico. He raised and spent record amounts on his campaigns. He brought Washington-style politics to a sleepy western state with a part-time Legislature.

Lawmakers, both Republicans and Democrats, complained that Richardson threatened retaliation against those who opposed him. Democratic state Sen. Tim Jennings of Roswell once said Richardson was “hitting people over the head” in his dealings with lobbyists on a health care issue. Richardson dismissed criticism of his management style.

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“It is true that I am aggressive. I use the governorship pulpit,” Richardson said. “But I do not threaten retaliation. They say I am a vengeful person. I just don’t believe it.”

Longtime friends and supporters attributed Richardson’s success in part to his relentlessness. Bob Gallagher, who headed the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, said that if Richardson wanted something done then “expect him to have a shotgun down the hall. Or a drumstick.”

After dropping out of the 2008 presidential race, Richardson endorsed Barack Obama against Hillary Clinton. That happened despite a long friendship with the Clintons.

Obama later appointed Richardson as Secretary of Commerce, but Richardson withdrew in early 2009 due to a federal investigation into an alleged pay-as-you-go plan involving his administration in New Mexico.

Bill RichardsonBill Richardson endorsed Obama in the 2008 primary despite his friendship with the Clintons. fake images

Months later, the federal investigation ended without charges against Richardson and his former top aides. Richardson had a troubled tenure as Secretary of Energy due to a scandal over the disappearance of computer equipment containing nuclear weapons secrets at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the government’s investigation and prosecution of former nuclear weapons scientist Wen Ho Lee. .

Richardson approved Lee’s firing at Los Alamos in 1999. Lee spent nine months in solitary confinement, charged with 59 counts of mishandling confidential information. Lee later pleaded guilty to one count of mishandling computer files and was released with an apology from a federal judge.

William Blaine Richardson was born in Pasadena, California, but grew up in Mexico City with a Mexican mother and an American father who was an American bank executive.

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He attended high school in Massachusetts and was a star baseball player. He subsequently attended Tufts University and its graduate school in international relations, where he earned a master’s degree in international affairs.

Richardson moved to New Mexico in 1978 after working as a Capitol employee. He wanted to run for political office and said New Mexico, with its Hispanic roots, seemed like a good place. He campaigned for Congress just two years later, his only losing race.

In 1982, he won a new congressional seat from northern New Mexico, which the state gained through reapportionment. He resigned from Congress in 1997 to join the Clinton administration as ambassador to the UN and became Secretary of Energy in 1998, a position he held until the end of the Clinton presidency.

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