If you think the world of presidential politics is already crowded, just wait. In this land of enchantment where the deer and the antelope still play and the politically corrupt Santa Fe Ring once held sway, the old timers are betting that the next entrant in the Democratic sweepstakes will be Bill Richardson, the former congressman, Energy secretary and now governor.
Before getting too excited about that prospect, consider that Richardson’s administrative expertise got severely tested by the politician’s nightmare, a snowstorm that discombobulated the state and its capital for days longer than it should have, leaving New Mexicans grumbling from Gallup to the Colorado line.
Driving this city’s streets is still hazardous nearly two weeks after the last flake fell in the worst storm in 30 years. It wasn’t that the state and its two major cities — here and Albuquerque — were under prepared for 20 to 30 inches of “partly cloudy” over three days, they weren’t prepared at all despite some advanced notice. The lack of equipment available statewide to deal with such an event would have embarrassed my Indiana hometown, population 19,000. But why buy equipment for snow that occurs only now and then? Manana.
The result was hundreds of miles of impassable interstate that had to be closed periodically and thousands more of commercial and residential streets that left people stranded well past New Year’s despite Richardson’s official disaster declaration that put the New Mexico National Guard on notice and is necessary for federal relief. Take this curious city where the economic mixture is one of jet setters and celebrities of great wealth and the minimum wage earners who serve them and can’t afford to live close to their work. Before, during and after the record snow fall no sand or cinder trucks plied the streets as in most cities of this size and only one pickup truck with a blade was visible in the downtown area filled with holiday tourists between Christmas and the start of 2007.
Hold on. I take that back. On New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day there was activity. Suddenly a major piece of snow removal equipment appeared just to clear the one block between the two major hotels where Richardson’s faithful, many of whom also are his financial supporters, were to celebrate his reelection and inauguration to a second term with parties and a ball. At the same time, a sizable brigade of workers with snow shovels hacked away at the sidewalks around the area of festivities. Both the workers and the equipment weren’t seen again. Even when the temperature climbed a bit and the melting process began, albeit slowly, huge ice ruts made walking and driving a scary event.
More than one politician has had his career buried by a winter storm, but the local press here — the radio call-in shows being an exception — seemed far more forgiving than in similar situations elsewhere. The locals did point out that during his inaugural address, the governor failed to make the same promise to stay the course here as he had four years ago when he was first elected. That, of course, poses the question about who will be running the state for the two years Richardson seeks the Democratic nomination. Clearly, the man of the people, despite the fact most of the low wage earners who keep the capitol running commercially and officially couldn’t get to work, believes, as so many others seem to, that his nation is calling him to greater heights.
The governor seemed to understand the need for preparation in his own dealings. He traded his state-owned vehicle for a new leased SUV that the press here said cost about $51,000. But even that might not handle the ice build up on the narrow thoroughfares where this city does most of its business. But that all will be forgotten when the baby-faced governor begins stumping the hamlets of New Hampshire seeking presidential primary backers. If the warming trend continues in the East perhaps he won’t have to embarrass himself by mentioning how he handled what is normally an every day New Hampshire occurrence.
It’s enough to make one wonder in these post-9/11 times of peril just how responsive he might be. Chances are we won’t have to find out given his lack of potential for success if he does run.
(Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.)