Is Bill Richardson the new Al Gore?


Toward the end of the documentary “An Inconvenient Truth,” former Vice President Al Gore lists six measures for reversing global warming. When they are applied, he says, climate change can be brought back to 1970 levels.

“We have everything we need, save perhaps political will,” he says, and adds, “But, you know what? American political will is a renewable resource.”

Gore, a long-standing advocate for reducing greenhouse gases and the Kyoto Protocols, lost the 2000 presidential election in the electoral college tally, to George W. Bush by 537 critical votes in Florida’s controversial ballot counting. Nationally, Gore won the popular vote by half a million ballots. He has disclaimed having any further presidential ambitions or that he might enter the 2008 campaign.

Yet, if principal outweighs personality in these matters, something important is taking place in New Mexico along these lines. In his Jan. 16 state of the state address, Gov. Bill Richardson outlined a model on how to respond to energy consumption, and it serves him as the basis for his presidential campaign.

The popular governor, who won in November with 69 percent of the vote, proposed measures to his legislature that go to the heart of the matter. Mentioning the Kyoto Protocols — among major nations, only the United States and Australia have not signed it — Richardson proposed measures that sound like goals for the rest of this country to follow.

He said New Mexico should become the first in the nation to have its state buildings powered 100 percent by renewable energy. Schools should be transformed into green buildings and tax credits provided for green offices and homes. The state should set emission standards to cut carbon by 30 percent and set more technological control over coal-fired power plants.

He further proposed a fund promoting innovations and an annual one-month tax holiday on purchases of energy-efficient appliances.

Richardson announced on Jan. 21 that he is forming a presidential exploratory committee. His official candidacy is expected in the spring.

Richardson appears to be the most experienced among the current list of contenders for the Democratic Party nomination. Former First Lady and U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton OF New York, along with Illinois’s U.S. Senator Barack Obama, are the most often mentioned frontrunners a year before the Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina caucuses and primaries lead off the selection by elimination.

However, among the candidates mentioned so far, none match Richardson’s resume as congressman, United Nations ambassador, U.S. energy secretary and state governor. Perhaps as important have been his roles as a Democratic Party insider.

Terrorism, health insurance, sustainable development and education will become major issues in the campaigns. All are extremely important. And the thread through those needles is energy consumption. Or as George Stephanopoulos stated in his interview with Richardson for ABC-TV, it is “one of the No. 1 issues.”

That just might be Richardson’s leverage in the coming race.

Even as a recently elected governor, Richardson held what he termed “positive, frank and candid” talks with North Korean diplomats in Santa Fe. The talks occurred at a critical moment when that country withdrew from a nuclear nonproliferation treaty that sharply escalated into a crisis over its aims.

Last month, Richardson went to Africa to obtain a commitment from Sudanese President Omar Hassan Al Bashir for a 60-day cease-fire in the Darfur region. It allowed an African Union and United Nations peace process to begin. He also spoke with rebel leaders about the cease-fire.

Events in the United States since 2000 have had such important consequences that this time around perhaps the people in the 2008 primary states won’t let the look-see at candidates become a high-school-like popularity contest. That’s what makes Richardson’s announcement important.

He still has formidable obstacles to overcome in name recognition and in financing a national campaign. But his entry assures that climate change and energy consumption are woven into the discussion about solutions.

Richardson just might represent what the country missed out on when Gore lost the 2000 election.

(Jose de la Isla, author of “The Rise of Hispanic Political Power” (Archer Books) writes a weekly commentary for Hispanic Link News Service. E-mail joseisla3(at)