New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson stopped by the newspaper last week to talk with the Review-Journal Editorial Board. It's been a while since I've seen a more at-ease and confident public official.
By Richardson's own admission, he's a second-tier candidate for the Democratic Party's nomination for president. A Review-Journal poll, published in today's edition, has him running fifth among declared and possible candidates. However, if there's any justice in the winnowing process for choosing presidential candidates (in my opinion, there's not, but that's a different topic), Gov. Richardson is a contender.
First, Richardson actually has a track record behind his resume. He's an accomplished diplomat, federal administrator and the current governor of a state, which means he knows how to be around -- and work with -- real people, whether they agree with his politics or not.
That's what struck me the most in his hour-plus with us. He knew when he entered the front door of the Review-Journal that he would soon to be in a room with an editorial board that holds a much different view of the world. But he came unafraid. With a disarming smile and a force of personality, he made his case on foreign policy and domestic issues.
Many times he prefaced his answers with, "I know you don't agree with this ..." On some big issues of the day, he was confident enough in himself to tell us that he hadn't fully made his mind up yet, but for now his views were thus and so.
That kind of candor is rare. We live in a sound-bite nation in which there is no longer room for would-be leaders to utter the slightest "hem" or even a heartfelt "haw" over a topic. In our country in the year 2007, thoughtfulness is trumped by bumper-sticker taunts, and American leaders are too often judged not by their patience, but by their impulsiveness.
More's the pity.
But I'm glad to tell you that Bill Richardson is a welcome respite from the made-to-order modern politician. In a world of $400 haircuts and focus-group wardrobes, Bill Richardson still goes out in public with hat hair and cowboy boots. Nevadans would do well to give the governor from New Mexico a closer look. He's got something to offer.
Of course, I must quickly add that all of my musings at this stage are no guarantee that Gov. Richardson will earn the Las Vegas Review-Journal's endorsement.
As with your own decision-making process, dear readers, it's too early to tell.
Democrats have an interesting array of candidates. While Richardson is a charming fellow, I'll be curious to hear from the three front-runners: Sen. Hillary Clinton, former Sen. John Edwards and Sen. Barack Obama.
Republicans, meanwhile, with the notable exception of the conservative Mitt Romney, offer a relatively narrow band of moderates. But they are interesting nonetheless. Sen. John McCain's view on American military might and Iraq reinforce my biases. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani will always have a soft spot in my political heart for his good instincts to tell that Saudi prince after 9/11 to take his offer of money to help rebuild and shove it. Not sure what I'm going to ask "Law & Order" star Fred Thompson. How about whether he'd consider making Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) his attorney general?
Until next week, queue the "Law & Order" music.
My friend and colleague Tim O'Callaghan, the co-publisher of the Boulder City News and the Henderson Home News, took issue with last week's column. In that column, I imagined Tim's dad, the late Nevada Gov. Mike O'Callaghan, lecturing his protege, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, over Reid's statement that the Iraq war is "lost." While I remain sure I was right in last week's column, I print Tim's rebuttal in its entirety for you today. It's only fair. And, I imagine, it's what Gov. O'Callaghan would have done.
Not only speaking as a member of the O'Callaghan family but as someone whom Mike O'Callaghan took to the woodshed on occasion, I must tell you how disappointed I am in your public flogging of Sen. Harry Reid in your newspaper using my father's good name.
Your very accurate description of a trip to the woodshed leads me to imagine that you have been there on a few occasions yourself. I also wonder, if he were here today, whether you would be making the walk of shame to the shed this week. In fact, my father may not have waited for you to get there at all and treated you to a few words of wisdom right there on Bonanza Road.
Sen. Reid may be fair game as an elected official, but the good memory of my father is not up for grabs to be used by you or your newspaper to humiliate someone he loved and mentored. You know as well as I that my father had the greatest admiration for the men and women serving in the armed forces. Surely you know my father embedded those same values in Harry Reid from the time he taught him U.S. government at Basic High School.
You certainly must know that his influence on Harry Reid has not diminished since his death, and Harry hasn't had a sudden change of heart about our troops, nor would he want to endanger them.
There is no doubt my father loved this country so much he sacrificed a limb to protect it and all our rights, including our rights as publishers. But with every right there comes responsibility.
I can hear my father saying to you, "What in the hell is the matter with you, boy? How could you be fooled into taking Harry's words out of context? Have you been ingesting too much 'Hannity & Colmes' in the evening? You know what he meant when he said the war in Iraq was lost. He didn't say the war was a loss. You know damn well the mantra has been, 'The war needs a new direction.' Geez, we're building better houses in Iraq than we're building in New Orleans, and more of them."
Then I imagine (to steal your line) he would lean over and whisper in your ear so that only you could hear, and say, "Let me tell you one thing ... and you listen carefully ... this better not be about politics. ... If you're declaring Harry Reid unpatriotic, not because you believe it but because you think this is a chance to embarrass the Democratic leader for your bosses, I'll take you out back right now and kick your backside until you can't distinguish Stephens from Reynolds."
Is that what he would have said to you? I don't know. I do know one thing for sure, and that is he believed in preserving human dignity, even yours.
I also know how much he loved the state of Nevada and her people. As a Nevadan, born and raised, I understand the value that Harry Reid brings to our otherwise voiceless state.
Finally, our family didn't deserve to be used as the stick for your personal flogging of a man we care for and respect. Whatever has motivated your vendetta against Harry Reid should not be carried out in the memory of our good father.
Sherman Frederick is publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and president of Stephens Media. Readers may write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.