Speaking to a West Hollywood group on Monday, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson was on a roll, rattling off a list of all of the industries he says he’s helped grow in the state via tax incentives.
Then he got to film production — as New Mexico offers one of the most generous packages of any state. He quickly realized where he was: California, which has suffered from runaway production.
“We’re not stealing them from you,” he hastened to add, “We’re stealing them from Canada.” Then, he offered a short aside: “I was warned not to say that.”
On what seemed like his umpteenth visit to the state — seventh by some counts — Richardson is trying to break out of the second tier of presidential candidates, bolstered by recent polling in Iowa and new Hampshire that shows him entering the double digits.
In so doing, he’s touting his experience in foreign policy and as a state chief executive (“I’ve done it,” is a familiar refrain) and at the same time using a kind of self-deprecating charm to try to appeal to the cynical crowds looking for some authenticity in their politicians.
He was the first ’08 candidate to speak before Access Now for Gay and Lesbian Equality, a Southern California gay rights group that has been a stopping off point for many Democratic presidential hopefuls dating back to the late 1980s. (Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack spoke to the group before he dropped out).
Among other things, he cited as a “mistake” his voting as a congressman for the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, and called for either its repeal or revision. Specifically, he said that provisions should be lifted so that states can have reciprocity in recognizing same-sex unions. And he also called for ending the Pentagon’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, and said he would appoint a Secretary of Defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who would carry out plans to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military.
But he stopped short of supporting gay marriage — as have all of the other Democratic candidates except Dennis Kucinich.
So how did he spin that position to the group?
“Look, I’m a politician,” Richardson said, to some chuckles as he noted the political realities of the issue. “I’m evolving….I’ll be honest, I’m not going to be with you on that point.”
But those in attendance had more than gay rights issues on their mind — and he knew it. He called for a withdrawal of all troops from Iraq by the end of 2007, coupled by massive amount of diplomacy. That gave him entree to mention his experience negotiating with the likes of Saddam Hussein and Kim Jung Il when he was in the Clinton administration. “In the old days, Clinton used to say, ‘Bad people like Richardson. Talk to him.'”
At a press conference on Monday morning, Richardson said he would work toward creating a new light rail network for the state.
Richardson also appeared at a fund-raiser on Sunday night at the home of Warner Bros.’ Alan Horn and his wife, Cindy.