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Change Plus Experience: Governor Bill Richardson for President

By Jarret A. Zafran

The lesson of the results at the Iowa caucus is that Democrats are hungry for a new kind of politics. They are looking for a political leader who faces forward, not backward, and who embodies change in a real sense.

The best candidate to fundamentally change our country’s course is the same candidate with the most extensive record of success. That candidate is N. M. Gov. Bill Richardson.

Richardson has won a lot of positive coverage for his résumé, but a résumé is only as important as what it signifies for the future. Bill Richardson has already accomplished in his long career in public service so much of what we desperately need to achieve nationwide.

Climate change and our energy policy should be the first concern of the next president. Richardson, who served as Secretary of Energy during the Clinton administration, has offered the boldest plan for addressing climate change. He understands the sheer magnitude of the challenge we face, and has proposed nothing short of a revolution in energy policy. He even wrote a book, “Leadership by Example,” about how to solve the climate crisis.

The next president will also have a big challenge repairing our image in the world after the past seven years of disastrous myopic leadership. Who better to begin reaching out to our allies, negotiating with our enemies, and reintegrating the US into the world community than a former ambassador to the United Nations, hostage negotiator, and five-time nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize? Richardson jokes, “Bad guys like me.”

While other candidates express moral outrage about the genocide in Darfur from the comfort of Washington, Bill Richardson actually traveled there to negotiate a ceasefire.

He is the only major candidate calling for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq with no residual forces because as he fully understands, what we lack in Iraq is political progress, and our military presence prolongs the violence. What we need in Iraq is a “diplomatic surge” and Richardson, who actually understands the region, is the best candidate to make this succeed.

On domestic issues like immigration, education, and health care, Richardson had to deal with the harsh realities of the situation as the two-term governor of New Mexico and former congressman for 14 years. He’s been such a successful governor that he garnered 40 percent of the Republican vote in his reelection. His approval ratings are consistently above 60 percent and always some of the highest in the nation.

As Governor, he cut $230 million in bureaucratic waste, created 84,000 new jobs, built a new rail line to boost public transportation, and throughout his public life, he has sought to give voice to those left out of the process, including Native Americans. He balanced five budgets, raised teacher pay dramatically, and fought unemployment down to the lowest levels in 30 years. He has an excellent record on taxes and is consistently rated one of the nation’s most fiscally responsible governors.

Gov. Richardson is not your typical candidate. He’s got a laid-back Western style about him. He’s humble, funny, self-deprecating, and exceedingly honest. He does not speak in sound bites, and most voters get a sense from him that he actually answers the questions posed to him.

He’s also has a different way of looking at things. Richardson supports the decriminalization of marijuana, and is more pro-gun than the other candidates. Democrats may not agree with him on every issue, but we know that he’s analyzed every issue and come to his own position carefully and thoughtfully.

Richardson likes to joke that’s he’s no rock star, but he does have a natural ability to connect with the people he meets, and his authenticity shines through and makes him the candidate best able to appeal to independents and Republicans and bring victory home for the forces of good come November.

Throughout this whole election process, Richardson has stayed consistently positive, has avoided negative attacks, and has displayed his mastery of the issues. Any gaffes or lackluster debate performances are an unfortunate consequence of a more direct and honest approach to politics. He’s not slick and he’s not Washington, but then again, after the past seven years, I’m not sure that’s what anyone wants.

The days for voting for the guy you want to have a beer with are over. America needs a leader who is going to tell the hard truths and make the difficult decisions and sacrifices to begin to really solve the major issues we face. How do we get out of Iraq? How do we mitigate the effects of global warming? How do we repair our image in the world? How do we make sure Americans can afford healthcare? How do we prepare our school system and economy for the flat world, especially as China rises in power?

Flashy rhetoric isn’t going to solve these issues. Neither will divisive partisanship and political jockeying. 2008 is a landmark election, and we need a candidate with a proven record of success. I have nothing bad to say about Senators Obama, Clinton, and Edwards, but I do believe Gov. Bill Richardson stands above the rest in his ability to recognize the challenges we face and deal with them honestly, thoroughly, and courageously.

And if all of that hasn’t sold you, well then isn’t it time we had a chubby president—one who truly reflects America?

Plus, he’s a cowboy. I rest my case.

Jarret A. Zafran ’09 is a social studies concentrator in Leverett House. He is President of the Harvard College Democrats.

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