Richardson: 'You've got to be part of causes you believe in'
Tyche Hendricks, Chronicle Staff Writer
"It's not going to get votes," Richardson acknowledged in an interview with The Chronicle before his speech. "But you've got to be part of causes you believe in."
The former U.N. ambassador has made three trips to Sudan, visiting stricken refugees in makeshift camps, negotiating the release of kidnapped aid workers and pressing President Omar Hassan al-Bashir to accept U.N. peacekeepers.
Richardson, who has also represented New Mexico in Congress and served as President Bill Clinton's energy secretary, said he is not worried about getting blowback for controversial positions he has taken recently, including supporting New Mexico laws legalizing medical marijuana and creating concealed-weapon permits, and or for his endorsement last year by the National Rifle Association.
"I'm not your usual candidate," he said. "But I do believe I have the most experience. I'm the most electable."
One hot-button issue he has had to confront as governor of a border state is illegal immigration. He said he is unequivocally opposed to building a border fence, calling it "a terrible symbol" that sends the wrong message to a friendly neighbor.
"If I'm president, I'll tear it down myself," he said.
But he does favor tightening border security, calling for a doubling of the 12,000-strong U.S. Border Patrol and increasing surveillance technology such as motion sensors and night-vision cameras.
He also supports an "earned legalization plan" for illegal immigrants in the United States, stiffer enforcement of sanctions on employers who hire undocumented workers, expanded legal immigration and a relationship with Mexico that encourages its economic development.
"Mexico needs to not view this as a cash cow of remittances. It's got to step up," said Richardson, the first major Latino candidate for president. "President Calderon, I like his words. He agrees Mexico bears responsibility. "
On Iraq, Richardson said the war is "a disaster" and he wants to see all U.S. troops withdrawn by the end of 2007.
"But accompany that with diplomacy," he said. "I want an international donor conference, including Japan and the European Union, to deal with Iraq's reconstruction; a security conference, with Iran, Syria and other Middle East countries to create an all-Muslim peacekeeping force; and a reconciliation conference led by the United States forcing the three groups, Sunni, Shia and Kurd, to come together in a coalition government."
On energy, Richardson said he would work aggressively to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and make America independent of foreign oil.
Richardson has raised just over $6 million so far for his presidential bid compared with the $36 million amassed by Clinton, $26 million by Obama and $14 million by former Sen. John Edwards.
But in the online world, Richardson seems to have eclipsed Clinton and holds third place after Edwards and Obama in unscientific straw polls conducted by Democratic-leaning Web sites such as MoveOn and Daily Kos.
"My skill is to bring people together," he said as Sudanese musicians warmed up nearby. "I'm a great believer in diplomacy."