November 4, 2008

Religion and Politics ’08: Bill Richardson

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Background

Hometown
Pasadena, Calif., and Mexico City, Mexico

Age
62

Religion
Roman Catholic

Education
Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, M.A., 1971
Tufts University, B.A., 1970

Candidate Website
www.richardsonforpresident.com

Candidacy Status
Formally declared candidacy May 21, 2007
Formally withdrew candidacy Jan. 10, 2008
Officially endorsed Barack Obama March 21, 2008

Political Experience
Governor of New Mexico, 2003-present
U.S. Secretary of Energy, 1998-2001
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, 1997-1998
U.S. Representative from New Mexico, 1983-1997
Staffer, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 1976-1978
Legislative Management Officer, Congressional Relations, State Department, 1974-1976

Professional Experience
Richardson Trade Group, 1978-1982

Family Information
Spouse: Barbara Richardson

Religious Biography

In His Own Words

“I feel that through my Roman Catholic beliefs, I care about social justice, I care about improving the lives of those who are destitute, those who are poor.”
(Interview, 2007)

Born in Pasadena, Calif., Richardson spent his childhood in Mexico City before moving to Concord, Mass., to attend boarding school at age 13. In his book, Between Worlds: The Making of an American Life, he writes, “God was very much a part of my young life.” He credits his grandmother with making sure he went to a Catholic church every Sunday, attended catechism school and took Communion. He also prayed every night in Spanish before going to bed. Richardson’s family attended Mass on holidays. After he began to play Little League Baseball, Richardson went to church before games.

Richardson writes in his book that “Going to church is still an important part of my life” and that it affects “a lot of what I do.” He says conversations with his priest motivated him to work for a higher minimum wage in New Mexico and that his Roman Catholic beliefs instill in him a sense of social justice that makes him “care about improving the lives of those who are destitute, those who are poor.” He says he is guided by a value system based not only on religious values but on broader values of equity and human rights, including the right of every American to “basic necessities.”

While Richardson’s stance on abortion rights has clashed with that of the Roman Catholic Church, he describes the conflict in his book as “not acrimonious” and “what you would expect with any Catholic politician who is pro-choice,” adding that he respects the church greatly.

If nominated, Richardson would be the fourth Roman Catholic to win a presidential nomination. If elected, he would be the second Catholic president, following John F. Kennedy.

On The Issues

Abortion Richardson supports abortion rights. In 2002, his spokesman said that Richardson is personally opposed to abortion but believes the decision to have an abortion is one that should be left up to individual women rather than the state. Compare McCain and Obama

Church and State Richardson was criticized by advocates of the separation of church and state for granting state employees a paid half day off to mark the funeral of Pope John Paul II. Richardson defended his actions, saying that the pope was an important statesman in addition to being a religious leader. While running for governor of New Mexico in 2002, Richardson said that he wouldn’t impose his personal views on the government, adding, “A governor should have high moral character; a governor should recognize the separation of church and state.” Compare McCain and Obama

Death Penalty Richardson supports the death penalty “for the most heinous of crimes” and with the “strictest of safeguards.” During his 2002 gubernatorial campaign, Richardson said that before executions occur, he wants to be certain that defendants have proper legal representation and a chance to use DNA evidence. He also said he wants to be sure that “minorities are not unfairly singled out.” Compare McCain and Obama

Education As governor of New Mexico, Richardson signed a bill to provide prekindergarten for every child in the state. The bill also included state funding for church-sponsored preschools as long as the education funded with state money did not integrate religious teaching. During his 2002 gubernatorial campaign, Richardson said that he opposed school vouchers. In October 2007, Richardson made a series of education policy proposals, including ending No Child Left Behind, creating a minimum salary for teachers and shifting money from the national defense budget to education initiatives. Compare McCain and Obama

Environment Richardson, who served as secretary of energy in the Clinton administration from 1998-2001, argues for American oil independence. In March 2007, he outlined an energy plan that aims to reduce oil imports by 40%, replace liquid fuels with biofuels by 2025 and reduce greenhouse gases by 75% by 2050. Richardson joined a coalition of governors from five Western states to develop a regional target for reducing greenhouse gases and to implement a regional, market-based approach to capping emissions. Compare McCain and Obama

Faith-Based Initiatives As governor of New Mexico, Richardson created the Governor’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiaives to help faith-based groups gain access to public funding. He writes in his book, Between Worlds: The Making of an American Life, that his administration has worked with faith-based groups “in areas like the eradication of poverty, eliminating the tax on food, health care access, preschool education and fighting predatory lending.” Compare McCain and Obama

Gay Marriage Richardson opposes same-sex marriage, saying in February 2007, “I’m just not there yet. I’m a Catholic. I think marriage is between a man and a woman.” Richardson has said that he would support national legislation for civil unions for gay couples, and he is pushing a more limited domestic partnership bill in New Mexico. Compare McCain and Obama

Health Care Richardson has said that if he were elected president and more Democrats were in Congress, he would enact universal health care coverage within the first year of his administration. To achieve this, he would offer tax credits for buying insurance and an option for 55-64-year-olds to buy coverage through Medicare. He would also “get out of Iraq” and redirect money from the military to health care. In addition, he would duplicate some of the public health measures he implemented in New Mexico, including reducing “junk food” in schools and banning smoking in most workplaces. Compare McCain and Obama

Immigration Richardson supports a legalization process for illegal immigrants already in the United States that requires immigrants to speak English, pass background checks and pay back taxes. He also favors increased border security without a border fence, penalties for employers that hire undocumented workers and diplomatic efforts with Mexico to decrease the number of illegal immigrants. Compare McCain and Obama

Iraq War Richardson calls for the immediate withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. He says that “there is no military solution” to the situation in Iraq and argues instead for the necessity of diplomatic relations and “reconciliation talks” with the Iraqi government. Richardson says he believes that the United States “has a moral obligation to do what we can to help the Iraqis end that violence” and that the best way to fulfill that obligation is to leave. Compare McCain and Obama

Poverty As governor of New Mexico, Richardson has taken steps to combat poverty in the state, one of the poorest states in the nation. He eliminated the state’s tax on foods and offered tax breaks to companies paying above the prevailing wage. Richardson has backed a living wage in the state and created tax credits for the creation of new jobs. In an October 2007 debate, Richardson called for the U.S. to take a leading role in the worldwide fight against poverty. Compare McCain and Obama

Stem Cell Research Richardson supports funding for embryonic stem cell research. As governor of New Mexico, he proposed an entirely state-funded research facility for the University of New Mexico to allow the school to do research on embryonic stem cell lines that is prohibited at institutions receiving federal funding. He supported a state bill to allow research on stem cells derived from embryos slated to be destroyed. New Mexico’s Roman Catholic bishops have pressed Richardson – a Catholic – to reconsider spending state money on embryonic stem cell research, but the governor has not changed his stance on the issue. Compare McCain and Obama