Don't Write Off Richardson

Washington Matters

Don't Write Off Richardson

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson's decision to withdraw as the nominee for Commerce secretary in light of a federal probe into his dealings with a large donor as governor is a blow to the incoming Obama administration -- not a serious one, but a setback and disappointment for sure. Stepping down as an investigation heats up draws into question for the first time the Obama team's vetting process and how careful it's been, as blogged about today by Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne.

Richardson also would have been the highest ranking Hispanic in the Obama administration and his expertise in so many areas of policy- and deal-making with Congress would have been a huge asset. He's such an asset, in fact, that I suspect Obama will call on him again if and when he is cleared.

Evidence of a direct link to Richardson's involvement in a supposed pay-to-play deal may be hard to prove outright, and even if the investigation finds Richardson guilty of allowing an appearance of conflict in the awarding of the state contract, he may not be damaged goods. Richardson denies any wrongdoing.

Richardson expressed a willingness to serve in the future and Obama said he still hoped to have him aboard. Obama clearly would like to pay Richardson back. As an unsuccessful presidential contender, Richardson's endorsement of Obama  despite his service in the Clinton administration and friendship with Bill and Hillary Clinton in March was a needed boost for Obama at just the right time.

But far more than loyalty is involved. Richardson's resume is long and broad, allowing him to serve in any number of public capacities down the road, whether as a diplomatic troubleshooter or as a shaper of domestic policy. He's already been energy secretary and ambassador to the UN, and he's a former congressman and currently is a popular governor in a swing state who has developed strong professional ties to other governors in both parties and to ascendent Democrats in the West.