- Public services have been announced for those wishing to honor the life and legacy of former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.
Richardson, 75, died Sept. 1 in his summer home in Massachusetts. He was 75.
Richardson is survived by his wife and high school sweetheart, Barbara Flavin.
He will lie in state at the New Mexico Capitol Rotunda from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 13.
Mass of Christian burial will take place from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 14, at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, 131 Cathedral Pace in Santa Fe, and celebrated by Archbishop John Wester.
Both are open to the public.
Richardson was elected as the 30th governor of New Mexico in 2002 and served two terms in the office. Moving to Santa Fe in 1978 to be the director of the state’s Democratic Party, he spent 14 years representing New Mexico in the House of Representatives.
While he was governor, Richardson abolished the death penalty, legalized medical marijuana and raised the minimum wage for teachers. He played a key role in getting the Rail Runner Express on track, from Belen to Santa Fe, and the construction of the Spaceport.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who will host a public reception for Richardson next week at the Capitol Rotunda, referred to Richardson as a “mentor and advisor” as well as a “steadfast friend.”
“I had the pleasure of serving as a legislator with him and when I was mayor,” said Tom Swisstack, former state representative and Rio Rancho’s mayor from 2008-14. “There were a couple of critical things, I think. One, if you look at it statewide, educationally, he was very instrumental in helping move the charter schools forward in New Mexico, so that young people had some choices and people that were less fortunate had the ability to have an environment that was conducive to their learning style.
“Second, he was instrumental in providing approximately $8-40 million toward Cleveland High School,” he added. “He was instrumental in getting funding for a couple fire stations in Rio Rancho. … He was very supportive of Rio Rancho and our needs. In addition to that, he was a leader that was straight forward about what he wanted to do and accomplish. He was also the consummate politician, and, quite honestly, he was positive on New Mexico, what he could accomplish and what New Mexico could be for people.”
Of course, no one was happier to get land for another comprehensive high school than Rio Rancho Public Schools Superintendent Sue Cleveland.
“Former Governor Bill Richardson supported RRPS and visited our schools frequently,” she recalled. “His focus was always on students. He related well to them, and they enjoyed his sense of humor. Despite a busy schedule and the frustration of his staff, he took time to listen and speak with students.
“(Richardson) stepped up to help our district at a critical time,” Cleveland said. “RRPS was opening three schools in one year and construction costs were escalating. Sufficient funding existed to build Ceilo Azul and Sandia Vista elementary schools, but we were short of funds for the second high school. RRHS enrollment exceeded 3200, and the district desperately needed to open CHS. Working with Governor Richardson, city leadership and the RRPS legislative delegation, the state committed $50 million toward the completion of CHS. It was an amazing effort and would not have happened without his personal involvement and support.
“Governor Richardson was a true champion for Rio Rancho Public Schools.”
Kevin Jackson, Rio Rancho mayor from 2006-07, said Richardson “was very supportive of our expanded legislative initiatives in the mid-2000s and we were able to attain the UNM and CNM campuses, and get critical state and federal funding to make the new high school (Cleveland) and our downtown a reality.
“Although (we were of) different parties, we worked across the aisle on many issues for the best interests of Rio Rancho and the state. Both lovers of country music, I shall miss the concerts and our discussions.”
Jim Owen, mayor of Rio Rancho from 2002-06, said, “We had kind of a weird relationship — it was one of those things where basically he didn’t take a lot of advice.
“I remember a conversation when they decided they were gonna do the Rail Runner, and I told him clearly that was the dumbest thing he could ever do,” Owen said. “It wasn’t so much that I was against ancient technology; I would have liked to see it succeed. At the same time, as far as our relationship was, he was a consummate politician in the old-school approach of things — we didn’t have a bad relationship; it was more at an arm’s length.”
Owen said he was also opposed to the Spaceport in southern New Mexico.
“The problem I had was he was always constantly trying to figure out how to be president. The idea of Rail Runner was one of several things where he was looking to do something to get national recognition for something considered positive,” Owen explained. “So, there were financial reasons to disagree.”
Owen said Richardson “was important to us” in the land swap to obtain the City Center/Events Center/City Hall area.
“He was a key player in that,” Owen said. “We ultimately got the school (Cleveland HS) in there.”
“Did I like him as a person? Yes. He was charming. When he needed to sound like a Republican, he sounded like a Republican,” Owen said, chuckling. “So, from the business side of things, he was interested in getting additional businesses to New Mexico, to his credit.
“I appreciated he was an individual I felt was predictable. I knew what he wanted, and we learned how to actually interact with each other on a professional basis.”
Richardson announced his candidacy for president in January 2007 but withdrew in January 2008 after faring poorly in two early primaries.
On Wednesday, Lujan Grisham ordered all flags in the state of New Mexico to half-staff from September 7-14 in mourning for Richardson. All flags in the state will remain at half-staff until sundown Thursday the 14th.