Richardson talks Ute, ENMU

Kevin Wilson

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson paid one of his final official visits to eastern New Mexico Thursday, when he gave $125,000 to Eastern New Mexico University’s digital cinema arts program.

Following the ceremony, he took a few questions from Freedom New Mexico and News 3 New Mexico (KENW-TV) reporters.

Kevin Wilson, Freedom New Mexico: My first question is about the Ute Water Project. When do you think eastern New Mexico can expect the first drops of water?

Richardson: It’s going to take a combination of state and federal cooperation. The local entities have taken the first good step; the state has promoted this authority. We need some federal funds.

When? Hopefully in the next few years. But this is a viable project. I believe it’s going to happen. It’s now up to the feds. I think the state has stepped forward. We have a strong congressional delegation, and I’m hoping it will be sometime soon.

Cameron Cox, News 3: What do we need to do to strengthen New Mexico in the coming months?

Richardson: We need to keep our economy stronger. We need to develop new industries. We need to keep the development of the movie industry. We’ve got to focus more on renewable energy technology — solar, wind. Eastern New Mexico is very strong there. We need to train our workforce better, so that high-paying jobs stay in New Mexico and our students, instead of going out of state for jobs, stay in the state. Lastly, we have to sustain our strength in our original areas, agriculture, military bases, mining, we have to be sure that tourism stays strong. And most importantly, I believe we need a strong educational system; invest in our teachers and kids, especially in higher ed. Make sure Eastern New Mexico University stays strong, make sure not all of the resources just go to UNM and New Mexico State.

Brian Wise, News 3: Is (the $125,000 grant to ENMU’s digital cinema arts program) a step toward bringing back that economy?

Richardson: Yes it is. Eastern has always had a strong commitment to the arts and to communications. When you had for years your broadcast journalism entity here, you showed that you were ready to move forward, way ahead of other parts of the state. And now with the arts and theater, and movies, you guys can take the lead in this area, too. You’ve got a lot of talent here, you’ve got a digital media program. My awarding these funds is a commitment, but also a recognition of the good leadership you have under (President) Dr. (Steven) Gamble and your faculty.

Wilson: One of the future items you discussed in passing was the Tres Amigas power project. How optimistic are you about that project, and what are some of the hurdles that might remain?

Richardson: I’m very optimistic about that project. One, the group putting it together (is led by) Don Harris, a local New Mexican from Hobbs. They have the capital, they have the foresight. It’s a great concept, connecting the three grids and doing it here in eastern New Mexico. The big issue is going to be transmission capacity and getting approval from the federal government to make sure that we have a transmission authority to permit the sale of solar and wind across boundaries.

Rachel Whitt, News 3: You mentioned leadership in education. What’s your position on having one board of regents versus multiple?

Richardson: When I first came into office, I thought that was good. But as I’ve served and as I’ve appointed regents — for instance, the regents here at Eastern — I worry having one board instead of locals who know the community will not be a good step. I’ve kind of changed my position on that. Now I feel the regents here — locals from Portales, Clovis, Pauline Ponce from Roswell — they know the community, and the school has grown under these regents, so I want it to stay the way it is.

Cox: You talk about the things to build on, key factors for New Mexico. What do you think of the shape you leave the state in as you leave office?

Richardson: I believe our legacy’s going to be good. You know, this is a tough economic time. A lot of people are not optimistic about the country’s future, about the state’s future. This is not a good time to be an incumbent to run for office, because the economy is not doing well. This is not a good time for politicians to show how great they are. Voters aren’t buying it because of the economy.

But I’m going to leave the state in good shape — a stronger economy, a better educational system, new jobs like the spaceport, movies, renewable energy, a Railrunner train between our two bigger cities, an agriculture industry that is still vibrant and strong, higher wages being paid here, and I think a new sense of pride. History will tell, but I think history will be generous to the Richardson administration.

Wilson: Going forward, what do you think of the possibility of another Base Realignment and Closure round? What would it mean for our bases in New Mexico, particularly Cannon Air Force Base?

Richardson: There will be another BRAC round. I believe that Cannon is very strong. This new mission, there are multiple responsibilities. It’s increasing jobs in the area; it’s going to have more functions; it’s growing Cannon Air Force Base. I would say the Air Force and the military would recommend Cannon not be shut down.

I think we have to be vigilant because we have four bases in total. I want to be sure that Kirtland and the base in Alamogordo and all of our bases stay strong, but we’ve got to be ready. We’ve got to have each of our base communities ready with arguments that our bases are justified and they’re strong. But I feel really good about Cannon Air Force Base not being on the list next time.

Cox: You said you feel it’s not the proper time to run for office because of the economy, but then you said the economy is stronger. How do you feel the economy of the state is right now?

Richardson: Like anywhere in the country, the economy is not as strong as it should be. In New Mexico, we’re better off than most states. Our unemployment is less. We’ve created new industries. We still have problems.

What I’m saying is, the public’s mad at Washington. They’re mad at incumbent politicians because the economy’s weak. So that’s what I’m saying in this not being a good time for an incumbent to be running. It doesn’t mean you lose. In these tough times, voters are pessimistic. Not just about the economy, but the direction of the state. They’re down on politicians. What I say to incumbents running for office is work hard, get out there and meet voters. Tell them what you want to do, be positive. Work very hard because this is a very angry electorate.