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What He Was Thinking, Where God Fits and How Hubert Humphrey Got Him Started

Richardson’s Gay “Choice”

Governor Bill Richardson knows he made a bad move at last night’s “gay debates,” when he intimated that being gay is, in fact, a choice: a tired argument conservatives use against gay rights. If gays “choose” their “lifestyle,” then they don’t deserve “special” rights. Not the implication you want to make at a forum on gay rights.

Within minutes, the presidential hopeful had his team release a statement clarifying his position.

What a perfect conversation starter for Richardson and our editor, who met up with Richardson this morning. Get the goods on Richardson’s poor choice of words, what to do about anti-gay Saudis and who’s going to hell, after the jump…

Andrew Belonsky: Let’s start with “I’m not a scientist”. Of course you’re not. You’re a governor. What was going through your head when you stepped off the stage whether or not homosexuality is a choice?

Bill Richardson: I immediately realized that I had to fix my statement. I was confused by the question. I just simply made a mistake. I misunderstood the question. My impression – I thought it was a tricky science question, where you put politics into science. I think the word Melissa used was “biological”. Since I use “choice” so much, I’m so committed to choice – a woman’s right to choose – I thought that was the appropriate answer. I was confused about the question. Also, I had flown all night from New Hampshire. I was a little tired, but there’s no excuse. I made a mistake. I think my record stands for itself. I think it’s the best record of all the candidates. That’s my answer.

AB: Of your record, what are you most proud of?

BR: I’m proudest of the hate crimes legislation that included gender identity and the non-discrimination in employment – one legislative, the other an executive order. I’m also very proud of the fact that I’m the only candidate who has called a special session as a Governor just on domestic partnerships.

AB: I remember when that special session happened. Some people said that you were just playing politics. What do you have to say about that?

BR: Well, that’s incorrect. In the regular session, we almost got it passed. We lost by one vote. It was a vote that I thought we could get, so I was determined that we pass it in the special session. You know, gay rights is not popular in New Mexico. We’re talking about a red state. I think I’ve taken very strong, courageous positions. I think my record is the best [of the other candidates]. I hope I’m not judged by just one unfortunate misunderstanding.

AB: I’m always curious when I meet politicians – what motivated you to go into politics?

BR: Into politics?

AB: Yeah. It’s an ugly, dirty game. What drives you?

BR: I think my Catholic faith, my sense of social justice, my background as a Hispanic that believes diplomacy and negotiation is important. I’ve always tried to bring people together and I thought that politics was the best arena. My interest didn’t spark until I heard [VP] Hubert Humphrey as senator speak to a group of students.

AB: What did he say?

BR: He said, “Don’t forget about giving to the country and care about those who have no health, like Africa.” He particularly talked about Africa.

AB: With regard to foreign policy – I have a question specifically about sanctions. America has economic relations with a number of countries that outlaw homosexuality, for example, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria. If you were President, how could you reconcile having those connections with countries that have death penalties for gay people?

BR: I’m also very concerned about this situation in Iraq. I’m not sure if you’ve seen that.

AB: Yes.

BR: Gay Iraqis have been targeted. Actually, they were doing better under Saddam Hussein than under this government… I would speak out very strongly on human rights issues. I believe that how a nation treats its own people in terms of the Geneva Convention, torture, lifestyle is going to be a factor in how I deal with other countries. I’m very concerned about counties like Saudi Arabia, Egypt: [countries] that not only teach anti-Americanism, but also mistreat their people. I would raise these issues a lot more than some of these other candidates.

AB: Back to Iraq. I read report a few months ago that implicated some American soldiers [in the death squads]. I understand that opinion within the military is changing, but how would you insure that there are no anti-gay sentiments in the military?

BR: I differ with Senator Edwards in his response yesterday. You have to have legislation to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. In terms of attitudes, I would be sure that anyone I picked as head – you know, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretaries of the Army, Navy – I would stress to them as Commander-In-Chief that I expect zero tolerance for discrimination for anyone, especially gays.

AB: I read a book a few years ago called God Hates Fags. It’s about Colorado’s Amendment 2, which prohibited state organizations from granting gay people “special rights”. In that book, the author, Michael Cobb, argues that every nation needs to have a social scapegoat to keep its psychological fibers together. I don’t know if that is, in fact, true, but let’s assume for a second that it is true: every nation needs to have that scapegoat. How would you, as a leader, set an example of inclusion for the American people and break that trend?

BR: I would do it by deeds, not just speeches. I would push for four initiatives. I would try to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. I would try to repeal No Child Left Behind, because it has some diversity education provision that is basically anti-gay. The third would be a repeal of DOMA. I would take the lead in pushing deeds, instead of just speeches. I think gay and lesbian people have had plenty of speeches and little leadership in pushing in getting legislation passed. [Finally], I would try to pass a hate crimes law. I would try to pass a full civil unions with full marriage rights. I would also – an important signal – include gays and lesbians in my cabinet.

AB: Why not just call it “marriage”?

BR: Because the country is on a path to full inclusion. I don’t think the country’s there on marriage. I think the president needs to lead and we need to find achievable steps before dealing with that issue. I don’t believe that – you have to what’s realistic. What’s realistic is a lot of steps in-between that haven’t happened.

AB: What about some of your Democratic peers?

BR: I think they’re all sincere. The difference between me and them is that I’ve done things. They talk about them. I’ve done things. I’ve passed laws that help gays and lesbians. I’ve appointed gays and lesbians. I’ve called legislative sessions in a red state that advance the human rights agenda. That’s the difference between me and the other Democratic candidates. And that’s why I hope I’m not judged by some misunderstanding. I’m taking responsibility for it. I regret it and I apologized for it. It can happen to anybody. I was caught off guard. I said it and I’m trying to fix it.

AB: Do you think faith has any role in politics?

BR: I think politicians can’t wear religion on their sleeve. But, you know, I am guided by my Catholic faith in social justice. I disagree with my faith on many issues, like [being] pro-choice and gay rights.

AB: Do you believe in hell?

BR: Yeah.

AB: Who’s going there?

BR: The bad people.

AB: Murderers and rapists?

BR: [Nods].

AB: If I were really anti-gay, how would you convince me to not be? Pretend I’m a Republican conservative.

BR: I would say that this country is based on respect for human rights and the Constitution respects equality of all and it would be consistent with constitutional principles to support gays and lesbians. It’s not a matter of being a special interest. It’s more an interest of full equality for all people. It’s the right thing to do. It’s the human, decent thing to do.

AB: We have a very unique campaign right now. We have you [a Hispanic], a black man and a woman. Over and over again last night, I kept hearing people – including yourself – relate their own personal struggles to gay people’s struggles. Do you think that’s a fair comparison?

BR: I was trying to make the point that [I’m] somebody who was made fun of for being Hispanic.

AB: If you weren’t running, who would you vote for?

BR: Eh, I’m not doing that.

AB: Alright, if you don’t win, what are you going to do?

BR: I’ll go back and be the happiest man in the world – finish my four years as governor of New Mexico, a job I like. I’m not interested in being vice-president or Secretary of State, if that’s going to be your next question.

AB: It wasn’t going to be. Do you want to stay in politics?

BR: I never preclude anything. I have three years to be governor, but I think I have a chance, otherwise I wouldn’t be running. I think I can make a difference. I may not have the bucks and the political pedigree as others, but I think I’ve got the best experience. I’m the candidate who can change the country the most because of my record and my abilities. I believe I’m electable. More than the other candidates.

AB: You said America’s on the path to inclusion. I want to know what makes you say that.

BR: I can sense that the country is changing. You can’t measure success of the equality agenda just by what’s happening around you. A lot of states are being more progressive. A lot of states are taking these issues in their own hands and I think that’s great. That’s where I see the changes. In fact, I think the great laboratories of innovation and change in this country are states.

    • Dawster

      no one is doubting that he has done good things for the LGBT community… it’s just that he’s also a dumb-fuck.

      we need someone who can speak well, and speak well on their feet… not a dumb-fuck.

      i’m glad he feels the need to back-pedal, though…

      Aug 10, 2007 at 4:45 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • mozzer13

      Compared to the current nincompoop, he’s the most eloquent thing going. No, he’s not the most charismatic choice, but he has done significantly more than any other candidate as far as gays are concerned. Plus he has executive experience as governor, legislative experience as a senator, foreign policy experience as the former UN Ambassador, and administrative experience as the secretary of energy. He screwed up last night, but make no mistake, Bill Richardson would be a fantastic president.

      Aug 10, 2007 at 5:47 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • ProfessorVP

      Bill Richardson is an old-fashioned ass-grabber and ridiculer of women, teller of ancient ribald jokes that produce guffaws and winks. He doesn’t have Clinton’s slimy charm; Richardson is just slimy. In his own state, a woman knows better than to get into an elevator with him.

      When he said that homosexuality is a choice, for once he was saying what he actually thought, as when Tommy Thompson said that Yes, it’s up to an employer to fire someone merely for being gay. Sure, fire his ass. Next day, after he was informed he said something hateful: “Oh, did I say that? My hearing aid battery was running low. I thought I was asked if a gift certificate at Crate and Barrel was an appropriate Christmas gift.”

      Listen, kids– if you think that Democrats don’t have a major problem with us, wise up.

      Aug 10, 2007 at 6:44 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • rock

      I believe Melissa Etheridge said it best to Hillary Clinton. In 1992, the GLBT community worked hard to elect Bill Clinton. Then we had our hearts broken over and over again with Clinton signing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and DOMA. The Clintons and too many of the Democrats use lip service to get our votes then give us crumbs and throw us under the bus every time.

      It is time we stop sitting at the back of the bus and keep hoping and being told our turn will come..just not this year..not this election, not this time.

      It is time we say we are mad as hell and not going to take their crap. I am tired of Democrats doing nothing for us.

      Other then Kuchinick and Gravel, who said they support same sex marriage, ending DODT and GLBT rights, the rest of them couldn’t even explain why we are not entitled to equal rights..the same rights as str8s…..they were all a joke and I have no use for any of them. Least of all, Hillary Clinton, who will throw us under the bus again and again said, nope not this election cyle..you will have to wait your turn.

      I could use a few choice four letter words but they aren’t worth the energy to deal with the Clintons, Richardson, Obama and Edwards. They aren’t worthy of our votes nor our money and time and effort.

      Edwards knows full well that DODT has to be repealed by Congress and signed by the President as a law…..does he think we are that stupid? Apparently so as he pandered to us about the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center.

      well, to me this crowd isn’t worth a warm bucket of spit.

      Aug 10, 2007 at 7:36 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Dawster

      it doesn’t really matter what we think of “this crowd”… whether they are “worth a warm bucket of spit” or not. that’s not really the point, is it?

      the point is, which of these gets the closest to what we want (as a community) and can stand up to the republicans during the general election. who can we vote for so that republicans won’t win.

      we will never find a candidate that we will think of that highly because (1) they wouldn’t get anything done and (2) they aren’t electable (i.e. Kucinick).

      how sad to think that, ‘because they aren’t worth it,’ we wouldn’t vote – and hand the election to those who want to make being gay illegal.

      Aug 11, 2007 at 12:50 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • ProfessorVP

      You’re wrong, Dawster. If people like the Clintons think they can always count on our campaign dollars and votes and then they give us Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act, then come around again and we make the same mistake again, what we are doing is totally giving up in the political game… looking like easy pickins and willing roadkill. A vote for Hillary Clinton is a vote to 1) keep troops in Iraq indefinitely and 2) postpone full marriage equality as long as her sagging ass is around. In other words, folks, we have to teach the Democrats that to get elected, they have to be better than Republicans.

      Aug 11, 2007 at 8:20 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Dawster

      in posting, on my site, etc… i’m quite anti-Hillary. i can’t understand why a homosexual (especially after the HRC/LOGO forum) would vote for her.

      i agree with about 80% of what Obama says and 70% of what Hillary says. I’m going to go with the 80% because it’s miles above the republicans.

      but the complacency of “oh, guess i’m not gonna vote” today causes republicans to win later. then when they ban gay marriage or start using homosexuality as a scar tactic, we bitch about it.

      that’s what i was trying point out, but i was NOT trying to be pro-Hillary.

      Aug 11, 2007 at 10:04 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • ProfessorVP

      Yes, I understand you were not pro-Hillary. But I wouldn’t even vote for her as the lesser of 2 evils. I don’t see a substantial difference. Even Bush is for civil unions, and Cheney for full equality. It would break Hillary’s heart not to be president. Let it break, and Dems can reconsider turning their backs on gays and lesbians in electoral college-rich states. Let them understand- it may take a while- that we can put Dems over the top, or just sit it out and take our chances.

      Aug 11, 2007 at 10:53 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • rock

      Professor VP….you said it dead on accurate and the NYTimes just published an article in the 8/11 edition in which they point out that Hillary Clinton will keep troops in Iraq indefinitely.

      Hillary and Bill Clinton accuse George Bush of using the Federal Marriage Amendment to get out Bush voters….duh, where did he get the idea from….Hillary and Bill Clinton in 1996 who used DOMA to get Southern votes for Bill in his re election campaign and that worked.

      Hillary Clinton, if elected, will run over our rights to appear that she isn’t the liberal she is accused of and will veer to the right to get elected and keep in office.

      I am with you Professor VP..time to teach the Democrats not to take advantage of our votes and our money and do nothing for it….in 1992, it was said that in key states it was the GLBT vote that put Clinton over the top..time we teach them that lesson again and say hell no to Hillary….the Clintons have no proven record of support for GLBT issues..the 2 biggest GLBT issues of abolishing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and abolishing DOMA were signed into law by Bill Clinton….and ever since then the Clintons give us lip service as they throw us under the bus.

      Even during the GLBT Forum, Hillary Clinton took a swipe at the GLBT movement by reminding us we don’t have the history of the civil rights movement….so sit down and shut up in the back of the bus.

      If insanity is repeating the same action over and over again in the hopes of expecting different results, then vote for Hillary Clinton and get the same results…getting screwed over..as she will do to us..

      The Democrats need a hard lesson to learn and their pandering is disgusting….I am through with them and the only way to hurt them to get them to finally learn the lesson is not to vote for them.

      Rudy Giuliani has a better GLBT record then Hillary….and even Dick Cheney does…now that’s a statement.

      Aug 12, 2007 at 12:46 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • ProfessorVP

      Thank you, Rock. And for you apologists of the Clintons… as G.W. Bush would say, “It’s hard work. REAL hard work.”

      Aug 12, 2007 at 1:29 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • hephaestion

      Hillary was as cold as ICE in her response to Melissa Etheridge’s statement about having our hearts broken when Bill Clinton signed DOMA.

      Richardson’s candidacy is doomed now. He may be less homophobic than ALL of the Republican candidates, but his inability to speak well at the forum just plain “done him in.” It was the biggest blunder of anyone’s candidacy to date.

      Aug 12, 2007 at 12:29 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • ProfessorVP

      This just in: Richardson’s manager explains that Bill mis-heard the question. Bill thought the question was “Which is a better place for shopping for newlyweds’ gifts, Pottery Barn or Crate and Barrel.” Naturally, Bill said that it was a matter of choice. I hope this clarifies things.

      Aug 12, 2007 at 6:21 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Craig Browning

      Hmmm… where are my posts from the other day?

      Aug 12, 2007 at 8:10 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • dfrw

      Bill Richardson heard fine. He said what he thought. It will lose him a lot of votes and garner others. That’s reason enough not to vote for him in the primaries as far as I am concerned.

      As for the others, such as Clinton (whose husband gave us Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and DOMA, they won’t be getting my vote in the primary either.

      My vote goes to Kucinich because he’s earned my vote and believes in real equality.

      I sure as heck am not going to miss out on the opportunity to select the Democrat for President when it finally matters. Florida has moved its primary up to January and now the state matters. I recommend that each of you check the primary date in your state and then vote in it. Vote for who you want to be on the national ticken, not who you think can win (unless that happens to be the same person). Then, help that person win the national election.

      By all means do not stay at home and give up your right to vote.


      Aug 13, 2007 at 7:08 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Matt

      I agree with the posters above who point out the Dems’ failure to pony-up on so many issues. I’ve been astonished at the way the curren Dem majority in Congress is nonetheless towing the Bush line and giving him what he wants; so what if they don’t have a decisive majority, it’s time they acted like something other that quivvering, spineless jellies! That said, the prospect of “teaching them a lesson” by withholding support from less-than-perfect candidates is pretty horrifying. Think about it: it would be “better” to have another Republican administration, with more Republican appointees to courts, more Republican stifling of science more Republican dismantling of civil liberties (Guiliani will be ALL about “homeland security” dontchaknow), and more divisive, repugnant Republican scare tactics on everything from terrorists to lesbian moms? I’m sorry, but with all respect that seems to me to be too high a price to pay for teaching Dems a lesson. Instead of eating our own and feeling all pious about our political purity-of-essence, maybe we should get a little more real-politick in our point of view, and recognize that a small step forward, while not as good as a leap, is better than a continued backward slide.

      Aug 13, 2007 at 9:34 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·

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