Thursday, August 16, 2007

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: FLIRTING WITH EXHAUSTION?

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
August 16, 2007


Gov. Bill Richardson made national headlines and created a true Internet buzz last week when at a gay-issues forum in Los Angeles he said he believed homosexuality was a choice, not something a person is born with.

But the next day, while trying to explain and apologize for that answer, Richardson said something that could be even stranger.

It was on the Michelangelo Signorile Show on the gay-oriented OutQ channel on SIRIUS satellite radio. Signorile asked him if he agreed with a statement by another Democratic presidential candidate, Mike Gravel, that “love between a man and a man is love, is beautiful too.”
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Richardson agreed. “I think that gay relationships are human decency, they’re love, they promote families. I’m for gay adoption. I think it’s very healthy because there are millions of kids in this country that have no homes.”

Fair enough. But then Richardson went on: “I’m for gays having relationships with undocumented workers, and I’ve always felt that way.”

Huh?

That’s right. You can listen for yourself. (Go to http://www.siriusoutq.com/ and click on the audio clip labeled “Gay relationships are love.”)

There you’ll also hear Richardson declare, “I’ve been a Hispanic,” before he catches his mistake and says, “I am a Hispanic.”

I’m not sure what he meant by that or what “undocumented workers” had to do with anything being discussed.

Earlier in the interview, in trying to explain why he didn’t understand the question that tripped him up, Richardson told Signorile that he’d just flown all night from New Hampshire.

One has to sympathize somewhat with Richardson in one respect. Most of us puny mortals would crumble if we tried to keep up with the schedule to which Richardson is subjecting himself.

Still it raises the question: Is Richardson — whose public-relations staff for years have used the word tireless to describe him — flirting with exhaustion from the endless campaign?

Would this explain the isolated non sequiturs in his public appearances, such as his unexplained reference to “OSHA protections” in a recent debate when he was asked what he’d do to prevent factories from shutting down.

In a Salon.com profile last month, writer Walter Shapiro noted that Richardson told an Iowa audience, “My mind is mush” when he lost his train of thought while answering a question about immigration.

“It is so easy to imagine how that self-deprecatory moment would look — taken out of context — on YouTube,” noted Shapiro.

Little sympathy from public: I asked uber pundit Larry Sabato — director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics and author of the upcoming book A More Perfect Constitution, what he made of this.

“I’ve been surprised at how poorly Richardson has performed in the various debates and forums,” Sabato said in an e-mail response. “Sometimes candidates appear better than they are. Arguably, Richardson is the opposite — he’s much better than he appears. Part of it is clearly lack of preparation. One gets the sense that some of these candidates read big briefing books and have mock debates, practicing their sound-bites, while Richardson is almost winging it. (As a college teacher of 29 years, I’m good at spotting that!)”

Sabato suggested Richardson go easier on his public schedule and spend more time preparing for debates and forums.

“No doubt, the exhaustion of the campaign trail is contributing to this,” Sabato said. “At the same time, the presidency is the most exhausting office on earth, and the campaign is a measure of how well a person will bear up under the strain.”

“Over the years, staffs always attribute a poor performance by their candidate to tiredness or exhaustion. The public has little sympathy, though. Every presidential contender has asked for the job, after all.”

Well Bob, here’s your conference room: The state Treasurer’s Office is naming a conference room after the late Santa Fe newsman Bob Barth.

Somehow that seems appropriate. After the scandals at the Treasurer’s Office, you’ve got to wonder what kind of weird deals went down in that room. Now maybe the spirit of a roly-poly guy with a tape recorder will guard over that room and exorcise some of those less-than-savory spirits, at least in a metaphorical sense.

Barth, who worked for years as a reporter for the old KVSF radio station and later a long-defunct talk station called KMKE, died in 1990 at the age of 43.

He was just a few years older than me. I first met Barth when I was in high school and he was dating a woman who worked with my mother. He’s the guy who turned me on to Waylon Jennings, loaning me several albums years before most people ever heard of Waylon.

One of those albums was called Love of the Common People. I didn’t realize at that time how that title could apply to Barth’s career. He was on a first-name basis with governors and mayors, but he never forgot how to relate to everyday Santa Fe folks.

Years later, we’d cross paths again as fellow reporters. I’d always see him at City Council meetings. We’d sit together at the press table in the council chambers, Barth from KVSF, me, then from Journal North. And, yes, there was still room for Tom Day of The New Mexican.

He was a gentleman and he was a pro — even if we teased him about his habit of not editing out “Well, Bob ... ” from his audio clips of interviews. I’m convinced the politicians felt obligated to start off every interview with “Well, Bob ... ” any time Barth stuck a tape recorder in their faces.
State Treasurer James Lewis will officially dedicate the conference to Barth in a ceremony beginning at noon Tuesday at the Treasurer’s Office, 2019 Galisteo St.

Lorene Mills — widow of Barth’s radio colleague Ernie Mills — will officiate. She said former Govs. David Cargo, Bruce King and Toney Anaya will be on hand to share some Barth memories as will other assorted politicos, several old news hounds who knew him and lots of those “common people” who loved him.

Blog Bonus:
Here's Jon Stewart's take on the Human Rights Campaign debate last week, including Richardson's "choice" gaffe. Comedy Central will yank this in a few days, so enjoy it while you can.

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