As we say goodbye to former Gov. Bill Richardson, there will be a lot written. Since his death last week almost everyone I see has a Richardson story to tell.
And there have been some wonderful obituaries written about his service in Congress and New Mexico. Some underscore the great work he did as U.N. ambassador, U. S. Energy Secretary, and most recently as a negotiator for Americans detained abroad.
There is no doubt he touched many lives.
One of the missing ingredients in most obituaries is a look at the work he did to support women who worked with him and the legislation he passed to improve women’s lives.
I have known Bill Richardson for almost 40 years – before he was a congressman or governor. During that time, he supported me in diverse ways. In the early ‘90s he contracted with my voter contact firm to do work for his re-election, telling me he wanted to support my small New Mexico business. He nominated me for two national small-business boards. He supported me when I ran for Democratic Party chairwoman in 1999.
The most important thing he did came after we were elected in 2002. Traditionally, the lieutenant governor is shoved to the sidelines after an election. Bill Richardson brought me into the spotlight.
Early on, he agreed that I should have my own agenda, much of which I spoke about during the campaign: Early childhood services, access to capital for women-owned business, and working to provide affordable insurance for more New Mexicans.
In the transition he helped me secure a budget to have the resources and staff to do the work. This helped establish the role of lieutenant governor as an office that was engaged, responsive and not just procedural in nature.
In visiting with other women in the administration I heard comparable stories. We began our administration with 10 women cabinet secretaries and grew that number in the second term. We had the first woman secretary of the Department of Transportation, Rhonda Faught. When the Public Education Department was established, the governor chose a seasoned teacher and school administrator, Veronica Garcia. Joanna Prukop, a Republican and longtime Game and Fish employee, was secretary of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources.
At the same time, he supported policy changes that impacted women in every corner of New Mexico:
· Establishing voluntary four-year-old pre-K in 2007 was a game changer for women in the workforce and their children.
· Securing a slight change to the Small Business Investment Corporation Act allowed for more access to capital for small businesses. At the time, women-owned businesses were one of the fastest growing segments of the state’s economy.
· Groundbreaking healthcare legislation was passed creating premium assistance programs for pregnant women who didn’t qualify for Medicaid and couldn’t afford health insurance. Data consistently show it provides for healthier mothers and babies.
We became a model state for gender-sensitive policies for women in incarceration, allowing for rehabilitation. At the same time, he established a statewide system addressing how children are cared for when parents are arrested, impacting many single women.
Gov. Richardson was a believer in fairness and equity, and it showed in his work for and with women. Every woman I spoke with from his campaign, Congressional team, governor’s office, and his U.N. team agreed. He hired women, paid them fairly, listened to our views, gave us what we needed to be successful, trusted us to do our jobs and had our backs. And he expanded our horizons.
I am grateful to have served with Gov. Richardson. If not for him, the successful work of improving the lives of women and children in New Mexico might never have happened.
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