Hispanic Americans in Congress, 1822-1995
Bill Richardson was born in Pasadena, Los Angeles County, California on November 15, 1947. He attended school in Mexico City, and in 1966 he graduated from Middlesex School, in Concord, Massachusetts. He studied at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, where he earned a B.A. degree (1970) and received an M.A. (1971) from its Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. During 1971 to 1978 he was a staff member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
In 1980 Richardson unsuccessfully challenged incumbent Congressman Manuel Luján. Following the creation of northern New Mexico's Third District, Richardson won the 1982 election with sixty-seven percent of the vote. He ran a successful campaign visiting small towns and pueblos, and was elected by a primarily Hispanic and Native American constituency. He has subsequently been reelected with large margins, averaging seventy percent of the vote.
During his first term in Congress, Richardson won a coveted seat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, which is of particular importance to New Mexico. He balanced his agenda between the interest of environmentalists and important oil, gas, and uranium industries in his state.
In the 101st Congress, Richardson supported a plan to promote the use of non-gasoline cars, parts of which were included in the Clean Air Act re-authorization. As a member of the Interior and Insular Affairs Committee, he has supported expansion of national parks and the designation of wild and scenic rivers.
By the 103rd Congress, Richardson had risen to the position of Chief Deputy Whip and led the fight in the House for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). He wrote articles advocating NAFTA for important national newspapers and encouraged President Clinton to work with Mexico on improving the environmental portions of the agreement in order to gain support for NAFTA in Congress. Richardson also played a key role in passing President Clinton's 1993 Deficit Reduction package and the 1994 Crime Bill. In addition to his seat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, Richardson was the second-ranking Democrat on the Select Intelligence Committee and served on the Natural Resources Committee, where he chaired the Native American Affairs Subcommittee which was created in the 103rd Congress.
In late 1994, Richardson travelled to North Korea to discuss a nuclear agreement. He arrived the same day a U.S. helicopter was shot down by the North Koreans and thereby was thrust into the position of negotiating for the release of two U.S. pilots. After five days of tense talks, Richardson left North Korea with the remains of one pilot and a promise that the surviving pilot would be released "very soon." He returned home the following week.
Richardson's highly successful, but unexpected, foray into North Korea was actually his third high profile foreign affairs experience in 1994. In July, he laid the groundwork for a peaceful resolution to the growing Haitian crisis when he held a five and a half hour meeting with Haitian leader General Raoul Cedras in Haiti. In February, Richardson travelled to Burma to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel laureate, and leader of the persecuted democracy movement, and then convinced military leaders to open talks about her release. Richardson was the first non-family member allowed to visit the dissident in her more than five years under house arrest.
Throughout his service in Congress, Richardson has shown strong support for the Democratic Party. He has also voted consistently for bills to reduce the deficit and approve a balanced-budget constitutional amendment.