Interview with New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson

Interview with New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson

By John King, USA - December 30, 2010

JOHNS: Now that he's back from North Korea, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson is tackling an issue that's really controversial. Before leaving office next month, should he pardon Billy the Kid? Governor Richardson joins us now from Santa Fe.

Governor, this is sort of pardon season for a lot of governors around the country. You have one of the most controversial decisions of them all, this time, at least. Have you decided whether you're going to pardon Billy the kid?

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON, (D) NEW MEXICO: Well, Joe, I haven't decided. I'm going to decide tomorrow. Because I've only got one more day as governor. The decision has to be tomorrow. It's going to be a very close call. It's not going to be a blanket pardon because Billy did kill some law enforcement officers when he was escaping the Lincoln County jail.

The issue is did a previous New Mexico Governor Lou Wallace, promise Billy a pardon in exchange for some testimony. And if that is the case, if there's conclusive proof, then there will be a pardon.

JOHNS: A lot of us know, or think we know something about Billy the Kid, and that is mostly through books and movies, and so on. Let's take a look at a clip. Just to refresh the memory of viewers out there, about who Billy the Kid was-or who we think he was.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Reap the whirlwind, Sheriff Brady. Reap it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You weren't supposed to touch Brady.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sheriff Brady sent the man who killed John. It was a good move for us, Alex.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it was. Have you seen "The Independence"? The governor's revoked your deputization (sic) powers. You are now wanted by the legitimate law as well as those outside the law.


JOHNS: So, governor, does Hollywood have the image of Billy the Kid right? Or as my seven-year-old son might say, was he a good guy, or a bad guy, or a little bit of both?

RICHARDSON: Well, he was a bad guy. But the issue is whether that governor, Lou Wallace who-by the way, is the one who wrote "Ben Hur", he was a territorial governor at the time appointed by the president-in fact, made that promise to Billy. And the issue is whether Billy should be pardoned for the murder of Sheriff Brady, who at the time was in law enforcement, but he was also doing the bidding for a group called -- a syndicate called the Santa Fe Ring. So there weren't good and bad guys at least in this instance.

But, Joe, there are four killings tied directly to Billy. There's a myth about Billy across the board. But this is a part of Americana. This is part of the American West.

But I've heard, from all over the world. We set up a Web site, Europe, Asia, tremendous fascination. Historians across the board generally favor Billy getting the pardon. But I just think if you make a pardon, you're a governor, you've got to be very certain of your action. I've dealt with this issue for eight years now. And I am going to wait till the last minute to make the decision. And it will be tomorrow, Joe.

JOHNS: Don't you kind of wonder whether this is the kind of guy who would have wanted to be an outlaw at the end of the day, and even identified as such by the governor of New Mexico?

RICHARDSON: Well, yeah, I mean, Billy was not a good guy. But the issue is not his entire life, because he did kill two deputies when he was escaping from the Lincoln County jail. So I'm not giving him, if I do a pardon, a blanket pardon across the board. The guy was a criminal, but the issue is this specific Sheriff Brady instance, and did the governor of New Mexico promise him a pardon in exchange for some testimony in this murder case.

So, you know, you're evaluating legal documents. You're evaluating newspaper clippings, what relatives say. But it's fascinating and Billy the Kid is part of, as you said, Americana. And everybody is interested. It's fun, though.

Joe, you know, in these days when you're broadcasts, you are talking about wars and people not getting home for the holidays, and economic downturn. You know, this is a fun part of America. And by the way, I admit it's good publicity for New Mexico and New Mexico history.

JOHNS: Yeah, but, the other side of that, of course, is I'm sure there are realists on the ground in New Mexico who say we've got a lot of pressing concerns, budget shortfalls, what have you. Why would the governor of New Mexico be spending so much time on an issue like this, when we have other pressing issues?

RICHARDSON: Well, look, I'm not spending a lot of time on it. I've studied this issue over the years. You know, we're dealing with a budget, with a transition to a new governor here. I was in North Korea, as you mentioned. So I'm dealing with serious issues.

Again, this is something that New Mexicans over the years, and Western buffs, want settled. You know, we've had a huge response to whether we should pardon him or not. So a lot of people do care. And it's good to put this issue to bed. And I'm going to do it tomorrow.

JOHNS: What are you going to be doing once you leave office? You've been very busy. You've been over to North Korea. You're handling a variety of issues there as governor. We can't imagine you doing little or nothing. What are your plans?

RICHARDSON: Well, I am actually going to look to become a private citizen and do the things that I've always wanted to do. Visit baseball parks. Go to spring training. Not myself, but just watch it.

But, Joe, I'm going to stay in Santa Fe. I'm going to do some paid speeches. I'm going to do some boards, nonprofit and profit. I'm going to try to set up a foreign policy institute where I continue my work on peacemaking, on rescuing hostages, on U.S./Latin American relations. I'm going to stay active. I'm going to be around.

Not in New Mexico politics, but more at a national and hopefully international national level. But, you know, I need a pause. The people of New Mexico need a pause from me.

Probably the country needs a pause from me. So I'm going to stay in Santa Fe. Maybe some day we'll be back and we'll see you back in Washington.

JOHNS: Governor Richardson, thank you so much for spending a little bit of your time with us. We will be watching to see what you decide on the issue of Billy the Kid. And looking forward to your next trip overseas, wherever that may be.

RICHARDSON: Thank you, Joe.


John King, USA

Author Archive

Follow Real Clear Politics

Latest On Twitter