Bill Richardson photo

Speech: HRC Keynote

March 24, 2007

INTRODUCTION

Thank you George for that kind introduction. I spent a lot of time watching you on Star Trek during college, maybe a little too much. What a great show with a message of a future of diversity and inclusion. And as Sulu, you literally set the course for that ship.

It is truly an honor to speak to the Human Rights Campaign's Annual Black Tie Gala here in Los Angeles. I'd like to thank co-chairs Brian Pendleton and Heidi Schulz for inviting me to speak. And -- while I've been on his show before -- I'd love to be on it again, so let me also be the first to congratulate tonight's Equality Award winner, Bill Maher.

Let me also recognize a crusader for respect and equal rights under the law, HRC President Joe Solmonese, whose leadership and support have been crucial for my New Mexico initiatives.

DOMESTIC PARTNERSHIPS

I need to admit something; it wasn't easy for me to be here tonight.

Not because of the issues -- I am proud to stand with the Human Rights Campaign, for domestic partner rights and against discrimination of any kind. And you will never have to prod me to make a stand with you, to do what is right for you and your families.

No, it was hard because I called my legislature back into special session on Tuesday and I need to be there to keep pushing my agenda, including a Domestic Partner Rights Act. It lost by one vote in the Senate -- on the last night of the session -- just eight nights ago. And the next day, with the legislature adjourning until next year, we thought we had secured one more vote -- but couldn't get it to the floor.

So I said -- not good enough. Even though we had an incredibly productive session -- we raised the minimum wage to $7.50, we ended predatory lending, we required our utilities to get 20% of their energy from renewable resources, we passed medical marijuana -- I said not good enough. You've got to come back, and along with a few other things, send me domestic partnerships so I can sign it now -- this year.

I'm pushing this bill so hard because I believe all families deserve our respect no matter their race, creed or sexual orientation. I think people realize that this bill is a victory for fairness and equality, as well as for open hearts and open minds.

Unfortunately, my State Senate so far has not agreed. But I am going to keep pushing.

This bill is as important to me as it is to you. So I hope you'll excuse me for leaving after my speech. I'm catching a flight back to New Mexico as soon as I'm done here tonight. I've got work to do.

PRESIDENTIAL MESSAGE

This bill also illustrates the key reason I am running for President. I don't just take votes and debate issues, I get things done.

I know your two top priorities this year are passing federal hate crime and workplace discrimination legislation.

I don't just support these bills. We have already done this in New Mexico.

OTHER STATE ACTIONS

In my very first legislative session in 2003, right after I was elected Governor, I fought for, passed and signed:

  • The first hate crimes law in New Mexico history.
  • Legislation extending civil rights protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. I think we won that one by 1 vote.
  • I ordered that access to health insurance and benefits be extended to the domestic partners of state employees.
  • And now I am fighting for full and equal rights for all domestic partners, including gay and lesbian families.

I have also appointed gay and lesbian individuals to important posts throughout my administration -- to Cabinet posts, Division Directors, and to powerful boards and commissions. And I'll do the same as President, leading an Administration that truly looks like America.

I did all this in what is normally called a "red state." With the right leadership, you can get these things done. Working together, we can accomplish the same on the national level. But before you cast your lot with any national candidate, you have to ask -- not just do they talk the talk -- but do they walk the walk? Can they get it done? As a Governor -- I get things done.

NATIONAL CLIMATE

My state, New Mexico, and the West more generally, has always been a region that respects individual rights. What is changing in that this "live and let live" attitude is now being extended to issues of sexual orientation, and it's spreading from Hawaii to Maine, and from Los Angeles to Albuquerque.

I applaud this shift and I am proud to be a part of moving it forward.

This country is tired of the politics of hatred and division. Fed up with Karl Rove's machinations and Ann Coulter's ignorant epithets. Fed up with Ann Coulter period, actually.

If the last election showed us anything, it revealed that what voters want is a positive, inclusive vision for the future. One that respects all Americans who work hard and try to do what is best for their families.

This inclusive optimism was what allowed us to win back Congress and take a majority of the Governorships in 2006, and it will be crucial to winning the White House in 2008.

I know what it takes to win across this country -- in Iowa and in New Hampshire (two states I just picked at random) -- because I was the Chairman of the Democratic Governor's Association last year who helped win these Governor races. And the Human Rights Campaign was a key ally in these successes as well as in Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts and Wisconsin. Thank you for your great help. We now have 28 Democratic Governors representing 295 Electoral votes.

That's another message I have tonight. Governor's can win. We have Democratic Governors in some of the reddest states in the country -- Oklahoma, Wyoming, Montana, Arizona, Kansas, Tennessee. Democratic Governors can compete anywhere in this country -- and, if I might be so bold, it might be a good idea to nominate a Democratic Governor to take back the White House next year.

On the coasts and in the heartland, the mainstream of this country wants a leader that can bring them together and help move us toward a better future.

That's my message. As a Latino, I have known in my life what it is to be different -- to be singled out. And, throughout my entire career I have fought against discrimination -- in Congress, at the United Nations, as Energy Secretary, and now as Governor of New Mexico. With your help, that's what I will do as your President.

DON'T ASK, DON'T TELL

And finally, as your President I will also end our disastrous, disrespectful "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.

Once again I am no latecomer to this issue. I voted against this when I was in Congress and I continue to oppose it today. It makes no sense to turn away and turn out well-qualified recruits, at a time when our country needs them most.

There are currently an estimated 65,000 gay and lesbian soldiers serving in our military. They are no less patriotic and their lives and sacrifices are no less valuable because of their sexual orientation.

And the approximately one million homosexual veterans -- including Marine Staff Sergeant Eric Alva, who is here with us tonight -- you deserve our thanks, not a lecture.

Homosexuality is not immoral, asking someone to hide their identity and devaluing their sacrifice is.

CONCLUSION

Gay and lesbian families deserve respect, and as President, I will take a principled stand with you to fight for it.

We don't need constitutional amendments designed to exclude supportive, devoted couples. We need to extend the rights due to all of us as Americans:

  • The right to visit a sick or dying partner in the hospital,
  • The right to make necessary legal and financial decisions when a partner can no longer do so,
  • The right to equal employment opportunity, and
  • The right to protection from violent prejudice.

I have spent my career moving this agenda forward because it is the right thing to do.

And with your support, I will continue to do so as President.

Thank you.

Bill Richardson, Speech: HRC Keynote Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/285218

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