Former UN Ambassador Bill Richardson Dies at 75

Former New Mexico governor died in his sleep
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 2, 2023 12:03 PM CDT
Former UN Ambassador Bill Richardson Dies at 75
Former US diplomat Bill Richardson speaks at a news conference in New York, Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. American journalist Danny Fenster, who was recently sentenced to 11 years of hard labor after spending nearly six months in jail in Myanmar, has been freed with the assistance of Richardson.   (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

This obituary has been updated throughout.
Bill Richardson, a two-term Democratic governor of New Mexico who later was the US ambassador to the United Nations and dedicated his post-political career to working to free Americans detained overseas, has died. He was 75, reports the AP. The Richardson Center for Global Engagement, which he founded, said in a statement Saturday that he died in his sleep at his home in Chatham, Massachusetts. "He lived his entire life in the service of others—including both his time in government and his subsequent career helping to free people held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad," said Mickey Bergman of the center. "There was no person that Gov. Richardson would not speak with if it held the promise of returning a person to freedom. The world has lost a champion for those held unjustly abroad."

Before his election in 2002 as governor, Richardson was the US envoy to the UN and energy secretary under President Bill Clinton and served 14 years as a congressman representing northern New Mexico. Richardson also traveled the globe as an unofficial diplomatic troubleshooter, negotiating the release of hostages and American servicemen from North Korea, Iraq, Cuba, and Sudan. He bargained with a who's who of America's adversaries, including Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. It was a role that Richardson relished, once describing himself as "the informal undersecretary for thugs." He met with Russian officials in the months before the release last year of Marine veteran Trevor Reed in a prisoner swap, and he worked on winning the release of Brittney Griner, the WNBA star freed by Moscow last year.

Armed with a golden resume and wealth of experience in foreign and domestic affairs, Richardson ran for the 2008 Democratic nomination for president in hopes of becoming the nation's first Hispanic president. He dropped out of the race after fourth-place finishes in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. As governor, Richardson signed legislation in 2009 that repealed the death penalty, a reversal for him that he called the "most difficult decision in my political life," per the AP. He called being governor "the best job I ever had," saying: "You can get the most done. You set the agenda."

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Other accomplishments as governor included $50,000-a-year minimum salaries for the most qualified teachers in New Mexico, an increase in the state minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.50 an hour, pre-kindergarten programs for 4-year-olds, renewable energy requirements for utilities, and financing for large infrastructure projects, including a commercial spaceport in southern New Mexico and a $400 million commuter rail system. Richardson was entrusted with "some of the most sensitive diplomatic crises," Democratic US Sen. Ben Ray Lujan said. "Here in New Mexico, we will always remember him as our governor. He never stopped fighting for the state he called home." (More Bill Richardson stories.)

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