“Heaven!” says Wayne Pacelle. “Hell!” says Steve Hindi.
CHATHAM, Massachusetts––Bill Richardson, 75, New Mexico governor from 2003 to 2011, involved in politics and international diplomacy from his 1971 graduation from Tufts University until shortly before his death, died on September 1, 2023 at his summer home on Cape Cod.
Animal Wellness Action president Wayne Pacelle remembered that “Richardson, as governor of New Mexico, helped make that state the 49th to outlaw” cockfighting.
Richardson also, Pacelle said, “put the effort in motion that ended the use of chimpanzees in invasive experiments in the United States.
“He was a fierce advocate”
“I started working with him when I led the Humane Society of the U.S.,” 2004-2018, “and then with Animal Wellness Action,” Pacelle testified. “He helped us to pass the Food & Drug Administration Modernization Act, which was enacted at the end of 2022 and eliminated an animal-testing requirement for new drugs. He was a fierce advocate for ending horse slaughter, helping wild horses and burros, and fighting trophy hunting of elephants,” Pacelle said.
Showing Animals Respect & Kindness founder Steve Hindi, on the other hand, notified of Richardson’s death while using drones to videotape three Chicago-area charreadas in three days over the Labor Day weekend, said only, “It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.”
Richardson, raised in Coyoacán, Mexico, and of mostly Mexican ancestry, appears to have had no record at all of opposing the abuse of steers and horses in charreada, also known as Mexican-style rodeo.
Ignored cockfighting until Hindi applied spurs
Richardson, further, ignored cockfighting until Hindi and others made it politically inconvenient for him to continue to do so, and was a major and unabashed booster of American-style rodeo.
“A March 17, 2003 article by the Associated Press detailed a debate among New Mexico lawmakers over a proposed cockfighting ban,” recalled Hindi in 2006.
Reported Associated Press, “Governor Bill Richardson, at a news conference, declined to comment on the bill to ban cockfighting. He said the issue was “below my radar.”
Observed Hindi, “This is an interesting response for a supposedly progressive politician. One would think he would want to bring his state out of the dark ages, especially when his state is practically alone in its allowance of such cruelty and cowardice.
Funneled state funds to rodeo
“New Mexico is one of the poorest states in the nation,” Hindi added. “The state faces massive challenges, including problems with deficient bridges, dams, drinking water supplies, wastewater management, schools and roads. Untold billions of dollars are needed to address these issues. Yet last summer we learned that, in spite of the state’s financial hardships, Governor Richardson was considering giving over $750,000 to rodeo thugs to promote rodeos in New Mexico!
“We immediately called Santa Fe and requested an appointment with the governor. Showing Animals Respect & Kindness investigator Pat Vinet and I then traveled to Santa Fe to personally meet with Governor Richardson,” Hindi recounted.
“We gave him very graphic video footage of rodeo animal abuse. We strongly encouraged him to reconsider supporting animal abusers. The governor claimed that he didn’t want animals to suffer, and we hoped this meant that he would look into the rodeo issue. We knew that if he truly did that, there was no way he would give money to the Rodeo Mafia.
$750,000 grew into $16 million
“Now, however, the governor has gone ahead and given a fortune to people who abuse, maim and kill animals.
“Richardson claims that rodeos are a valuable part of New Mexico’s history and culture, and he wants to help rodeos to increase New Mexico tourism,” Hindi wrote. “Of course, if rodeos had the ability to draw tourism, they wouldn’t be welfare recipients.
“The three-quarter-million dollar giveaway was just a warm-up,” Hindi continued. “Governor Richardson next announced that he is going to give the Rodeo Mafia over $16 million! This is perhaps the best example yet that rodeos are facing serious financial issues, and it shows that political rodeo minions like Richardson are willing to betray the public trust.”
Richardson & Jeffrey Epstein
Richardson’s political career was plagued by a variety of other scandals that drew more public notice, from falsely claiming he had been drafted to play professional baseball in 1967 to being named in court documents in a civil suit filed by one of the alleged victims of sex trafficking by financier Jeffrey Epstein and his associate Ghislaine Maxwell.
Epstein committed suicide the next day, August 9, 2019; Maxwell, convicted of related criminal charges, has been serving a 20-year prison sentence since 2021.
Richardson denied the allegations, said through a spokesperson that he had never seen Epstein in the presence of young or underage girls, and said in an August 2019 prepared statement that he had offered his assistance in the investigation of Epstein to the U.S Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
Richardson’s attorney, Jeff Brown of Dechert LLP, later said he had been informed that Richardson was neither a target, subject, nor witness in the cases against Epstein and Maxwell, and that there was no allegation against Richardson that the government was actively investigating.
Of course there would not have been a case against Epstein after his death, at least not in earthly courts.
Dog law bit advisor’s butt
Richardson began trying to establish pro-animal credentials in April 2005, first by endorsing into law a New Mexico bill requiring that antifreeze have a bittering agent added to keep dogs from licking spilled antifreeze from pavement.
Also in April 2005, Richardson recommended that 640,000 acres of the Otero Mesa, about a quarter of the mesa, be made a national conservation area to protect wildlife, including the endangered aplomado falcon.
In addition, Richardson signed into law a bill to allow felony prosecutions of owners of dogs who that seriously injure or kill another animal or person.
Soon afterward, Richardson’s crime advisor, Bob Schwartz, was mauled by his own boxer and two English bulldogs, without legal consequence.
“Precedent-setting animal protection package”
Recalled then-Humane Legislative Fund president Mike Markarian, when Richardson announced a short-lived run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, “At the end of 2006, Governor Richardson announced a precedent-setting animal protection package for the state.
“The ten-point plan included a multi-million dollar expenditure for animal protection projects,” Markarian recited, “such as animal shelter improvements, spay/neuter and adoption programs, sanctuaries for neglected horses, a wildlife law center, and humane education in public schools.
“During Richardson’s tenure [as governor],” Markarian said, “he provided more than ten million dollars for wildlife conservation, animal shelters, animal control, spay/neuter projects, cruelty investigations, and other animal welfare programs,” or about $6 million less than Richardson committed to rodeo alone.
Markarian praised Richardson
Markarian also praised Richardson for helping to belatedly pass the New Mexico ban on cockfighting.
“Some people argue that it was too little too late,” Markarian conceded. “But animal advocates had been fighting this battle for two decades in New Mexico, and it was only when Richardson entered the fray with his active support and his considerable lobbying abilities that the ban was actually achieved.
“The governor also reacted strongly,” Markarian mentioned, “when a high school student’s science fair project under the guidance of the University of New Mexico involved the cruel treatment of animals. Mice were forced to swim until nearly drowning, hung by their tails with adhesive tape, and electrically shocked, all to measure hopelessness and depression. Richardson called for a full investigation and urged laboratory animal reforms at research universities.”
“Very few candidates are perfect on animal issues”
“Of course, very few candidates are perfect on animal issues,” Markarian conceded. “Richardson created the New Mexico Rodeo Council in 2005 and since then has allocated hundreds of thousands of dollars to promote rodeo and construct new facilities.
“Associated Press reported that Richardson considers himself a ‘recreational hunter,’ and the Richardson’s office provided a photo of an exotic oryx he shot in 2005 at a captive hunting ranch.”
“On balance,” Markarian assessed, “Bill Richardson moved the needle forward for animals in the Land of Enchantment, despite lapses on important issues like hunting and rodeo.”
Mary Jane Garcia
The real driving force behind the 2007 New Mexico ban on cockfighting, however, was state senator Mary Jane Garcia (D-Dona Ana), who pushed prohibiting cockfights for 18 years.
Thirteen New Mexico counties had already individually banned cockfighting before the state as a whole did.
“When Garcia took office in 1989, a male colleague suggested she try to ban cockfighting,” reported Los Angeles Times staff writer Nicholas Riccardi
“Her bill was easily defeated,” Riccardi recalled, “and Garcia soon learned that the ban suggestion was a sort of hazing to which veteran legislators subjected young female colleagues.
“Garcia did not appreciate that. She objected as well to claims by cockfighters that cockfighting is part of New Mexico’s Latino heritage.”
Ali MacGraw supplied assist
“How dare they insult me this way, that it is my culture? Garcia asked. “Never, never, never.”
Winning the endorsement of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, Garcia repeatedly reintroduced her bill.
Along the way, “Garcia received death threats and got police protection,” Riccardi continued. “A lobbyist for the bishops called authorities after people drove SUVs by the house of his mother and sisters late one night, honking and flashing their headlights.
“Actress Ali MacGraw, a New Mexico resident, rallied celebrity opposition to cockfighting to help the bill move,” Riccardi added.
“More than 40 jobs will be lost” if chimps moved from Alamogordo
Richardson in July 2010 “announced his support to save the 202 chimpanzees at the Alamogordo Primate Facility on Holloman Air Force Base who may be moved out of state to be used for invasive research,” according to a media release.
“The Governor sent a letter today to Francis S. Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health, expressing his concerns for the chimpanzees and the more than 40 jobs that will be lost if the chimps are moved to Texas,” the release added.
Collins announced in June 2013 that the chimps would be sent to the Chimp Haven sanctuary in Keithville, Louisiana, but at least 24 of the chimps died before they were transferred. Litigation is still underway over the fate of many more.
After his gubernatorial tenure, Richardson and Navajo Nation president Ben Shelly in July 2013 reportedly “reached an agreement in principle in which the Navajo Nation would suspend horse roundups and halt the sale of Navajo horses to horse processing plants,” reported Katherine Locke of the Navajo-Hopi Observer.
But nothing much appears to have come of that. Reports indicate that the Navajo Nation was gathering wild horses and selling them to slaughter in Mexico as of 2020, and perhaps still is.