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  • Writer's pictureBen Finzel

The Common Sense Colloquy - Q&A with Bill Richardson

Welcome to our fourth Common Sense Colloquy, a Q&A with Bill Richardson, the former Congressman, former United States Ambassador to the United Nations, former Secretary of Energy and former Governor of New Mexico. RENEWPR President Ben Finzel had the good fortune to work for Governor Richardson twice – as a congressional staffer and as a presidential appointee in the Energy Department.

Governor Richardson is many things – a force of nature, a global “fixer” who has helped free Americans being held abroad and a committed environmentalist and advocate for freedom and democracy. This month, we asked the Governor to share an update on his current activities as well as just a little bit of the excellent communications advice he’s offered over the years. For more, check out his books Between Worlds: The Making of An American Life, Leading by Example: How We Can Inspire an Energy and Security Revolution, and How to Sweet-Talk a Shark: Strategies and Stories from a Master Negotiator.

Our thanks to the Governor for sharing his time and insight with us – and you.

Q: The number one question I get about you is, “what is he doing now?” Can you share an update on the many things on your plate at the moment?

A: I concentrate on speeches, consulting and nonprofit boards (WRI, Refugees International), along with my Santa Fe-based foundation, The Richardson Center for Global Engagement. We concentrate on freeing political prisoners and hostages around the world. I also focus on North Korea issues, climate change, Rohingya refugees and protection of elephants in Africa.

Q: As a former congressman from New Mexico and former Secretary of Energy, you've been a leader on energy and environment policy for decades. What's your forecast for what we might get done at the federal level in terms of energy and environment policy in the next few years?

A: The anti-environment and pro-fossil fuel energy policies of the Trump administration force us to play primarily a defensive game to blunt their relentless efforts to roll back sensible policies from the Obama administration. I would concentrate federal efforts or lawsuits to stop or slow down these efforts and build public awareness of their corrosive and destructive effects on our society. I would instead concentrate pro-environmental and renewable energy campaigns at the state level, such as encouraging more mandatory renewable portfolio standards.

Q: You've been UN Ambassador, you've written two books and you're a master negotiator. Clearly, communications is one of your strong suits. What advice do you have for public officials and others trying to communicate today in what can only be described as a crazy, never-ending news cycle?

A: In this technological world, concentrate primarily on an effective social media strategy to deliver your message. Secondly, have a clear message that is positive and optimistic. Third, don’t forget grass-root activism at the local level, especially in schools and targeting the young. Lastly remember that hard work and peaceful demonstrations and movements like the Women’s March and the Parkland students are highly effective.

Q: What’s the best “common sense” advice about communications you’ve received?

A: The best “common sense” advice about communications that I’ve received came from a New Mexico Native American constituent (Navajo): “Look me in the eye and tell me the truth, good or bad.

Q: What’s the best “common sense” advice about communications that you’ve given to others?

A: I’ll list my top four:

1. Respect the other person’s culture and identity.

2. Let the other side save face.

3. Let the other side take credit.

4. Know where you want to end up.

Bill Richardson

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