Democratic presidential hopeful Bill Richardson has a Christmas wish for some of the New Mexico state government employees in his administration: pack your bags and head to Iowa.
The two-term governor is asking governmental appointees and other state employees to volunteer to help his campaign by traveling to Iowa before the Jan. 3 leadoff presidential contest.
Several of the governor's top administrators already have hit the campaign trail in Iowa and New Hampshire. Others plan to be in Iowa for the critical final days before the caucus.
"I've got quite a few friends in Iowa so I am looking forward to going back up there and campaigning hard enough to keep my butt from freezing," says Environment Secretary Ron Curry.
Last month, the governor and his presidential campaign manager, Dave Contarino, met with a group of state workers and other supporters at a Santa Fe hotel to appeal for campaign volunteers and update them on how Richardson is faring.
Asking for volunteers
State employees were invited to the lunch hour meeting by the campaign with messages sent to private e-mail accounts and, in some cases, private cell phones.
Among those who attended was Gilbert Gallegos, communications director in the governor's office.
"The governor ... was very frank. He said, 'I know this time of year it might be difficult and don't worry about it if you can't go, but many of you have supported me in the past and if you are able to do so, I think it could be a big help,'" said Gallegos, who will be in Iowa from Dec. 26 through Jan. 4.
At the meeting, "it was stressed that everybody who wanted to go would have to take time off, use their annual leave and pay their own way. The campaign would help if they wanted to make arrangements or car pool or that sort of thing," said Gallegos.
Critics say Richardson's appeal for campaign volunteers makes it difficult for state workers to say no to their ultimate boss.
"You just hope that none of these employees are feeling compelled to do this out of fear of what might happen if the governor doesn't win the presidency and comes back to the state and then starts trying to count who helped him and who didn't help him," said Scott Darnell, a spokesman for the state Republican Party.
However, Darnell acknowledged that it's not uncommon for some staff in government offices, including Congress, to use their vacation time to campaign for their bosses.
Pahl Shipley, a spokesman for Richardson's campaign, said he didn't know how many state employees have agreed to travel to Iowa but maintained that none were pressured to help the campaign.
"There would never be any kind of arm twisting involved," said Shipley. "We would never ever do anything that would make somebody uncomfortable or feel like they would be expected to do this."
Fewer than 100 people attended the meeting last month in Santa Fe, he said, and it included gubernatorial appointees in the administration — who are named to their jobs by Richardson — as well as employees covered by civil service protections.
The campaign hasn't made a blanket appeal to all state workers to volunteer, Shipley said. Instead, requests for help went out to those who have made campaign contributions, volunteered their time in the past or indicated they wanted to help.
State employees have contributed at least $468,000 to Richardson's campaign through the end of September.
Many of the state workers who travel to Iowa will go door-to-door canvassing potential Democratic caucus goers. Some will make phone calls or hand out materials at campaign events. A few may serve as surrogate campaign speakers.
Education Secretary Veronica Garcia and Agriculture Secretary Miley Gonazalez have campaigned for the governor in Iowa. Veterans Services Secretary John Garcia went to New Hampshire last month.
State workers are particularly valuable campaign volunteers for Richardson, who is the only sitting governor among the presidential candidates.
"They've got first-hand knowledge of what the governor has accomplished in New Mexico and they are able to tell people on a personal level why they're supporting the governor," said Shipley.