CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The return to power of Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, is unlikely to be accompanied by the corruption that used to plague the party, say Arturo Sarukhan, the Mexican ambassador to the U.S., and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson

At a panel hosted Tuesday by Richardson and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and sponsored by the Woodrow Wilson Center, Sarukhan wouldn’t say whether he’d stay in his post if President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto asked him. But he said the PRI and the Mexican population have shifted, and that the country’s maturing democracy would not allow anyone to “turn back the clock.”

“The president-elect belongs, we belong, to a generation of Mexicans that believe and hope that things can be done in a very different way,” Sarukhan said at the panel discussion, which featured speakers who were in town for the Democratic National Convention. “I don’t think there’s any politician who … could go back to the days of ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.’”

Richardson concurred, calling Peña Nieto a “reformer” who was “elected on a mandate of change.”

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“I think the old PRI is gone,” he said. “I think the dinosaurs are dead.”

Villaraigosa said a U.S. presidential election and a Mexican presidential election only overlap every 12 years, which he called an “unparalleled opportunity to shift the conversation.” U.S. Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, D-San Antonio, said that legislation his home state’s Republican leadership has championed — from voter ID to sanctuary city measures — has in many ways undermined this effort.

Texas Republicans “continue to demonize the country, placing Texas at a tremendous disadvantage,” he said. “Only when these issues are not exploited for political gain can we expand our relationship with Mexico.” 

Villaraigosa said a Mitt Romney presidency would set the cross-border relationship back, and lead to the deportation of millions of people; Sarukhan called the GOP immigration platform “extremely troubling.”

“When President Obama directed [the Department of Homeland Security] to provide deferred action to the Dreamers,” Villaraigosa said, “he made a step toward improving that relationship.”  

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