Friday, September 15

"The here and now is all we have..."

"The here and now is all we have, and if we play it right it's all we'll need. -- Ann Richards - September 1, 1933 - September 13, 2006

After a short but valiant battle with cancer, former Governor Ann Richards has died at her home in Austin, Texas. She had just celebrated her 73rd birthday a couple of weeks ago.

Richards was the quintessential Texas woman, with a sassy homespun charm, sharp wit and tough pioneer spirit. With bright silver hair, a weathered face and an affinity for cobalt blue suits and pearls, Richards was instantly recognizable to national television audiences.

One of her most notable public appearances was in 1988 when Democratic National Chairman Paul Kirk asked her to be the keynote speaker at the party's national convention that summer. Her speech was to draw differences between the parties and take aim at a fellow Texan: Vice President George Bush, the GOP nominee for president.

Richards thrilled her national audience with some of her feminist humor on the ability of women to equal men: "Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels."

What became memorable, though, was a line she delivered to show Bush was out of touch with the economic and family issues that were important to poor and middle class Americans.

"Poor George, he can't help it — he was born with a silver foot in his mouth," Richards said.

That speech set the stage for Richards to run for governor in 1990.
As a Democratic politician, Richards' race for governor against Republican cowboy oilman Clayton Williams became a battle of the sexes. She was the image of the modern Texas woman, while Williams projected the cowboy aura of the state's heritage.

Williams was a cowboy who had become a millionaire oilman and had expanded his empire into telecommunications and banking.
Richards played off his mistakes. Williams once compared bad weather to rape, saying there is nothing to be done about it, so "relax and enjoy it." He also refused to shake Richards' hand after she had criticized some of his business practices.

Her victory symbolically broke down gender barriers for a generation of Texas women who were seeking professional careers.

Richards labeled her administration the "New Texas," appointing more Hispanics, blacks and women to state boards and commissions than any previous governor. She pushed for increases in public education funding and promoted business expansion in the state.

A recovering alcoholic, Richards also pressed lawmakers to increase funding for drug and alcohol abuse treatment programs.

Polls showed Richards was the most personally popular governor in 30 years. Late in her term as governor, the Houston Chronicle asked Richards how she viewed her gubernatorial legacy.

"How about, 'She changed the economic future of Texas,'" Richards replied. "And that really beats what I feared my tombstone was going to say, and that was: 'She kept a really clean house.'"

During her first year in office, Richards signed a $2.7 billion tax bill to balance the state's budget. The state also adopted the lottery under her.

Her most notable achievement was opening the doors of government to people other than Anglos and men. About 44 percent of her appointees were female; 20 percent Hispanic; and 14 percent black. Her two predecessors in office had given more than 77 percent of their appointments to Anglo men.

Richards described herself as a "two-headed cow," a curiosity that corporate leaders allow through the door just so they can see her.

She could brag about getting General Motors to keep its Arlington plant open, as the company was partly motivated by a package of state incentives. She persuaded Southwestern Bell to move its corporate headquarters from St. Louis to San Antonio. She convinced computer giant Apple to consolidate its customer service operations in Williamson County.

Richards went into her 1994 re-election campaign against the younger Bush with the highest personal popularity ratings of any governor in 30 years. She questioned Bush's experience to serve as Texas governor and his criticism of her record. She called him "some jerk who's running for public office."

In her farewell news conference as governor, Richards said she was ready to move to the next phase of her life. The homemaker-turned-politician wanted to earn the money that would make her secure in retirement.

"Life is like a layer cake," Richards said. "You put one layer on top of the other, and whether you frost it or not is up to you. I'm looking forward now to a little frosting."

Official portrait and brief biography at the Texas State Library & Archives
Ann Richards on a motorcycle and more Richards photos (Texas State Library & Archives)
Quotations from Ann Richards (About Women's History)

Democratic National Convention Address by Ann Richards

Ann Richards buying the first Texas Lottery scratch-off ticket in 1992 (the Texas Lottery started during Richards' term as governor).
KVUE News / AP Story on life and death of Ann Richards


Nino the Mindboggler said...

Her smart, savvy, sassy shoot-from-the-hip style will be sorely missed. Very nice homage... thank you!

sheela said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.