About Texas Gov. Ann Richards

Two years before she was elected governor of Texas, Ann Richards electrified the 1988 Democratic National Convention with a keynote speech in which she joked that the Republican presidential nominee, George H.W. Bush, had been "born with a silver foot in his mouth." (see video of Richards' convention speech below)

A longtime champion of women and minorities in government who was serving at the time as Texas state treasurer, she won cheers when she reminded delegates that Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, "only backwards and in high heels."

Richards died in September 2006 at 73 after a battle with esophageal cancer. Her single term as governor from 1991 to 1994 end when she lost re-election to a second term to George W. Bush.

A homemaker before she entered politics, Richards cracked a half-century male grip on the governor's mansion and celebrated by holding up a T-shirt that showed the state Capitol and read: "A woman's place is in the dome."

She told an interviewer shortly before leaving office, "I did not want my tombstone to read, 'She kept a really clean house.' I think I'd like them to remember me by saying, 'She opened government to everyone."'

Whether or not she succeeded at that, there was no question she cracked open the door.

As governor, Richards appointed the first black University of Texas regent, the first crime victim on the state Criminal Justice Board, the first disabled person on the human services board and the first teacher to lead the State Board of Education. Under Richards, the fabled Texas Rangers pinned stars on their first black and female officers.

Ron Kirk, the black former mayor of Dallas, said Richards helped him get his first political internship during a state constitutional convention in 1974 and later, as governor, made him secretary of state.  "She set the table so somebody like me could become mayor of Dallas," Kirk said.

She also polished Texas' image, courted movie producers, and presided over rising student achievement scores and plunging dropout rates.

Throughout her years in office, her popularity remained high. One poll put it at over 60 percent the year she lost her re-election bid to Bush.

Born in Lakeview, Texas, in 1933, Richards grew up near Waco, married civil rights lawyer David Richards and spent her early adulthood volunteering in campaigns and raising four children. She often said the hardest job she ever had was as a public school teacher at Fulmore Junior High School in Austin.

In the early 1960s, she helped form the North Dallas Democratic Women, "basically to allow us to have something substantive to do; the regular Democratic Party and its organization was run by men who looked on women as little more than machine parts."

Richards served on the Travis County Commissioners Court in Austin for six years before jumping to a bigger arena in 1982 when her election as state treasurer made her the first woman elected statewide in nearly 50 years.

But politics took a toll. It cost her a marriage and forced her in 1980 to seek treatment for alcoholism.  "I had seen the very bottom of life," she once recalled. "I was so afraid I wouldn't be funny anymore. I just knew that I would lose my zaniness and my sense of humor. But I didn't. Recovery turned out to be a wonderful thing."

After her re-election defeat, Richards went on to give speeches, work as a commentator for Cable News Network and serve as a senior adviser in the New York office of Public Strategies.  In her last 10 years, Richards worked for many social causes and helped develop the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders, scheduled to open in Austin in 2007.

Richards said she never missed being in public office. She grinned when asked what she might have done differently had she known she would be a one-term governor. "Oh," she said, "I would probably have raised more hell."


Molly Ivins: Remembering Ann Richards

The Texas-based columnist reminisces about the former Texas governor, who died Wednesday from cancer. “Anyone who ever heard her speak at an AA convention knows how close laughter and tears can be.”

She was so generous with her responses to other people. If you told Ann Richards something really funny, she wouldn’t just smile or laugh, she would stop and break up completely. She taught us all so much—she was a great campfire cook. Her wit was a constant delight. One night on the river on a canoe trip, while we all listened to the next rapid, which sounded like certain death, Ann drawled, “It sounds like every whore in El Paso just flushed her john.”

She knew how to deal with teenage egos: Instead of pointing out to a kid who was pouring charcoal lighter on a live fire that he was idiot, Ann said, “Honey, if you keep doing that, the fire is going to climb right back up to that can in your hand and explode and give you horrible injuries, and it will just ruin my entire weekend.”

She knew what it was like to have four young children and to be so tired you cried while folding the laundry. She knew and valued Wise Women like Virginia Whitten and Helen Hadley.

At a long-ago political do at Scholz Garten in Austin, everybody who was anybody was there meetin’ and greetin’ at a furious pace. A group of us got the tired feet and went to lean our butts against a table at the back wall of the bar. Perched like birds in a row were Bob Bullock, then state comptroller; moi; Charles Miles, the head of Bullock’s personnel department; and Ms. Ann Richards. Bullock, 20 years in Texas politics, knew every sorry, no good sumbitch in the entire state. Some old racist judge from East Texas came up to him: “Bob, my boy, how are you?”

Bullock said, “Judge, I’d like you to meet my friends: This is Molly Ivins with the Texas Observer.”

The judge peered up at me and said, “How yew, little lady?”

Bullock, “And this is Charles Miles, the head of my personnel department.” Miles, who is black, stuck out his hand, and the judge got an expression on his face as though he had just stepped into a fresh cowpie. He reached out and touched Charlie’s palm with one finger, while turning eagerly to the pretty, blond, blue-eyed Ann Richards. “And who is this lovely lady?”

Ann beamed and replied, “I am Mrs. Miles.”

One of the most moving memories I have of Ann is her sitting in a circle with a group of prisoners. Ann and Bullock had started a rehab program in prisons, the single most effective thing that can be done to cut recidivism (George W. Bush later destroyed the program). The governor of Texas looked at the cons and said, “My name is Ann, and I am an alcoholic.”

She devoted untold hours to helping other alcoholics, and anyone who ever heard her speak at an AA convention knows how close laughter and tears can be.

I have known two politicians who completely reformed the bureaucracies they were elected to head. Bob Bullock did it by kicking ass at the comptroller’s until hell wouldn’t have it. Fear was his MO. Ann Richards did it by working hard to gain the trust of the employees and then listening to what they told her. No one knows what’s wrong with a bureaucracy better than the bureaucrats who work in it.

The 1990 race for governor was one of the craziest I ever saw, with Ann representing “New Texas.”

Republican nominee Claytie Williams was a perfect foil, down to his boots, making comments that could be construed as racist and sexist. Ann was the candidate of everybody else, especially women. She represented all of us who have lived with and learned to handle good ol’ boys, and she did it with laughter. The spirit of the crowd that set off from the Congress Avenue Bridge up to the Capitol the day of Ann’s inauguration was so full of spirit and joy. I remember watching San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros that day with tears running down his cheeks because Chicanos were finally included.

Ann got handed a stinking mess: Damn near every state function was under court order. The prisons were so crowded, dangerous convicts were being let loose. She had a long, grinding four years and wound up fixing all of it. She always said you could get a lot done in politics if you didn’t need to take credit.

But she disappointed many of her fans because she was so busy fixing what was broken, she never got to change much. The 1994 election was a God, gays and guns deal. Annie had told state legislators that if they passed a right-to-carry law, she would veto it. They did, and she did. At the last minute, the NRA launched a big campaign to convince the governor that we Texas women would feel ever so much safer if we could just carry guns in our purses.

Said Annie, “Well, you know that I am not a sexist, but there is not a woman in this state who could find a gun in her handbag.”


July 19, 1988 Keynote Address by Ann Richards to the Democratic National Convention

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C-Span

Transcript of the July 19, 1988 Keynote Address by Ann Richards, the then Texas Treasurer

Following is a transcript of the keynote address to the Democratic National Convention last night by Ann Richards, the State Treasurer of Texas, as recorded by The New York Times:

Thank you. Thank you very much. Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Buenas noches, mis amigos! I am delighted to be here with you this evening, because after listening to George Bush all these years, I figured you needed to know what a real Texas accent sounds like. Twelve years ago Barbara Jordan, another Texas woman, Barbara made the keynote address to this convention, and two women in 160 years is about par for the course.

But, if you give us a chance, we can perform. After all, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels.

I want to announce to this nation that in a little more than 100 days, the Reagan-Meese-Deaver-Nofziger-Poindexter-North-Weinberger-Watt-Gorsuch-Lavell-Stockman-Haig-Bork-Noriega-George Bush will be over.

You know, tonight I feel a little like I did when I played basketball in the eighth grade. I thought I looked real cute in my uniform, and then I heard a boy yell from the bleachers, "Make that basket, bird legs."

And my greatest fear is that same guy is somewhere out there in the audience tonight, and he's going to cut me down to size.

Real People With Real Problems

Because where I grew up there wasn't much tolerance for self-importance — people who put on airs. I was born during the Depression in a little comunity just outside Waco, and I grew up listening to Franklin Roosevelt on the radio.

Well, it was back then that I came to understand the small truths and the hardships that bind neighbors together. Those were real people with real problems. And they had real dreams about getting out of the Depression.

I can remember summer nights when we'd put down what we called a Baptist pallet, and we listened to the grown-ups talk. I can still hear the sound of the dominoes clicking on the marble slab my daddy had found for a tabletop.

I can still hear the laughter of the men telling jokes you weren't supposed to hear, talking about how big that old buck deer was, — laughing about mama putting Clorox in the well when a frog fell in.

They talked about war and Washington and what this country needed — they talked straight talk, and it came from people who were living their lives as best they could. And that's what we're gonna do tonight -we're going to tell how the cow ate the cabbage.

A Letter From a Young Mother

I got a letter last week from a young mother in Lorena, Tex., and I want to read part of it to you.

She writes, "Our worries go from payday to payday, just like millions of others, and we have two fairly decent incomes. But I worry how I'm going to pay the rising car insurance and food.

"I pray my kids don't have a growth spurt from August to December so I don't have to buy new jeans. We buy clothes at the budget stores and we have them fray, stretch in the first wash.

"We ponder and try to figure out how we're going to pay for college, and braces and tennis shoes. We don't take vacations and we don't go out to eat.

"Please don't think me ungrateful; we have jobs and a nice place to live, and we're healthy.

"We're the people you see every day in the grocery stores. We obey the laws, we pay our taxes, we fly our flags on holidays.

"And we plod along, trying to make it better for ourselves and our children and our parents. We aren't vocal anymore. I think maybe we're too tired.

"I believe that people like us are forgotten in America."

Well, of course you believe you're forgotten, because you have been.

This Republican Administration treats us as if we were pieces of a puzzle that can't fit together. They've tried to put us into compartments and separate us from each other. Their political theory is "divide and conquer."

They've suggested time and time again that what is of interest to one group of Americans is not of interest to anyone else. We've been isolated, we've lumped into that sad phraseology called "special interests."

They've told farmers that they were selfish, that they would drive up food prices if they asked the Government to intervene on behalf of the family farm, and we watched farms go on the auction block while we bought food from foreign countries. Well, that's wrong.

Families Are Falling Apart

They told working mothers it's all their fault that families are falling apart because they had to go to work to keep their kids in jeans, tennis shoes and college. And they're wrong.

They told American labor they were trying to ruin free enterprise by asking for 60 days' notice of plant closings, and that's wrong.

And they told the auto indusry, and the steel indusry, and the timber industry, and the oil industry, companies being threatened by foreign products flooding this country, that you're protectionist if you think the Government should enforce our trade laws. And that is wrong.

When they belittle us for demanding clean air and clean water, for trying to save the oceans and the ozone layer, that's wrong.

No wonder we feel isolated, and confused. We want answers, and their answer is that something is wrong with you.

Well, nothing's wrong with you — nothing wrong with you that you can't fix in November.

One Group Against the Other

We've been told — we've been told that the interests of the South and Southwest are not the same interests as the North and the Northeast. They pit one group against the other. They've divided this country. And in our isolation we think government isn't going to help us, and we're alone in our feelings — we feel forgotten.

Well the fact is, we're not an isolated piece of their puzzle. We are one nation, we are the United States of America!

Now we Democrats believe that America is still the country of fair play, that we can come out of a small town or a poor neighborhood and have the same chance as anyone else, and it doesn't matter whether we are black or Hispanic, or disabled or women.

We believe that America is a country where small-business owners must succeed because they are the bedrock, backbone, of our economy.

We believe that our kids deserve good day care and public schools. We believe our kids deserve public schools where students can learn and teachers can teach.

And we want to believe that our parents will have a good retirement — and that we will too.

We Democrats believe that Social Security is a pact that cannot be broken. We want to believe that we can live out our lives without the terrible fear that an illness is going to bankrupt us and our children.

We Democrats believe that America can overcome any problem, including the dreaded disease called AIDS. We believe that America is still a country where there is more to life than just a constant struggle for money. And we believe that America must have leaders who show us that our struggles amount to something and contribute to something larger, leaders who want us to be all that we can be.

In Praise of Jesse Jackson

We want leaders like Jesse Jackson.

Jesse Jackson is a leader and a teacher who can open our hearts and open our minds and stir our very souls. He's taught us that we are as good as our capacity for caring — caring about the drug problem, caring about crime, caring about education and caring about each other.

Now, in contrast, the greatest nation of the free world has had a leader for eight straight years that has pretended that he cannot hear our questions over the noise of the helicopter.

We know he doesn't want to answer. But we have a lot of questions. And when we get our questions asked, or there is a leak, or an investigation, the only answer we get is, "I don't know," or "I forgot."

But you wouldn't accept that answer from your children. I wouldn't. Don't tell me "you don't know" or "you forgot."

Like Columbus Discovering America

We're not going to have the America that we want until we elect leaders who are going to tell the truth — not most days, but every day. Leaders who don't forget what they don't want to remember.

And for eight straight years George Bush hasn't displayed the slightest interest in anything we care about. And now that he's after a job that he can't get appointed to, he's like Columbus discovering America — he's found child care, he's found education.

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

Well, no wonder — no wonder we can't figure it out — because the leadership of this nation is telling us one thing on TV and doing something entirely different.

They tell us — they tell us that they're fighting a war against terrorists. And then we find out that the White House is selling arms to the Ayatollah.

They tell us that they're fighting a war on drugs, and then people come on TV and testify that the C.I.A. and the D.E.A. and the F.B.I. knew they were flying drugs into America all along. And they're negotiating with a dictator who is shoveling cocaine into this country like crazy. I guess that's their Central American strategy.

Two Paychecks to Make Ends Meet

Now they tell us that employment rates are great and that they're for equal opportunity, but we know it takes two paychecks to make ends meet today, when it used to take one, and the opportunity they're so proud of is low-wage, dead-end jobs.

And there is no major city in America where you cannot see homeless men sitting in parking lots holding signs that say, "I will work for food."

Now my friends, we really are at a crucial point in American history. Under this Administration we have devoted our resources into making this country a military colossus, but we've let our economic lines of defense fall into disrepair.

The debt of this nation is greater than it has ever been in our history. We fought a world war on less debt that the Republicans have built up in the last eight years. It's kind of like that brother-in-law who drives a flashy new car but he's always borrowing money from you to make the payments.

But let's take what they are proudest of, that is their stand on defense. We Democrats are committed to a strong America. And, quite frankly, when our leaders say to us we need a new weapon system, our inclination is to say, "Well, they must be right."

That Old Dog Won't Hunt

But when we pay billions for planes that won't fly, billions for tanks that won't fire and billions for systems that won't work, that old dog won't hunt.

And you don't have to be from Waco to know that when the Pentagon makes crooks rich and doesn't make America strong, that it's a bum deal.

Now I'm going to tell you — I'm really glad that our young people missed the Depression and missed the great big war. But I do regret that they missed the leaders that I knew, leaders who told us when things were tough and that we'd have to sacrifice, and that these difficulties might last awhile.

They didn't tell us things were hard for us because we were different, or isolated, or special interests. They brought us together and they gave us a sense of national purpose.

They gave us Social Security and they told us they were setting up a system where we could pay our own money in and when the time came for our retirement, we could take the money out.

People in rural areas were told that we deserved to have electric lights, and they were going to harness the energy that was necessary to give us electricity so that my grandmama didn't have to carry that coal oil lamp around.

And they told us that they were going to guarantee that when we put our money in the bank that the money was going to be there and it was going to be insured, they did not lie to us.

And I think that one of the saving graces of Democrats is that we are candid. We are straight talk. We tell people what we think.

And that tradition and those values live today in Michael Dukakis from Massachusetts.

Michael Dukakis knows that this country is on the edge of a great new era, that we're not afraid of change, that we're for thoughtful, truthful, strong leadership. Behind his calm there's an impatience, to unify this country and to get on with the future.

Dukakis's 'Instincts' Are Lauded

His instincts are deeply American, they're tough and they're generous, and personally I have to tell you that I have never met a man who had a more remarkable sense of what is really important in life.

And then there's my friend and my teacher for many years, Senator Lloyd Bentsen. And I couldn't be prouder, both as a Texan and as a Democrat, because Lloyd Bentsen understands America — from the barrios to the boardroom. He knows how to bring us together, by regions, by economics, and by example. And he's already beaten George Bush once.

So when it comes right down to it, this election is a contest between those who are satisfied with what they have and those who know we can do better. That's what this election is really all about.

It's about the American dream — those who want to keep it for the few, and those who know it must be nurtured and passed along.

I'm a grandmother now. And I have one nearly perfect granddaughter named Lily. And when I hold that grandbaby, I feel the continuity of life that unites us, that binds generation to generation, that ties us with each other.

And sometimes I spread that Baptist pallet out on the floor and Lily and I roll a ball back and forth. And I think of all the families like mine, and like the one in Lorena, Tex., like the ones that nurture children all across America.

Families and Nation the Same

And as I look at Lily, I know that it is within families that we learn both the need to respect individual human dignity and to work together for our common good. Within our families, within our nation, it is the same.

And as I sit there, I wonder if she'll every grasp the changes I've seen in my life — if she'll ever believe that there was a time when blacks could not drink from public water fountains, when Hispanic children were punished for speaking Spanish in the public schools and women couldn't vote.

I think of all the political fights I've fought and all the compromises I've had to accept as part payment. And I think of all the small victories that have added up to national triumphs. And all the things that never would have happened and all the people who would have been left behind if we had not reasoned and fought and won those battles together.

And I will tell Lily that those triumphs were Democratic Party triumphs.

I want so much to tell Lily how far we've come, you and I. And as the ball rolls back and forth, I want to tell her how very lucky she is. That, for all of our differences, we are still the greatest nation on this good earth.

And our strength lies in the men and women who go to work every day, who struggle to balance their family and their jobs, and who should never, ever be forgotten.

I just hope that, like her grandparents and her great-grandparents before, Lily goes on to raise her kids with the promise that echoes in homes all across America: that we can do better.

And that's what this election is all about. Thank you very much.

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