A Remarkable Texas Woman Remembered


Was there a female politician in recent memory more lovable by leftists than former Texas governor Ann Richards? Judging by the HBO documentary All About Ann, she takes that prize.

The Richards family, friends and associates that speak about her in the film all seem to regard her as something of a wonder woman. And the storyline of how she rose from being a schoolteacher to county commissioner to state treasurer to governor attest to an impressive natural political savvy. Her record running the treasury as recounted in the movie is impressive indeed. And both there and in the Lone Star State’s top job she opened up government to minorities and strove to ensure that government worked for the people.

I moved to Texas not long before Richards ran for the governor’s office against West Texas rancher and classic good ol’ boy Clayton Williams. She was a bracing and charming breath of fresh air in a state where the manly frontier traditions were (and are still) revered.

And her biggest winning quality was a keen and delightful rapier sharp sense of humor that skillfully skewered opponents. That’s something that should not go unheeded by liberals and progressives. (See Senator and former comedian Al Franken and Bill Clinton for a further lessons in its effectiveness.)

Those who knew Richards say that it wasn’t the product of speech writers and at times came off the cuff and on the dais or at the podium. And such humor is something innate and rarely if ever cultivated. It’s what lifted her to the national consciousness with her 1988 keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention and was pivotal in how she made the most of Williams’s gaffes in their race (the most notorious of which was how he said that rape like the weather was inevitable, so women should just sit back and enjoy it).

Effective humor is sorely needed by politicians on the left side of the political spectrum these days. And Lord knows the right wing provides a daily fodder of inanities and absurdities ripe for ripostes. Hence the proliferation of comedy news shows and their quite funny hosts like Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert and now John Oliver. In very serious times, laughs are sorely needed to just digest national and world events.

And in the business of both campaigning and governance the proverbial spoonful of sugar – or maybe better put lungful of laughing gas – can indeed help the medicine go down. President Obama sometimes shows flashes of wit (though he too often tends to be corny). Hilary Clinton could use it to leaven her perceived stridency. And though Elizabeth Warren is a masterful policy wonk, she would be well-served by some cutting levity.

Those last two names cited, both seen in Democratic circles as contenders for the landmark achievement of first female American president, echoes what was said about Richards and how she had the potential to rise to the Oval Office. It’s an alternative notion of history that’s quite delicious to consider, especially as the event that largely threw her out of the running was her defeat by George W. Bush in the 1994 Texas gubernatorial race.

Yes, a national Republican surge that year helped the man that Richards’ fellow Texas left-leaning wit Molly Ivins called “Shrub” win that race. And the pernicious yet effective election strategies of Bush’s operative Karl Rove also helped take her down.

But while watching All About Ann it’s enjoyable to ponder possibilities as well as recall how a woman of the people was able to largely master the political game, especially in Texas where politics has been a full-contact sport since the state was briefly its own republic. And savor how one woman demonstrated that her gender could be transformational in the political arena.

Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email orca@prismnet.com.

From The Progressive Populist, September 15, 2014


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