Did you know?

In 1998, Ann Richards was elected as a trustee of Brandeis. She was reelected in 2004, and continued to hold the position until her death in 2006.

Ann Richards

richards-lrg.jpg

Ann Richards

Dorothy Ann Willis Richards (Sept. 1, 1933-Sept. 13, 2006) was an American politician from Texas. She first came to national attention as the Texas state treasurer, when she delivered the keynote address at the 1988 Democratic National Convention. Richards served as Governor of Texas from 1991 to 1995 and was defeated for re-election in 1994 by George W. Bush. Born during the start of the Depression in rural Texas, she died in Austin from esophageal cancer at the age of 73. Ann Richards was the second female governor of Texas.

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.

1988 Democratic National Convention

Richards's keynote address to the 1988 Democratic National Convention put her in the national spotlight. The speech was highly critical of the Reagan Administration and then-Vice President George H. W. Bush. Her address was notable for including several humorous remarks displaying her down-home Texas charm such as: "Poor George, he can't help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth." and "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." Richards's convention address has been cited by rhetorical experts as one of the best speeches of the 20th Century. The speech set the tone for her political future; she was a real Texan who established herself as a candidate who appealed to suburban voters as well as to the traditional Democratic base that included African Americans and Hispanics. In 1989, with co-author Peter Knobler, she wrote her autobiography, "Straight from the Heart: My Life in Politics and Other Places".

Governorship

In 1990, Texas' Republican governor, Bill Clements, decided not to run for re-election. Richards painted herself as a sensible progressive, and won the Democratic gubernatorial nomination against Attorney General (and former congressman) James Albon "Jim" Mattox of Dallas and former Governor Mark White. Mattox ran a particularly abrasive campaign against Richards, accusing her of having had drug problems beyond alcoholism. The Republicans nominated multi-millionaire rancher Clayton Wheat Williams, Jr. After a brutal campaign and a series of legendary gaffes by Williams (most notably a remark about rape) in the final weeks before the election, Richards narrowly won on November 6, 1990 by a margin of 49-47 percent; she was inaugurated governor the following January.

She was a "minority governor" because her popular vote was below 50 percent. Although officially she was the second woman to hold Texas's top office, Richards is considered the first woman elected governor in her own right, since twice-elected Miriam "Ma" Ferguson is often discounted as having been a proxy for impeached governor James E. "Pa" Ferguson, her husband.

The Texas economy had been in a slump since the mid-1980s, compounded by a downturn in the U.S. economy. Richards responded with a program of economic revitalization, yielding growth in 1991 of 2 percent when the U.S. economy as a whole shrank. Richards also attempted to streamline Texas's government and regulatory institutions for business and the public; her efforts in the former helped to revitalize Texas's corporate infrastructure for its explosive economic growth later in the decade, and her audits on the state bureaucracy saved $6 billion.

As governor, Richards reformed the Texas prison system, establishing a substance abuse program for inmates, reducing the number of violent offenders released, and increasing prison space to deal with a growing prison population (from less than 60,000 in 1992 to more than 80,000 in 1994). She backed proposals to reduce the sale of semi-automatic firearms and "cop-killer" bullets in the state.

During her first term, she signed into law the amendment of the Texas Financial Responsibility Law where renewal of a motor vehicle's registration (also covers initial registration of a motor vehicle), safety inspection sticker, driver's license, and/or obtaining new license plates require that a motorist must have a valid auto insurance policy. The law, which passed on September 1, 1991, broadens the 1982 law where a police officer will request a driver's license and proof of insurance during a traffic stop.

The Texas Lottery was also instituted during her governorship - advocated as a means of supplementing school finances; Ann Richards purchased the first lottery ticket on May 29, 1992, in Oak Hill, Texas.

School finance remained one of the key issues of Richards' governorship and of those succeeding hers; the famous Robin Hood plan was launched in the 1992-1993 biennium which attempted to make school funding more equitable across school districts. Richards also sought to decentralize control over education policy to districts and individual campuses; she instituted "site-based management" to this end.

She was famous for her personal charisma, for her ease with the public, and even for her see-through wispy white hairdo. It was said that many people who knew her personally saw little if any difference between her public and private personas. Her sense of humor was often part of her day-to-day political life. Regarding a concealed weapons bill, she was asked if she didn't think the women of Texas might feel safer if they could carry guns in their purses. She replied, "Well I'm not a sexist, but there is not a woman in this state who could find a gun in her handbag, much less a lipstick." On the subject of women in politics, Richards observed during her 1988 Democratic National Convention keynote address that "Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels."

She was unexpectedly defeated in 1994 by George W. Bush, winning 46 percent of the vote to Bush's 53 percent, despite spending 23% more than the Bush campaign. The Richards campaign had hoped for a misstep from the relatively inexperienced Republican candidate, but none appeared, and Richards created one of her own in calling Bush "some jerk". In their book, James Moore and Wayne Slater allege that Bush and his advisor, Karl Rove, also resorted to using a smear campaign against Richards. Other people attribute her loss to the fact that she vetoed the Concealed Carry Bill that would have allowed licensed citizens to carry guns for self-defense inside public establishments without the owner's permission. Bush would thereafter sign a concealed-gun law, which was pushed by a future Republican lawmaker, state Representative Suzanna Hupp of the Killeen-based district. Also a factor may have been President Bill Clinton and the national democratic party's unpopularity in Texas at the time, as Richards had played a prominent role in the 1992 Democratic National Convention and the Bush campaign successfully associated her with the national party.

Post Governorship

Beginning in 2001, Richards was a senior advisor to the communications firm Public Strategies, Inc. in Austin and New York. From 1995 to 2001, Richards was also a senior advisor with Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson and Hand, a Washington, D.C.-based international law firm. Richards sat on the boards of the Aspen Institute, J.C. Penney, and T.I.G. Holdings.

One of her daughters, Cecile Richards, also a liberal activist, became president of Planned Parenthood in 2006. Ann Richards demonstrated interest in social causes such as equality, abortion, gay rights and women's rights.

She was a tireless campaigner for Democratic candidates throughout the United States. In the 2004 presidential election, Richards endorsed Howard Dean for the Democratic nomination, and campaigned on his behalf. Richards later stumped for Democratic nominee John Kerry, highlighting the issues of health care and women's rights. Some political pundits mentioned her as a potential running mate to Kerry; however, she did not make his list of top finalists, and he selected North Carolina Senator John Edwards. Richards for her part said she was "not interested" in any degree of a political comeback.

Teaching

Ann Richards had taught social studies and history at Fulmore Junior High School in Austin (1955-1956). She continued teaching in later years.

Richards served at Brandeis University as the Fred and Rita Richman Distinguished Visiting Professor of Politics from 1997 to 1998. In 1998 she was elected as a trustee of Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, she was reelected in 2004, and continued to hold the position until her death.

She was diagnosed with osteoporosis in 1996, having lost 3/4 inch in height and broken her hand and ankle. She changed her diet and lifestyle, and then her bone density stabilized. She spoke frequently about this experience, teaching or advocating a healthier lifestyle for women at risk of the disease. In 2004, she authored I'm Not Slowing Down, with Dr. Richard U. Levine (M.D.), which describes her own battle with osteoporosis and offers guidance to others with the disease.

In a review of I'm Not Slowing Down by Steve Labinski, the book was described as inspiring women to fight the disease with various tactics, such as:

  • identifying factors that might increase vulnerability to osteoporosis including lack of estrogen, menopause, and usage of drugs related to caffeine, tobacco and alcohol;
  • emphasizing the impact of bone-density tests and explaining the process using Ann Richard's own bone test as an example;
  • supplying an extensive list of calcium-enriched foods which are beneficial, plus noting some foods to avoid;
  • listing everyday tips to improve muscle condition and prevent bone injuries.

Reviewer Labinski also noted that in the mission to help women overcome osteoporosis, Ann Richards had created a useful, and often humorous, book that would inspire many.

In the fall of 2005, Ann Richards taught a class called "Women and Leadership" at the University of Texas at Austin: twenty-one female students were selected for that class.

Final Year

In 2006, the Austin Independent School District announced the opening of The Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders, a college preparatory school for girls, with grades 6-12 which will open in the fall of 2007. The intellectual focus will be math, science and technology, while the physical focus is building strength through good nutrition, exercise and other wellness strategies.

In March 2006, Richards disclosed that she had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer. She received treatment at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

She died from the esophageal cancer on September 13, 2006, at night in her home in Austin, surrounded by her family. She was survived by her four children, their spouses, and eight grandchildren.

Awards

During her career, Ann Richards received many awards and honors including: Baylor Distinguished Alumna, the Texas NAACP Presidential Award for Outstanding Contributions to Civil Rights, the National Wildlife Federation Conservation Achievement Award, the Orden del Aguila Azteca (Order of the Aztec Eagle) presented by the government of Mexico, the Maurice N. Eisendrath Bearer of Light Award from the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, and the Texas Women's Hall of Fame honoree for Public Service.

The Ann Richards Middle School in La Joya, Texas is named for Governor Richards.

On November 16, 2006, The City of Austin changed the official name of Congress Avenue Bridge to "Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge."