Ann Richards: First woman elected Governor of Texas*, September 1 1933 - September 13 2006 Print E-mail

* Considered the first woman elected Governor of Texas in her own right, she served in that post from 1991 to 1995


1933 ANN RICHARDS 2006 [Scroll down to read Wikipedia entry]

Thursday September14, 2006

Groundbreaking politician, quintessential Texas woman

The feisty homemaker who rose to governor dies after 6-month fight with cancer


AUSTIN ­ The late former Gov. Ann Richards will lie in state in the rotunda of the state Capitol on Saturday and Sunday with her funeral on Monday, Richards' office announced today.

Richards, who shed the role of homemaker to rise through Texas politics to become the state's 45th governor and a national celebrity, died Wednesday night after a six-month battle with cancer. She was 73.

Visitation in the rotunda will be from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. both days. The funeral will be at noon Monday in the Frank Erwin Center at the University of Texas, with a private burial following in the state cemetery.

Richards was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in March.

She 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.

The 1994 contest for governor between Richards and Republican George W. Bush was spirited. But he won and it put him on the road to the White House.

The president today offered expressed a sense of loss over hearing about Richards' death on Wednesday. Bush said he and his wife, Laura, were saddened by the news.

"Ann loved Texas, and Texans loved her,'' Bush said.

"Ann became a national role model, and her charm, wit and candor brought a refreshing vitality to public life,'' the president said. "Texas has lost one of its great daughters.''

As a Democratic politician, Richards' 1990 race for governor against Republican cowboy oilman Clayton Williams became a battle of the sexes. 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. But a liberal image kept her job approval rating beneath 50 percent, and she lost her 1994 re-election bid to Bush.

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.'"

Richards was born Dorothy Ann Willis in the front bedroom of a white frame house in what is now Lacy-Lakeview, a Waco suburb. Her father, Cecil Willis, was a pharmaceutical salesman. Her mother, Ona, was a homemaker.

After earning a bachelor's degree at Baylor University in 1954, Richards did additional course work at the University of Texas to earn a teaching certificate. For a year she taught social studies and history at Fulmore Junior High School in Austin.

Richards married her high school sweetheart, David Richards, while still at Baylor. They had four children: Cecile, Clark, Ellen and Dan. As David practiced law in Dallas, Ann was a full-time mother and homemaker and a part-time political volunteer.

"I was mostly involved with my babies. We did everything by Dr. Spock; if you did not have a Dr. Spock book, you could not raise a child," Richards said in her autobiography, Straight from the Heart.

The Richards moved to Austin in 1969. Three years later, Ann Richards took her first big step toward becoming a politician, agreeing to help run a legislative campaign for Sarah Weddington.

Weddington was the 25-year-old lawyer who had won the Roe v. Wade case in the Supreme Court legalizing abortion. Weddington wanted to win a seat in the Texas House to push for laws giving women equal rights with men, such as giving a woman a right to credit in her own name and not her husband's.

Weddington won, and in her second term she hired Richards as her legislative director.

The political transformation began in 1975, when a group of Austin activist approached David Richards and asked him to run for county commissioner. When David declined, Ann decided to run for the seat, defeating an incumbent.

But while Richards political career was blossoming as a Travis County commissioner, her personal life was deteriorating. Her marriage to David was failing as they grew apart, and Richards began drinking heavily in Austin's political bars after work every day.

On Sept. 27, 1980, her family and friends cornered her in the living room of a friend's house and told her she was an alcoholic who needed treatment. Richards received treatment at the St. Mary's Chemical Dependency Center in Minnesota.

Afterward, she became a lifetime advocate for people suffering from alcohol and substance abuse problems. She helped pass laws requiring insurance companies to pay for treatment and she convinced legislators to fund expanded substance abuse programs for state prison inmates.

While the alcoholism treatment saved Richards, she said in her autobiography, the change of lifestyle that went along with being sober finished her marriage. She and David split in December 1980 and ultimately divorced in 1984.

Richards plunged into statewide politics in 1982 after discovering state Treasurer Warren G. Harding was under investigation by Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle for possible misuse of office.

Friends convinced Richards to challenge Harding in the Democratic primary, and she ended up in a runoff with him. But Harding was indicted on charges that he used state employees to send out political mail. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and dropped out of the race, effectively giving Richards her first statewide victory.

As state treasurer, Richards was a little-noticed public official. She managed state investments and the sale of bonds and cash management notes. She was best known on the "rubber chicken" circuit, making humorous speeches to civic organizations, women's groups and Democratic clubs.

Her profile changed dramatically 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 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.

Bush dismissed Richards' statement, accurately predicting he would carry Texas that fall.

"If you just go nasty, go ugly, that isn't an effective way to do business," Bush said.

In a statement today, Bush said of Richards: "I joined millions in laughing at the 'silver foot' comment, which doesn't mean I wasn't happy when she was defeated by our son a few years later. But that's politics, and Ann was one of the best in that arena. Texas will miss her."

Richards' speech set the stage for her to run for governor in 1990. She defeated former Gov. Mark White in the primary and then Attorney General Jim Mattox in the runoff.

The runoff became nasty as Mattox accused Richards of illegally using cocaine and seeing treatment for a cocaine addiction. Richards declined to answer any questions about possible past drug use.

The general election race against Williams became a classic Texas political battle. 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.

The state's male vote gave Williams the edge, but women voted overwhelmingly for Richards.

Richards became the first woman to win the Texas governor's office in her own right. Miriam "Ma" Ferguson had won the office in 1924 as a surrogate for her husband, former Gov. James Ferguson.

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.

The biggest problem that faced Richards was overhauling the state's public school finance system under orders from the Texas Supreme Court.

Voters soundly defeated a proposed constitutional amendment she supported to redistribute wealth from rich school districts to poor ones. Opponents labeled it a "Robin Hood" system.

Richards then urged the Legislature to come up with just about any school finance plan that would save Texas ­ and her ­ the embarrassment of forced school closures. Lawmakers responded with a plan that gave wealthier districts five options for sharing their property wealth. That plan also became known as "Robin Hood."

During her tenure, Richards' popularity continued to expand to a national audience. She was featured in Vogue, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Ladies Home Journal and The New York Times Magazine. Superstar photographer Annie Leibovitz took a portrait of her for Vanity Fair. Richards traded one-liners with late-night talk show hosts Jay Leno and David Letterman.

Richards' personal charm probably played best in the area of economic development. She once 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, but her job approval ratings rarely topped 45 percent in public opinion polls.

Richards' frustration erupted at one point when 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."

Bush studiously avoided engaging Richards in a personality contest. Focused on issues and aided by a national tide toward Republicans, Bush defeated Richards.

After leaving office, Richards became a client recruiter and lobbyist from the firms of Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson and Hand of Washington, D.C., and then later Public Strategies of Austin. She also was a frequent guest on CNN talk shows, particularly Larry King Live.

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."

Thursday - September 14, 2006

Richards remembered as "a true Texas hero"


After voting early one afternoon at the Travis County courthouse, Gov. Ann Richards held up her Department of Public Safety detail to admire a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

Richards carefully studied the bike, admiring its shiny chrome in the October sunlight, its size, shape and color.

When a reporter queried the governor about what she was doing, Richards replied: "I am trying to decide whether I want a cruise, or a Harley for my 60th birthday."

It was a short news story, accompanied by a photograph, that got noticed by the motorcycle company's moguls. Within hours of publication, Richards had a letter offering her a Harley-Davidson.

Richards, 73, died Wednesday after a six-month battle against esophageal cancer. Her death prompted others to praise her legacy to Texas and her well-known wit that made her national political star.

Richards' former press secretary Bill Cryer of Austin, recalled the whole Harley-Davidson saga.

"Right after that story, she came into my office and said, 'You're going to have to learn to ride a motorcycle with me.' So, she and I spent every Sunday (the next) August, learning how to ride a motorcycle, out on the Department of Public Safety headquarters' parking lot," Cryer said. "She got her license, and I got my license. And I still ride a motorcycle."

On her 60th birthday, Richards went to the DPS and passed the test for her motorcycle license. She donated the Harley-Davidson to the DPS' motorcycle safety training classes.

Cryer, who worked for Richards while she was state treasurer and governor, recalled: "It was 10 years of a great deal of fun, actually."

Texas Monthly superimposed Richards' face on a model dressed in white leather, riding a white Harley-Davidson with the headline: "White Hot Mama."

Cryer still remembers Richards' initial reaction: "I only wish I had thighs like that woman," the governor said.

On a night of mourning Richards' death, former employees, friends and politicians spent a little time laughing Wednesday over Richards' sparkling wit and love of life.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison , R-Texas, said: "Ann Richards was a trailblazer in our beloved state of Texas. She was fun, and funny, and irreverent and loved life."

" My thoughts are with her family at this sad time," Hutchison said.

Texas Democratic Party Chair Boyd Richie called Richards "a true Texas hero."

"Tonight, we lost a true Texas hero in Ann Richards. Ann knew the real meaning of public service, and her dedication to empowering others was evident throughout her entire political career. Ann was a trailblazer and a real treasure, and I know people of all political persuasions are saddened by her passing.

"I want to express our deepest sympathies to the family of Governor Richards. They are in our thoughts and prayers during this time of grief," Richie said.

Austin political consultant Glenn Smith,a former reporter who worked for former Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby, managed both of Richards' campaigns for governor.

"The first time I really got a chance to know her was when I was working for Hobby, and we went to the McDonald Observatory," Smith said. "I laughed that whole weekend."

The following Monday, Smith and Richards were featured speakers at an Austin gathering of students from Tarrant County Junior College.

"And Ann got up and introduced me by saying, "I just spent the weekend under the stars with him," Smith recalled, laughing.

John Fainter , who was Richards' chief of staff, said that Richards brought a "new openness" to Texas government.

"I think she brought an openness, a willingness to have all sides heard on things, to bring in a lot of groups and interests that had not been heard before, and had not had a chance to participate," Fainter said. "And you simply can't dissociate her sense of humor from all that she did."

Referring to Richards' 25-plus years of recovery from alcoholism, Fainter said: "Her own experiences in life brought Ann the ability to deal with things with strength, in a manner that other people might not have had. She had the ability to face issues, and not to put it off or leave it to someone else to deal with," Fainter said.

"And, it was just fun to be around her," Fainter said.

Richards was an avid Lady Longhorns fan, and frequently brought her granddaughter, Lily, named after her friend comedienne Lily Tomlin, to the basketball games at the University of Texas at Austin.

She also loved attending movies, although she was known to talk too loudly for her friends' comfort. Still, Richards recently made a filmed "announcement" for the Alamo Draught House, a theater in Austin.

The announcement shows Richards leaving her office and walking into a movie theater, as she says: "Turn off your cell phone, or Ann Richards will take your ass out!"

Richards ­ and many other Democrats ­ used to frequent a small Mexican food cafe on Congress Avenue, Las Manitas.( Republicans go there now.)

Once, Richards ordered a cappucino, and the waitress apologetically explained that they only had coffee. True to her generous spirit (and selfish to her love for cappucino) Richards bought the owners of the small restaurant a beautiful, copper cappucino maker.

There is an official portrait of Ann Richards next to the cash register at Las Manitas. With her irreverent sense of humor, Richards signed it: "Thanks for all the great food. Love, Meg Ryan."


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Ann Richards

45th Governor of Texas

Term of office: January 15, 1991 – January 17, 1995
Lieutenant Governor: Bob Bullock
Predecessor: Bill Clements
Successor: George W. Bush
Born: September 1, 1933
Lakeview, Texas

Died: September 13, 2006
Austin, Texas
Political party: Democratic
Profession: Politician
Spouse: David Richards (div.)

Dorothy Ann Willis Richards (September 1, 1933 – September 13, 2006) was an American politician from Texas. She first came to national attention as the keynote speaker at the 1988 Democratic National Convention (detailed below). Considered the first woman elected Governor of Texas in her own right, she served in that post from 1991 to 1995; she was defeated for re-election in 1994 by George W. Bush, current President of the United States. Born in Lakeview, Texas, Ann Richards died in Austin, Texas from esophageal cancer at the age of 73. [1]

Early life
Dorothy Ann Willis was born in Lakeview, TX (now part of Lacy-Lakeview, TX), as the only child of Robert Cecil Willis and Mildred Iona Warren. She grew up in Waco, Texas, and graduated from Waco High School in 1950, participating in Girls State. She received a bachelor's degree from Baylor University while on a debate scholarship. She married high school sweetheart David Richards and moved to Austin, Texas, where she earned a teaching certificate from The University of Texas. David and Ann Richards had four children: Cecile, Daniel, Clark and Ellen.

Richards taught social studies and history at Fulmore Junior High School in Austin from 1955 to 1956. She campaigned for Texas liberals and progressives such as Henry B. Gonzalez, Ralph Yarborough,and Sarah T. Hughes.

Political career
By the 1970s, Richards was an accomplished political leader, helping elect Sarah Weddington and Wilhelmina Delco to the Texas Legislature and presenting training sessions throughout the state on campaign techniques for women candidates and managers. She helped lead Texas efforts to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution; this amendment has never been added. In 1976, Richards ran against and defeated a three-term incumbent on the Travis County, Texas Commissioners Court; she was re-elected Commissioner without opposition. The conditions of politics put a strain on her marriage and she and her husband were divorced. As the effects of drinking became a problem, she was successfully treated for alcoholism in 1980. She then was elected State Treasurer in 1982, becoming the first woman elected to statewide office in more than fifty years. In winning the Democratic nomination for treasurer, Richards ended the career of a Texas politician with the same name as a president (but no relation), Warren G. Harding. In 1986, she was re-elected treasurer without opposition.
Ann Richards' official portrait at Governor of Texas

Richards's keynote address to the 1988 Democratic National Convention put her in the national spotlight when she uttered the famous line, about the wealthy, then- Vice President George H. W. Bush, "Poor George, he can't help it...He was born with a silver foot in his mouth." [2] 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.

Texas' Republican governor, Bill Clements, decided not to run for re-election in 1990. Richards painted herself as a sensible progressive, and won the Democratic gubernatorial nomination against Attorney General James "Jim" Mattox of Dallas and former governor Mark White. Mattox ran a particularly abrasive campaign against Richards, accusing her of having been a cocaine user and a reformed alcoholic. The Republican nomination for governor passed to multi-millionaire rancher Clayton Williams. After a brutal campaign, Richards narrowly won the election on November 6, 1990 by a margin of 49-47%, and was inaugurated governor the following January.

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% 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.
Ann Richards as an orator

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.

The Texas Lottery was also instituted during her governorship - advocated as a means of supplementing school finances; Ann Richards purchased the first lotto ticket on May 29, 1992. However, most of the income from the lottery went into the state's general fund rather than specifically to education, until 1997, when all lottery net revenue was redirected to the state's Foundation School Fund, which supports public education. School finance remained one of the key issues of her 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 unexpectedly defeated in 1994 by George W. Bush, winning 46% of the vote to Bush's 53%, even after outspending the Bush campaign by $2.6 million [1]. 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," recalling missteps that cost Clayton Williams the election in 1990. Richards would later commend Bush's oratory and attributed her loss in 1994 to Bush's ability to "stay on message." [2] Other people attribute her loss to the fact that she vetoed the Concealed Carry Bill that would have licensed citizens to carry guns for self-defense inside public establishments without the owner's permission. This veto may have cost Richards the 1994 election [3]. The key campaign issues in the Texas gubernatorial election were crime and gun control; Richards suffered when her stances on both issues became viewed as weak. Others have attributed her loss to the rise in power of the Republican Party nationwide that year, when the GOP took both houses in Congress and when many other Texas lawmakers lost their jobs. 1994 was the last year any Democrat won a statewide office in the Lone Star State.

Post governorship

Beginning in 2001, Richards was a Senior Advisor to the communications firm Public Strategies, Inc. in Austin, Texas 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. She campaigned tirelessly for Democratic candidates throughout the United States.

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, gay rights and women's rights.
Book since osteoporosis (written in 2004)

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, 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, which stabilized her bone density. She spoke frequently about this experience, 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, which describes her own battle with osteoporosis and offers guidance to others with the disease.

In the 2004 presidential election, Richards endorsed Vermont Governor 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 has said she was "not interested" in any degree of a political comeback.

In the Fall of 2005, she taught a class called Women & Leadership at the University of Texas at Austin. 21 female students were selected for this class.

In 2006, the Austin Independent School District announced "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 said that she had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer and would be seeking treatment at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. The disease has a five-year survival rate of 25 percent. Richards was notably absent in May 2006 at the memorial service of fellow Texas Democrat Lloyd Bentsen. She died on September 13, 2006 at the age of 73.

CBS /AP, "Former Texas Gov. Ann Richards Dies At Age 73, After A Six-Month Battle With Esophageal Cancer,", September 13, 2006, web: CBSNews-Richards.
^ The comment was a complex pun combining two American idioms: a man born into wealth (as Bush was) is described as "born with a silver spoon in his mouth", and a man who embarrasses himself while speaking (as Vice President Bush had a reputation for doing, such as stating on September 7 that it was Pearl Harbor Day, which in fact is December 7) is described as "putting his foot in his mouth".