The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Ann Richards ‘bigger-than-life Texan’

Ann Richards bigger-than-life Texan

Gov. Ann Richards died on Wednesday. She was 73.

Richards was, in every respect, unique. From her signature platinum coiffure, that looked more at home on a Mary-Kay saleswoman than on a head-of-state, to her un-affected Texas twang.

Contrary to popular myth, Gov. Richards was not the first woman governor of Texas. Miriam Amanda “Ma” Ferguson had that distintion. Ferguson, whose husband had been impeached during his second term, ran under the slogan “two for the price of one,” promising to follow the policies set forth by her husband.

Like Gov. Perry, Ferguson was accused of handing out highway contracts to cronies. Unlike Gov. Bush, she was known for her high number of pardons rather than her high number of executions. Like Gov. Richards, she was feisty and not afraid of a fight, taking on single-handedly the Ku Klux Klan.

Like Ma, Ann was no shrinking violet. While Ma Ferguson took on the KKK, Richards appointed more minorities and women to state agencies than any of her predecessors. While in office, and in the ensuing years, she championed the rights of minorities, women and gays. Unlike her male counterparts, Richards wasn’t a member of the good-ol’ boys club.

Unlike her successor, George Bush, Ann was a 100 percent bona-fide Texan. Born in Lacy-Lakeview, Texas, she attended high school in Waco and graduated from Baylor University. She later earned a teaching certificate at the University of Texas at Austin, where she began both her teaching career and career in politics, beating a three-term incumbent for a seat on the Travis County Commissioner’s Court. In 1982, she was elected State Treasurer, the first woman to be elected to statewide office since Ma Ferguson. In 1986, she was reelected unopposed.

In 1988, as a featured speaker at the Democratic National Convention, she earned a place in the national political spotlight and received thunderous applause from delegates when she said of then Vice-President George (HW) Bush, “Poor George. He can’t help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.”

In 1990, Richards survived an unusually brutal primary campaign against attorney general Jim Mattox, who accused Richards of being a cocaine user and alcoholic. While the cocaine accusation was baseless, Richards’s alcoholism was a matter of public record, having entered rehab for the disease in 1980.

Bruised but not bloodied, she went on to defeat both Mattox and former Democratic governor Mark White in the primary, and defeated millionaire rancher Clayton Williams in the general election, thanks in large part to her appeal to African-American and Hispanic voters.

While in office, Richards initiated widespread reform in Texas’s prison system. Contrary to claims leveled by the George Bush campaign in 1994, Richards was tough on crime. She reduced the number of violent offenders released during her term, and she increased the number of prison beds by over 30%. In addition, she implemented drug-treatment programs for inmates in an effort to reduce the recidivism rate among drug-related offenders.

Next time you buy a scratch-off or a lotto ticket, you can either curse (if you lose) or bless (if you win) Ann Richards, during whose term the Texas Lottery was created. Since its inception, the program has contributed over $1 billion dollars in supplemental financing for Texas schools.

A governorship marked by firsts, Richards was the first Texas governor to appoint an African-American to the University of Texas Board of Regents, the first crime victim to the Criminal Justice Board, the first disabled person to the Human Services Board, the first teacher to lead the State Board of Education, and the first black and female to the famed Texas Rangers.

A proponent of gun control, Richards fought losing battles against semi-automatic weapons, cop-killer bullets and concealed handguns. Most pundits, in fact, believe it was Richards’ position on gun control that caused her to lose her reelection bid to the political neophyte and non-Texan, George W. Bush. Others point to the controversy created when she called Bush “some jerk,” a political misstep (and personal assessment) that history has proven accurate.

In 1995, when asked to reflect on her political life, she remarked, “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.'”

Since leaving office, Governor Richards has continued to champion the rights of women, minorities and the working-class. Returning to her first love, teaching, she accepted visiting teaching positions at the University of Texas and Brandeis University in Boston, where she served as a trustee until her death.

During the last year, even after being diagnosed with esophageal cancer, Richards devoted her time to opening The Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders, a college preparatory school for girls, and part of the Austin Independent School District, scheduled to open in 2007 — a fitting tribute to a bigger-than-life Texan whose contributions to all Texans were bigger than life.

Rest in peace, Ann.

About the writer:George Henson is a Spanish professor. He can be reached at [email protected].

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