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About Dorothy Ann Richards (Willis)
Dorothy Ann Willis Richards (September 1, 1933 – September 13, 2006) was an American politician and the 45th Governor of Texas. She first came to national attention as the state treasurer of Texas, when she delivered the keynote address at the 1988 Democratic National Convention. Richards served as the 45th Governor of Texas from 1991 to 1995 and was defeated for re-election in 1994 by George W. Bush. Ann Richards was the second female governor of Texas.
Ann Richards was born Dorothy Ann Willis in Lakeview (now part of Lacy-Lakeview), McLennan County, Texas, the only child of Robert Cecil Willis and Mildred Iona Warren. She grew up in Waco, participated in Girls State, and graduated from Waco High School in 1950. She attended Baylor University on a debate scholarship and earned a bachelor's degree. After marrying high school sweetheart David "Dave" Richards, she moved to Austin, where she earned a teaching certificate from the University of Texas. David and Ann Richards had four children named Cecile, Daniel, Clark, and Ellen.
Richards taught social studies and history at Fulmore Junior High School in Austin from 1955–1956. She campaigned for Texas liberals and progressives such as Henry B. Gonzalez, Ralph Yarborough, and future U.S. District Judge Sarah T. Hughes.
Early political career
By the 1970s, Richards was an accomplished political worker, having worked to elect liberal Democrats Sarah Weddington and Wilhelmina Delco to the Texas Legislature, and having presented training sessions throughout the state on campaign techniques for women candidates and managers. She supported ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, presenting the amendment to the delegates of the National Women's Conference, held in Houston (1978). (The amendment was never ratified by enough states to become part of the Constitution.)
In 1976, Richards ran against and defeated a three-term incumbent on the four-member Travis County, Texas Commissioners' Court; she took 81.4 percent of the vote against Libertarian opponent Laurel Freeman to win re-election in 1980. During this time, her marriage ended, in part because of the strain of politics on the relationship. Richards' drinking became more pronounced, and she sought and completed treatment for alcoholism in 1980.
After the incumbent Texas State Treasurer, Warren G. Harding (no relation to the former U.S. president of the same name), became mired in legal troubles in 1982, Richards won the Democratic nomination for that post. Winning election against a Republican opponent in November that year, Richards became the first woman elected to statewide office in more than fifty years. In 1986, she was re-elected treasurer without opposition. Richards was a popular and proactive treasurer who worked to maximize the return of Texas state investments. Richards said that when she took office, the Treasury Department was run something like a 1930s country bank, with deposits that didn't earn interest. At the 1984 Democratic National Convention, Richards delivered one of the nominating speeches for nominee Walter Mondale, and she campaigned actively for the Mondale/Ferraro ticket in Texas, even though President Ronald Reagan enjoyed great popularity in her state.
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: "I'm 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" or "Poor George, he can't help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth, " "…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, " 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' convention address has been cited by rhetorical experts as a historically significant speech. The speech set the tone for her political future. In 1989, with co-author Peter Knobler, she wrote her autobiography, Straight from the Heart: My Life in Politics and Other Places.
In 1990, Texas' Republican governor, Bill Clements, decided not to run for re-election to a third nonconsecutive term. Richards painted herself as a sensible progressive, and won the Democratic gubernatorial nomination against Attorney General (and former U.S. representative) Jim Mattox of Dallas and former Governor Mark White of Houston. Mattox ran a particularly abrasive campaign against Richards, accusing her of having had drug problems beyond alcoholism. The Republicans nominated colorful multi-millionaire rancher Clayton Williams, of Fort Stockton and Midland. After a brutal campaign and a series of legendary gaffes by Williams (most notably a "joke" about the crime of rape), Richards narrowly won on November 6, 1990 by a margin of 49-47 percent (Libertarian Jeff Daiell drew 3.3% in an effort that included TV spots and considerable personal campaigning); she was inaugurated governor the following January.
Although officially she was the second woman to hold Texas's top office, Richards is considered the first woman elected governor of Texas 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 economy of Texas 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 tried but failed to help 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.
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.
She appointed then State Representative Lena Guerrero of Austin to a vacancy on the Texas Railroad Commission. The Hispanic Guerrero (1957–2008) was the first non-Anglo to serve on the commission in history. However, problems over falsification of her resume led to her resignation from the commission and defeat by the Republican Barry Williamson in the 1992 general election.
The Texas Lottery was also instituted during her governorship—advocated as a means of supplementing school finances; Richards purchased the first lottery ticket on May 29, 1992, in Oak Hill, near Austin.
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 and 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.
In 1993, Richards signed into law the re-codified Texas Penal Code which included Section 21.06, the state's "Homosexual Conduct" law which states: "(a) A person commits an offense if he engages in deviate sexual intercourse with another individual of the same sex. (b) An offense under this section is a Class C misdemeanor." In 1990, Richards had campaigned in Houston to repeal the law. But, as governor, her signature criminalized same-sex sexual relations in Texas.
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."
She was defeated in 1994 by George W. Bush, having polled 46% of the vote to Bush's 53% (Libertarian Keary Ehlers drew the remainder), 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."
Karl Rove, the Bush campaign strategist, listed three specific reasons that may have contributed to Richards's defeat: (1) her opposition to the concealed weapon bill authored by State Representative Suzanna Hupp, which was adopted and signed by Governor Bush in 1995; (2) her attempt and then her reversal on a proposal to place five Texas waterways under federal instead of state control, a move that could have halted development in Central Texas, and (3) her remarks at a Girl Scouts conference in Austin in which she warned the young women to beware of "Prince Charming on a motorcycle with a beer gut and a wandering eye."
Richards was defeated in the 1994 Republican landslide that also unseated New York Governor Mario Cuomo, and brought a Republican majority to the United States Senate and the United States House of Representatives. Richards and Cuomo appeared in a series of humorous television commercials for the snack food Doritos shortly afterward, in which they discussed the "sweeping changes" occurring. The changes they are discussing turn out to be the new Doritos packaging.
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, became president of Planned Parenthood in 2006. Ann Richards demonstrated interest in social causes such as equality, abortion, 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.
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 ¾ 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.
Arts and film
One of Governor Richards' first legislative requests was to move the Texas Music Office (created in 1990 during the administration of Governor Bill Clements) and the Texas Film Commission (created in 1971 during Governor Preston Smith's term) from the Texas Department of Commerce to the Office of the Governor. Richards' longtime personal interest in Texas film and music greatly raised the public profile of both industries, and bringing these two programs into the Governor's Office institutionalized these industries as key, high profile parts of Texas' future economic growth plans. Other Richards music milestones include publishing the first Texas Music Industry Directory (1991), and her "Welcome to Texas" speech to the opening day registrants of the 1993 South By Southwest Music and Media Conference. She was involved with the Texas Film Hall of Fame from the beginning. At the first ceremony, she inducted Liz Smith. She was emcee every subsequent year but had to cancel at the last minute in 2006 because of her diagnosis with cancer.
Richards said, "I’ve been a friend to Texas film since the number of people who cared about Texas film could have fit in a phone booth." She was an advocate for the Texas film industry, and traveled to Los Angeles to market her state. Gary Bond, director of the Austin Film Commission, noted, "She was far from being the first governor to appoint a film commissioner; I think she was the first that really brought the focus of Hollywood to Texas."
She was also a mentor to other women. She advised Rebecca Campbell, executive director of the Austin Film Society, "Whenever you speak in public you’ve got to tell them what you need from them."
She put the spotlight on film as a genuine industry, brought more focus to Texas, and had a tremendous network of people in the entertainment industry. She brought the Film Commission into the Governor’s office, where it remains today. She gave more focus to film as a business than had been done in the past.
Evan Smith, editor of Texas Monthly Magazine and president of the Austin Film Society board of directors, commented about Ann Richards and the film industry:
"I came to know Ann first as a moviegoer. I’d walk into various movie theaters and see the white hair up above the stadium seating. That’s how you’d know she was there. People do all kinds of things to get noticed in politics, but Ann wasn’t there for anyone but Ann. She was someone who loved the movies, loved the tactile experience of being in the movie theater, loved talking about movies, loved meeting filmmakers – I think she was more excited to meet filmmakers than foreign dignitaries. At the Texas Film Hall of Fame, she was as much a celebrity at that event as anyone honored. People paid money to see her as much as anyone else there. She would often ride down to Austin on the New York plane with the celebrities being honored. One year it was with Ethan Hawke. All she wanted to talk about, at the pre-party, was that “Ethan Hawke is so cute.” She loved him. This was not something that could be faked. She was starstruck. She loved these guys … (Watching a clip from Terrence Malick’s “Days of Heaven” at a Hall of Fame ceremony), she is mesmerized by this image. I mean, her eyes are glued to that screen. Again this is not something that you can fake. And she looked at me and she said “I love the movies” with this childlike voice, this passion. Standing next to me at that moment was not the former governor, a political swordsman... she was like all the rest of us, just someone who loved the movies. It’s a terrible loss for Texas in so many ways, but for the cultural community to have an advocate in that position, you don’t have that but once a generation, if you’re lucky." – Evan Smith
Ann Richards also lent her trademark voice and command of language to the screen. She narrated the popular and humorous documentary film "Barbecue: A Texas Love Story" for young Austin director Chris Elley, going as far as holding a big BBQ rib in front of her face for publicity photos. During the voice session, she even helped revise the script. In the audio booth, she pointed out a phrase in the original script that was too vague in her opinion by joking "What does that mean?! It doesn't mean anything. It sounds like something George Bush would say." Richards also voiced parts in the Disney film "Home on the Range" and the Fox TV series King of the Hill. Richards also appeared in the 1996 The West (documentary).
It is believed her last appearance in film was in a short public announcement used at the Alamo Drafthouse asking patrons to not be disruptive during the film. The Alamo Drafthouse still uses it today, with an addition at the end in honor of Ann Richards.
Ann Richards was active in the Austin City Limits Festivals, and the South by Southwest (SXSW) Festival: the interactive, music, and film festival, held each year in Austin.
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 cancer on the night of September 13, 2006, at her home in Austin, surrounded by her family. Richards is interred at Texas State Cemetery in Austin. She was survived by her four children, their spouses, and eight grandchildren. Three memorial services were held.
Awards and recognitions
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 School in Austin, Texas, which Ann Richards helped to create, is named for her. The Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders, a college preparatory school for girls in grades 6-12, opened in the fall of 2007 in Austin, and continues to celebrate the life and legacy of 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."
In popular culture
Governor Richards is interviewed in the 1996 Ken Burns' documentary series The West about the history of Texas and the United States of America in the 1800s.
In 2001, Governor Richards guest starred as herself in a fifth season episode of the Texas-based animated TV series King of the Hill. In the episode entitled "Hank and the Great Glass Elevator", she gets mooned by Hank Hill and then enters into a brief relationship with Bill Dauterive. She is also seen in the closing credits of King of the Hill Season 1 Episode 4, playing tether ball with Willie Nelson's roadie.
Ann Richards was a topic in the film Bush's Brain (by Joseph Mealey and Michael Shoob), in a long segment regarding her defeat in the 1994 election for Texas Governor. The film presents the case that the defeat of Richards involved a whisper campaign that the governor (mother of four children) was a lesbian because she had allegedly hired many gays and lesbians to work on her re-election campaign.
In the 2008 film W., Richards is mentioned during George Bush's campaign as "Ms. Big Mouth, Big Hair".
Ann Richards is one of the characters portrayed by Anna Deavere Smith in her play, "Let Me Down Easy," which explores the meaning of the word "grace." The show opened in 2008, played in cities around the country, and was featured as part of PBS's Great Performances series on January 13, 2012.
In 2010, actress Holland Taylor debuted in a one-woman show called "ANN: An Affectionate Portrait of Ann Richards" at the Charline McCombs Empire Theater in San Antonio, Texas. The show was subsequently staged at the Vivian Beaumont Theater in New York City's Lincoln Center in 2013.