Who Was Ann Richards?
Texas Democrat Ann Richards began working for political campaigns in 1950. She was elected county commissioner in 1976, then state treasurer in 1982. She made waves at the 1988 Democratic Convention when she said that Republican nominee George H.W. Bush was "born with a silver foot in his mouth." She became the governor of Texas in 1990, and although she only spent one term in office — losing the 1994 election to George W. Bush — she was known for plans to build a "new Texas." She died of complications with esophageal cancer in 2006.
Ann Richards was born Dorothy Ann Willis on September 1, 1933, in Lacy-Lakeview, Texas. Known for her sharp wit, strong personality and liberal political views, Richards fought for women's and minority rights and worked to bring more women and minorities into power. She showed political promise in high school, excelling in debates. Her strong debating skills earned her a college scholarship, graduating from Baylor University in 1954. She went on to get a teaching certificate at the University of Texas in Austin in 1955.
Entry into Politics
Richards entered politics in the 1950 as a volunteer for several Democratic gubernatorial campaigns. She later ran the successful campaign to elect Sarah Weddington — the lawyer who argued the winning side of Roe v. Wade in front of the U.S. Supreme Court — to the Texas legislature in 1972. Four years later Richards made her first bid for public office. She won a commissioner position for Travis County. She then moved from local to state government in 1982 when she won the election to become the state treasurer. She was re-elected to that post in 1986.
Richards' political profile kept rising. She was in the national spotlight for the keynote address at the 1988 National Democratic Convention. During her speech, she took a jab at George H.W. Bush, then vice president, saying "Poor George, he can't help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth." The remark was widely repeated in the press coverage of the event.
Governor of Texas
In 1990, Richards ran for governor, pledging to increase the role of minorities and women in state government as plan of her plan for a "new Texas." Once elected, she made good on her promise by adding African Americans and women to the Texas Rangers, a law enforcement agency. She also created the state lottery and improved the prison system.
While serving as governor, Richards was appointed chairwoman of the Democratic National Convention in 1992. The convention selected Bill Clinton to run for president of the United States. Richards soon had her own election battle to worry about. George W. Bush, the son of the man she so famously insulted, ran against her in 1994 for the governorship. Richards said once that she had underestimated her opponent, dismissing him at one point as "some jerk." She lost her re-election bid and left office in 1995.
After leaving office, Richards lent her voice and her expertise to numerous liberal causes. She offered advice and counsel to other Democratic politicians. Richards also worked as an adviser and a consultant. Recently she had involved with the creation of the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders in Austin. Employing techniques especially tailored for female students with an emphasis on leadership skills, the school will open in 2007.
Battling esophageal cancer for six months, Richards died from complications of the disease on September 13, 2006, in Austin, Texas. She was survived by her four children from her marriage to David Richards and eight grandchildren. Shortly after her death, former president Clinton escorted her casket to the Capitol where thousands came to pay their last respects to one of the greatest politicians in Texas history. Others, such as actress Lily Tomlin and newspaper columnist Liz Smith, spoke at her funeral and at her public memorial service.
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