Ann Richards: Sadder but Wiser
Fri March 7, 2014 8:49 am

In the April 1994 cover story, Paul Burka wrote about the Democratic governor who had come up through the party’s liberal wing and had gained a national profile after a feisty and funny keynote speech at the 1988 Democratic National Convention. That’s where she went to work on George H.W. Bush: “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” and “Poor George. He cain’t help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth” (her delivery on that last line is perfect; she takes 23 seconds to utter those sixteen words). Six years later, as Richards prepared to face George W. Bush in the 1994 general election, Burka discovered a politician whose outlook had changed, who had been hurt as much if not more by her own people than her partisan opponents. As she told Burka: “I’ve always said that in politics, your enemies can’t hurt you, but your friends will kill you.” Burka writes:

Ann Richards’ popularity remains high. Her lead over George W. Bush holds steady in the polls. But inside, something has changed. She has lost the exuberance of her first months in office. During her speech, Richards made a modest promise or two, the audience clapped politely at several points, and a couple of jokes elicited light ripples of laughter. But she never really roused the crowd or herself. Who would have thought that Ann Richards, the first Texas governor to come up through the liberal wing of the Democratic party, would go to La Joya to deliver a speech that seemed to say, “Ask not what your government can do for you, because it can’t do very much”?


That somber tone is reflected thoughout the piece. Gone are the days when she was the “White Hot Mama” of the famous July 1992 cover. The cover type for this issue was “Ann vs. Ann.” Burka concludes:

She has lost the faith in government solutions that is required of the true liberal. The issues she will talk about during the current campaign are economic development and crime. She will say that Texas has half a million new jobs since she took office and that she has built more prisons than any other Texas governor. She will say, as she said to me, “There’s a new pride in Texas now, a feeling that this state is good again. We have laid in place the foundation for Texas to become the largest free trade zone in the world.” A Republican could run for governor on Richards’ two main issues. Indeed, one did. His name was Clayton Williams.

It is not the kind of profile one might expect about Richards, who had such a big public persona. But it is a thoughtful and candid look at a politician who was struggling with the limitations of power and the shortcomings of her own administration.

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