Molly Ivins

On the death of newspapers.

Evan Smith: Molly, I feel like it’s fitting to talk about Ann Richards first.

Molly Ivins: Let’s talk about Annie. I’ve been writing about her and thinking about her, and what I remember is that the ’90 campaign was so crazy. I mean, there was Ann, running as the New Texas, against Clayton Williams, who kept personifying the Old Texas, right down to the boots and the racist and sexist comments. She represented inclusion—it was about bringing people in who had never been part of the good-old-boy establishment. I remember setting off from the Congress Avenue Bridge on her inauguration day and marching to the Capitol. What a feeling! We were just thrilled. Henry Cisneros was carrying his little boy, and tears were running down his face because they were going to be included too. And then, of course, Ann got handed a plate full of shit. At the time she became governor, practically every function of state government was under court order; the prisons were so overcrowded that hideous convicts had to be released. She spent all her time cleaning it up, and along came [George W.] Bush to claim all the credit.

ES: Pretty soon the tributes are going to give way to the predictable complaint: “Well, she wasn’t that great of a governor.”

MI: She wasn’t. She didn’t get anything done that people had dreamed of: new programs or changing the way things worked. She cleaned up the mess and that was about all she had time for. She was supposed to have done more in her second term—that was the thinking. Best-laid plans. I do remember one moment. She and [then—lieutenant governor Bob] Bullock started a program of alcoholic rehabilitation in the prisons, which is where we really need it. All the studies show that it cuts recidivism more than any other single thing you can try. There was the governor of Texas in a circle of prisoners saying, “My name is Ann, and I am an alcoholic.” It was so very moving.

ES: Do you buy the conventional wisdom that she looked out at four more years in that job and took a pass?

MI: I don’t think she wanted to run a second time. She was just exhausted.

ES: Did she seem happy to you in her life after politics?

MI: Oh, yes, much happier. She was free to say what she wanted, and she got to do a bunch of stuff that she’d always wanted to do.

ES: It has to be difficult for you, given your own battle with cancer, to see this person you’ve been so close to succumb to the disease.

MI: As often happens, Ann was really defeated by the treatment. She had been through the chemo and the radiation and was still in very bad shape, and she had this immensely complicated operation ahead of her, that many of us worried might leave her unable to speak, because it was an esophageal cancer. What I’ve been telling people is that the doctors are gaining on cancer very rapidly. It’s almost become a chronic disease, like diabetes—something you can treat. It doesn’t go away, and you’re not well in the sense of being over it, but you go on and live your life. I’ve said that reassuringly several thousand times to people concerning my case, so I look at Annie’s and kind of wince.

ES: Where are you in your own fight?

MI: I’ve been through three rounds with this thing, this nasty breast cancer—a very aggressive form. It has metastasized. This last time, I had chemotherapy and radiation, and what they’re going to do next is keep me on a maintenance thing. They’ve really made enormous progress. When I was first diagnosed, I went out, as a book person, and got some books on cancer and looked up my version of the disease. It said that I had about a 5 percent chance of survival. I said, “Gosh, well, it’s been a good run.” What I didn’t realize is that in the two years since those books were published, things had shifted dramatically. By the end of my first treatment, I had a 70 percent chance of survival.

ES: You’re hopeful about your situation?

MI: Oh, yeah. The doc says I’m good for years.

ES: How do you feel?

MI: Right now not altogether wonderful, because I just got through with the radiation end of it. But I had radiation one day and went on the river [in the Grand Canyon with thirteen friends] the next, because I was determined to go. We had the best time. The magic of that experience is that it reduces your ego to the size of a grain of sand, and it gives you these incredible gifts of peace and beauty. It’s one staggering vista after another. All you have to do is sit there and drink it in.

ES: How has your work life been affected?

MI: I worked through cancer twice. I probably worked through it too much the last time. This time I found myself saying, “Well, I don’t feel well. I think I’ll take the day off.” I think I did that even a little bit more than I needed to.

ES: Are you writing another book?

MI: Yeah, Lou [Dubose] and I are working on a book about what’s happening to the Bill of Rights. It’s tentatively titled Chicken Snake, from that story that John Henry [Faulk] used to tell [about the fact that although chicken snakes aren’t dangerous, some things are so scary they cause you to hurt yourself]. In all the years I’ve devoted to [defending] the First Amendment, I’ve gone around mostly to small places. I don’t go to San Francisco and New York, where they already have a lot of liberals. I go to Alabama, Mississippi, North and South Dakota, and Utah. And I’ve met some real heroes who stand up for the Bill of Rights. They’re not constitutionally trained lawyers or anything

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