“They blame the low income women for ruining the country because they are staying home with their children and not going out to work. They blame the middle income women for ruining the country because they go out to work and do not stay home to take care of their children.
– Ann Richards
TV Picks: HBO brings it with one of our favorites from the halls of American political history, Ann Richards of the great Lone Star state.
All About Ann: Governor Richards of the Lone Star State debuts April 28
*Film To Screen At The 2014 Tribeca Film Festival
In a state where even the road signs are macho, an unlikely political outsider emerged to take on the power structure. The leader who had the nerve to call the George Bush out came of age during the high tide of modern conservatism, changing Texas and the country and she did it in heels and with a big smile.
Poor George, he can’t help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth. [1988 keynote address, Democratic National Convention] – Ann Richards
Feisty, fiery, tough, unafraid, a force of nature…and funny as hell. These are a few of the terms that were used to describe Ann Richards, one of the most charismatic American political figures of the last 30 years. Debuting MONDAY, APRIL 28 (9:00-10:30 p.m. ET/PT), the compelling portrait All About Ann: Governor Richards of the Lone Star State tells her remarkable story, from the young girl who grew up poor in rural Texas to the beloved national icon and Democratic leader who rose to power in a conservative stronghold.
The documentary features interviews with close friends, family members and admirers, including former husband David Richards, daughter Cecile and son Dan, Bill Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, Michael Dukakis and Liz Smith, as well as Claire Korioth, her campaign consultant, Mary Beth Rogers, her chief of staff, Suzanne Coleman, a longtime speechwriter, Ronald Kirk, former mayor of Dallas, and Henry Cisneros, former mayor of San Antonio.
Born in 1933 in Lakeview, Texas, Ann Richards was told by her parents, particularly her father, that she could be anything she wanted to be. As an adult, this schoolteacher and suburban mother of four found her interest in politics growing after a move from ultraconservative Dallas to the more liberal Austin. Her husband David, a lawyer, encouraged her to run for office, though she warned him it might ruin their marriage, and the couple did eventually divorce.
Around this time, Richards recognized she had a problem with alcohol. With the support of her family, she went to rehab, and later recalled her stint at Hazelden as a learning experience, noting, “I realized that failure is a great teacher.”
Richards launched her political career in the late 1970s, and by 1983 had become Texas’ first female state treasurer, revamping an antiquated system and demonstrating unique leadership skills. In 1988, she gained national attention for her rousing keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention. Sparing no Republican, including President George Bush, she famously exclaimed, “Poor George, he can’t help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth!”
Richards’ sense of humor and sharp timing compelled people to pay attention. President Clinton observes, “You always gotta be careful…You don’t wanna be too cutting…But it’s incredibly disarming and it makes it hard for people not to listen to you.”
Richards overcame daunting odds to win the bitter 1990 race for Texas governor. In the three-way Democratic primary, her foes came after her hard – even feeding press rumors about cocaine use – but she knew that if you “play with the big boys, you gotta take it like they did.” She was open about her treatment for alcoholism, saying of one of her opponents, “I wish there were a treatment program for meanness.”
After winning the primary, Richards faced Republican Clayton Williams, a “good ol’ boy” who was initially way ahead in the polls. But she capitalized on his mistakes and lack of knowledge about key issues and ultimately defeated him. During the campaign Williams committed a series of on-camera gaffes that enabled her to secure the votes of many Republican women, such as saying, “Rape’s like the weather. If it’s inevitable, lay back and enjoy it,” and refusing to shake Richards’ hand in a stunt he staged.
As governor, she worked to overhaul the drug and alcohol treatment program in the prison system while striving to appoint women and minorities to key roles in state government. When Richards launched her reelection campaign in 1994, her opponent was George W. Bush, whose campaign strategist was the young and eager Karl Rove.
Though violent crime rates declined under Richards’ watch, Rove ran ads raising questions about her ability to control crime and violence. A year before, she had seemed unbeatable, with a 60% approval rating. But Bush’s unlimited funds and Rove’s whisper campaigns were too much to overcome, and Richards lost the election.
Ever upbeat, Richards insisted she was ready to get on with her life. She worked for a Washington law firm, stumped for candidates, as long as they were 100% pro-choice, became a favorite talk-show guest and continued to speak about issues close to her heart. According to her friend, columnist Liz Smith, Richards admitted to “constant heartburn,” adding, “She was really suffering from it.” That battle would be Richards’ last. She died of esophageal cancer in 2006 at age 73.
Other HBO playdates: April 28 (4:45 a.m.) and May 1 (4:45 p.m.), 4 (2:00 p.m.), 7 (8:30 a.m.) and 10 (10:15 a.m.)
HBO2 playdates: April 30 (8:00 p.m.) and May 13 (5:45 p.m.) and 20 (12:40 p.m.)