Tuesday, April 29, 2014

All About Ann/Governor Richards of the Lone Star State

I spend the early morning reading the news and watching whatever I have recorded on the dvr.  It's a good way for me to start the day - often gives me inspiration for my own work.

This morning I watched the new HBO film "All About Ann/Governor Richards of the Lone Star State."  Instead of continuing the editing process for the upcoming release of my novel, I feel compelled to write a post about this wonderful film and its incredible subject.

Let me say first, I met Ann Richards once and actually worked for her as a state employee during her term as governor.  Granted, we were many levels separate in the government hierarchy.  She didn't know me, but I knew her.  I also worked for her successors but that's another story and one you're not likely to hear about in this forum. 

I have been a liberal feminist my entire adult life, having heard all my childhood "oh you're just a girl."  (No I never burned my bra...in the best interest of the public.) My childhood heroes were Amelia Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt.  I loved super heroes and read the comic books.  My favorite? Wonder Woman...no surprise there.  There's a continuing pattern here...these are all women who breached barriers and stood firm for their beliefs in equality.  Amelia Earhart was a famous aviator(trix in those days) who disappeared trying to fly around the world years before I was born.  Eleanor Roosevelt championed the rights of people in the face of society's scorn and she never wavered.

Ann Richards burst on the Texas political scene in 1977 when she ran for and won the office of Texas State Treasurer.  She was the first woman to hold the office.  Under her leadership the treasurer's agency was modernized, re-vamped, and automated.  The State of Texas became a prosperous model for other states instead of one of the worst run in the country.

And then she ran for the office of Governor.  She made it through a contentious primary to emerge the Democratic candidate.  Her opponents were a former governor and the attorney general.  The campaign was vicious, with her male opponents battering her with their oratory. 

In the general election, she ran against a wealthy West Texas cattle rancher, the quintessential "good ole boy" aka a Bubba.  He was typical of many Texas governors elected to that point in time.  During the campaign he verbally shot himself in his own foot several times.  For example, he had a bunch of reporters and supporters out to his ranch.  One night around a campfire, he made a joke, basically saying if something was inevitable like rape, one should just "lie back and enjoy it."  As you might imagine that comment did not go over so well, particularly with the growing number of women voters.  But he still led all the polls.  And then there was the remark he made about his income taxes which he had not released to the public.  When asked about them he said his returns were complicated due to all his financial affairs, but then said except for the year he hadn't paid any taxes.  He said he wife would know what year that was.  He still led in many of the polls.

Ann Richards continued on point speaking of a Texas she envisioned where everybody had a place and a right to expect a good life no matter their race, gender, or age.  Of course she brought up her opponent's verbal slips, but she didn't dwell on them.  In the end she was elected Governor of Texas.  The only woman since Ma Ferguson to hold the office.  There's a great comment in the HBO documentary from Governor Richards about Ma Ferguson made on the Bill Maher show.

The HBO documentary is a remarkable look at one of the most memorable women of our time.  It chronicles her early life in the country outside Waco, Texas, where her father told her she could be anything she wanted to be.  The film moves with her throughout her life using archival footage and personal reminiscing from her friends and family.  It is at the same time, a moving tribute to this force of nature - amazing woman, and an unvarnished look at her life.  She was not perfect, but she owned up (as we'd say in Texas) to her faults and did her best to change.

I for one did not like her fondness for hunting, especially doves, but that did not tarnish her shining spirit to me.

She was a fighter, a woman who broke that blasted glass ceiling for the women in Texas government.
After she lost her bid for re-election, she picked herself up and got on with her life.

There is an interview in the HBO documentary, where one of her friends says being out with Ms. Richards in NYC was like accompanying a rock star.  She was frequently beset by fans, all wanting to talk to her.

I saw the same thing once in an Austin, TX bookstore.  Ms. Richards was the governor at that time.  She was shopping alone in a bookstore where she was all but mobbed by a woman who was gushing like the typical star-struck fan.  She told the Governor she had come to Texas from Alaska in hopes of meeting her.  She babbled at length while the Governor patiently listened to her.

Ms. Richards was not a tall woman.  The lady from Alaska was at least six feet tall and intimidating in her stance.  Miss Ann, as she was known in Texas, stood her ground and let the woman talk.  I edged to within a few feet of them, determined to help Miss Ann if she needed it.  She didn't.  At the end of the conversation she graciously thanked the woman and went on her way. I shook my head as I walked out of the store...of course she didn't need any help handling people.

Finally, the documentary shows Ann Richards as a fighter to the end.  She died of esophageal cancer, after a long bout of fighting the disease.

I realize some of you will not be fans of this lady and some of you may be too young to remember her.  That's okay with me.  Ann Richards fought to maintain the freedom for Texas and this country, giving everyone the right to their opinion and their voice.

She was a mighty personality in a small package, unhampered by her background, her thick Texas accent, or her beliefs in championing the underdog.

The HBO film gives a realistic look into this woman, with her flaws and her strengths. It made me laugh and made me cry so much I'll have to retouch my makeup. 

Ah well, Miss Ann is worth it.

Until next time...

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