Tags: Ann | Richards: | Woman | for | All | Ages

Ann Richards: Woman for All Ages

Friday, 15 September 2006 12:00 AM

The guys who planned to run against her for governor of Texas were furious at me. They accused me of playing favorites, taking sides, trying to give their opponent in the future Democratic primary a definite advantage.

Of course I denied it, but it was all true.

Weren't there any other choices, they kept asking.

In fact, there were plenty, starting with Bill Clinton, who was angling for the honors and was in many respects the logical choice.

But I was determined to have a woman keynote the 1988 Democratic Convention, and the woman I wanted was the bold, brilliant, funny, silver-haired Treasurer from the State of Texas, Ann Richards. There was no denying me -- or her. I'll never forget calling to tell her the slot was hers. What a great phone call to be able to make.

She became a national hero that night, with her famous line about George Bush being born with a silver foot in his mouth. If this doesn't get her elected governor of Texas, I told one of her aides that night, I give up.

Women still have trouble getting elected to executive positions in this country because of unconscious discrimination. Just as in the corporate world, no one - or almost no one - sits down and says, "We don't want a woman in that job." Quite the contrary, they may well go out of their way to say how much they'd love to support a qualified woman. But confronted with living, breathing women, there is a tendency to find them wanting, to see them as not tough enough, to worry that they won't be decisive enough, to view them as weaker than men simply because they are women.

What makes this tendency so pernicious is that it happens without the person even realizing it. That's how unconscious discrimination works. It is one of the reasons women have done far better seeking legislative offices than executive positions, one reason that governors' mansions (which are the feeding ground for the Big White House) tend to be overwhelmingly occupied by men. Twenty years ago, that was even truer.

Ann Richards was the first woman elected statewide in Texas. She was a hero to women of my generation, a generation without too many women to look up to as role models. Not perfect, but a hero. A woman of courage and humor, determination and gusto. And fun.

As governor of Texas, she made the plight of minorities, children, women and the poor her priorities. She focused on education. She was strong and tough. No one ever said she was too weak, too feminine, too soft. She should have been wildly popular. But something went wrong.

Everyone has a bad election in them. Unfortunately, Ann's came against W.

If she'd known what was to come later, she would never have let him win. I firmly believe that. And she could have stopped it. That was the tragedy. But somehow, she lost her edge that year, her fire, her determination, whatever it was that had kept her going all those other years, through drinking and not drinking, marriage and divorce, raising kids, and being alone.

And W, treating her like a national treasure, convinced voters they needed a good ol' boy and not a museum piece as governor. Their loss, and then ours.

But no one could take away that night in Atlanta in 1988, or the triumphs that followed. And when people ask me what difference it makes to have women in positions of power, I think of how hard I fought to make sure Ann Richards was the keynote speaker that year, and how proud all the women of the Dukakis campaign were that we had insisted on a woman, and what a woman. And I think of how she delivered, for us, for women everywhere, and what a bright shining light she was.

Ann Richards died on Tuesday at the age of 73.

COPYRIGHT 2006 CREATORS SYNDICATE INC.

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The guys who planned to run against her for governor of Texas were furious at me. They accused me of playing favorites, taking sides, trying to give their opponent in the future Democratic primary a definite advantage. Of course I denied it, but it was all...
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Friday, 15 September 2006 12:00 AM
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