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The Life and Times of Ann Richards

by Jan Reid

Pub Date: Oct. 3rd, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-292-71964-4
Publisher: Univ. of Texas

A lucid biography of the Texas politician who briefly mounted the national stage, only to be swept aside by the events of two decades past.

Readers who recall when Texas was Democratic will certainly remember Ann Richards (1933–2006), the tough-talking, motorcycle-riding governor who drove the Bush family to distraction. At the 1988 Democratic National Convention, she famously said of Bush’s gaffes, “He can’t help it—he was born with a silver foot in his mouth.” Bush senior laughed it off, but Bush junior swore vengeance, unseating her as governor and effectively retiring her politically. Reid (Comanche Sundown, 2010, etc.), a former Richards staffer, does a solid and evenhanded, if surely partisan job of recounting Richards’ rise from a politically interested but unconnected, thoroughly liberal homemaker to chief executive of one of the nation’s most important states. The road was rocky, complicated by Richards’ drinking and drug use—a little marijuana here, a few prescription pills there (“But Ann was an alcoholic,” said one intimate. “She had a vodka problem, she didn’t have a drug problem”). Texans generally had no problem with Richards’ habits or friendships with the likes of Lily Tomlin and Willie Nelson, though one particularly ugly Republican smear campaign accused her of bisexuality—and that was before Karl Rove got into the game. Reid notes the considerable curiosities of Texas politics, in which more real power seems to rest with the lieutenant governor than the governor, and the railroad commissioner seems to answer only to God. Richards was nothing if not colorful, but she made dangerous enemies, one of whom would use her supposed indifference to educational excellence to become The Decider.

Politics junkies—particularly students of strange doings in the Lone Star State—will revel in this sturdy life.