Former Texas Governor Ann Richards Dies at 73

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Former Texas Governor Ann Richards died Wednesday night after a six-month battle with cancer. She was 73 years old. Under the banner of promoting a “New Texas,” Richards appointed more women and more minorities to state posts than any of her predecessors. We play an address by Richards speaking in 2004 and speak about her life with veteran Texas lawyer Sissy Farenthold. [includes rush transcript]

Former Texas Governor Ann Richards died Wednesday night after a six-month battle with cancer. She was 73 years old. A longtime Democrat, Richards served as Texas governor for one term before losing her reelection bid to George W. Bush. Her family says she was most proud of two actions that likely cost her re-election. Richards vetoed a bill that would have allow people to carry concealed handguns and another many feared would have allowed the destruction a major underground water system that now serves nearly two million people in south central Texas.

During her keynote address to the 1988 Democratic National Convention, she famously said of then-Vice President George HW Bush, “Poor George, he can’t help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.” Under the banner of promoting a “New Texas,” Richards appointed more women and more minorities to state posts than any of her predecessors. One of her last projects, the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders is scheduled to open in Austin next year. Shortly before leaving office in 1995, Richards said: “I did not want my tombstone to read, “She kept a really clean house.” I think I’d like them to remember me by saying, “She opened government to everyone.””

At the 50th anniversary of the Texas Observer in December 2004, Ann Richards was one of the keynote speakers. We play an excerpt of her address.

  • Ann Richards, speaking at the 50th anniversary of the Texas Observer on December 4, 2004.

For more on Ann Richards we speak with veteran Texas lawyer Sissy Farenthold.

  • Sissy Farenthold, Veteran Texas lawyer and political figure. Served 2 terms in the Texas legislature. Co-founder of the National Women’s Political Caucus, a grassroots organization dedicated to increasing women’s participation in the political process.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: At the 50th anniversary of the Texas Observer in December 2004, Ann Richards was one of the keynote speakers. I had a chance to videotape her talk. During her speech, she talked about airport security.

ANN RICHARDS: I wasn’t going to tell you this story, but because of Ronnie’s speech, I think I will. All of us by our very nature want to resist from time to time. And now that Ronnie has laid down the real challenge, I think my resistance is really going to take place at the airport. For many of you who travel a great deal — I know that Hightower and Molly do, because I see them in the airports — the bastion of freedom now that is most in jeopardy is the freedom to be able to get on a plane without being hassled. And as we’re stripping our clothes off and taking our shoes off and disrobing, so that we can keep the country safe for democracy in the hands of those people at TSA, I want to tell you of my experience in the last election.

I was traveling all over the country for various candidates and for John Kerry. And as a consequence, I was going from one town to another, sort of town-hopping. And for those of you who travel a lot, you know that if you buy a one-way ticket, you are going to have a bunch of s’s put across the bottom of your boarding pass, which means that you are a security risk and are required to have a body check. So I had bought a ticket that was going to get me from South Bend, Indiana to Detroit, Michigan, and then to Madison, Wisconsin. So I was doubly suspicious. And it is a given that the smaller the town, the higher the security in America. Half of the town works for the inspectors at the airport. And the reason for that, of course, is that when the pork was doled out in Homeland Security, all the little towns got all the money.

So, as I say, I was leaving South Bend, Indiana on my first leg to get to Detroit, Michigan. And I had s’s all over my boarding pass. And as I walked up, they said they would have to inspect my bag in front of me, which they did, and then I went through the security with my shoes and jacket and everything off. And they went through my — they were going through my purse. They were going through my briefcase. And I had my feet very firmly planted on the little imprint of the feet that they have there on the rug. And I was ready to go with the woman with the wand giving me the inspection. And I wear a garment that is called a bodysuit. And for — and I wear these all the time because they’re easy to wear and you can wash them out and they’re dry the next morning. And for you men who do not wear these garments, I need to give you the explanation that it comes over your head, through your arms and it comes down around the front and then down around the back and it has three snaps in the crotch. And so as the woman is taking the wand outlining my body, my crotch set off her wand.

She was totally disturbed. She said, “I’ve got to get my supervisor.” And I said, “Look, don’t — you know, you don’t have to do that. I’ll take my pants off, because I’ve got on a bodysuit that’s got these three little metal snaps, and that’s what’s caused your wand to go off.” She says, “No, I’ve got to get my supervisor,” because, obviously, this is not in the manual. She brought a big officious-looking woman over who was the woman in charge. And I said, “I’m wearing a bodysuit. I’ve got three metal snaps in the crotch, and I’ve set off your assistant’s wand.” And she said, “I don’t know how we’re going to resolve this.” She said, “I don’t suppose you would object if we had to pat you down.” I said, “You can’t imagine how thrilled I am.” And so, I’m with Ronnie on this. It is time for us to resist. It is time to say, “Hell, no, I won’t go! I’m not going to do it anymore.”

I’m thrilled to be here tonight. I’m tickled to death to be here with particularly all of these old Observer editors and writers who have gotten rich writing George Bush books. Something good had to come out of this. I congratulate all of you as survivors. If you were around 50 years ago, and many of us unfortunately were — we saw the Observer get started, and we haven’t pulled our hair out. We haven’t surrendered our citizenship. We have not moved to Mexico or to Canada. You are my kind of people. I think that we all might look a little worse for the wear, but it is amazing to me that we actually lived this long.

50 years ago, we were certain we could change the world, and we were going to start with Texas. It was our goal to run off the Republicans who were running on the Democratic ticket, and we were going to take over our party and, by God, we did it. And I’m proud of it to this day. At least if they’re going to do the things they’re going to do, they’re going to do it as Republicans and they’re not going to do it as Democrats anymore.

AMY GOODMAN: Ann Richards, she was speaking in 2004 at the 50th anniversary of the Texas Observer honoring Molly Ivins. Ronnie Dugger was also there. She died last night at the age of 73 of cancer of the esophagus. She was getting treatments here in Houston. She died at her home in Austin with her family at her side.

We’re joined on the telephone now by Sissy Farenthold. She is a political institution herself here in Texas. She served in the state legislature. She was founder of the National Women’s Political Caucus, and she was the first woman to have her name put in nomination for vice president of the United States in 1972. Sissy Farenthold usually lives here in Houston, but she’s now in Aleppo, Syria. We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Sissy Farenthold.


AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us.

SISSY FARENTHOLD: Your phone call to my place in Houston was the first I had heard of Ann’s death, and I got it over here a couple of hours ago. I was shocked, because I would make inquiry from time to time, and I thought she was doing reasonably well.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about Ann Richards’s significance?

SISSY FARENTHOLD: Well, I was trying to look back. When I first knew Ann was when I was in the Texas legislature. And she and her husband were particularly known for their — she, particularly, for her wit. And I can remember some extraordinary Christmas cards you would get from them, and they would never have their names on them, and you would have to puzzle through what — who they were from. And then in ’72, I remember she was the campaign manager for Sarah Weddington. I had left the legislature to run for governor in ’72, and Sarah was coming in at the — during the time I served, I was the only woman in the House. Jordan was in the Senate.

And then, Ann, from there, went to the first woman county commissioner in Travis County. And if you know anything about Texas politics, the county commissioner’s court, which is a very powerful local entity, has really been a male bailiwick. And so that was extremely significant. I was out of the state up as president of Wells College, when she moved from county commissioner to treasurer.

And then, of course, she ran — the best I can figure out was '84, I think, when she ran for governor and on the Democratic ticket. And, of course, I think the outstanding thing that she accomplished while she was governor was treatment for people with drug abuse in the prisons. And I think that's something that’s just totally out the window these days in Texas, but it was a very, very significant, very significant policy of hers. Also, you know, we do have — the power of appointment is the strongest thing, I think, that a governor has under our system in Texas. And there were a number of women that came into appointed positions under Ann. And I think that in the long term was another very significant issue for her. And, of course, you could never get away from that wonderful wit of hers. There’s just no one who could touch her on that score.

AMY GOODMAN: She was famous for her wit. She exploded on the national stage at the 1988 Democratic Convention, when she made that comment about Vice President George H.W. Bush.

SISSY FARENTHOLD: I was there, and it was quite a moment.

AMY GOODMAN: She said, “Poor George was born with a silver foot in his mouth.” She also said, “I think I was brought out here to let you hear what a real Texas accent sounds like.”

SISSY FARENTHOLD: But she was — her wit, no one could touch that wit. It was always with her.

AMY GOODMAN: She talked about her legacy, that one of the things she was most proud of was opening up government to women and people of color in her own administration. Could you talk more about that, Sissy Farenthold?

SISSY FARENTHOLD: Yes, and that’s what I said. That has a long lasting effect. Unfortunately — and it has a longer lasting effect probably than her wonderful policy about helping people in the prison [inaudible] structure that we have with drug abuse, because that’s been tossed out. That was tossed out of the window, is my understanding, with the Republican administrations we have. But opening it up to women and, well, both Hispanics and African Americans, was something that was long overdue in Texas.

AMY GOODMAN: And now, she will be honored by this school that she has been working on setting up in Austin that’s expected to open next year: the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders.

SISSY FARENTHOLD: I was not aware of that. The last I knew, that an elementary school had been named for her, but I didn’t know what you’re mentioning right now.

AMY GOODMAN: And her daughter, of course, Cecile Richards is the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

SISSY FARENTHOLD: And she, herself, has had an extraordinary list of accomplishments. And that was certainly training with Ann, I’m sure.

AMY GOODMAN: Sissy Farenthold.


AMY GOODMAN: Sissy Farenthold, I want to thank you very much for joining us. Sorry that you’re not here in Houston, so that we could interview you in the studio. Sissy Farenthold is a political — major political figure in Texas. She was in the state legislature. She was nominated to be vice presidential candidate in the United States in 1972. And she is speaking to us from Aleppo, Syria, where she has just gone for a few days. This is Democracy Now!, Ann Richards, the former governor of Texas, is dead at the age of 73. She died of esophageal cancer last night at her home in Austin.

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