Thursday, September 14, 2006

Ann Richards - Authentic, Rare and Gone too Soon...

from www.vermontwoman.com
The Honorable – and Irrepressible – Ann Richards
by Katharine Hikel

When Ann Richards was voted in as Texas State Treasurer, she was the first woman in fifty years to be elected to state office in the Lone Star State. She served as Governor from 1990-1994. Born in Waco, she graduated from Baylor University and the University of Texas. Though she started out as a junior high school teacher, she has been immersed in politics for most of her life, even as a mother of four and grandmother of six. Richards served four years as Chair of the Democratic National Committee.

Richards is the author of Straight from the Heart: My Life in Politics and Other Places, as well as I’m Not Slowing Down – Winning My Battle with Osteoporosis.

In 1988 Richards delivered the acclaimed keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, which she opened by saying “I am delighted to be here with you this evening because after listening to George Bush all these years, I figured you needed to know what a real Texas accent sounds like.”
On Sunday, May 22 Vermonters can come hear for themselves what a real Texas dynamo’s accent sounds like as the Vermont Woman Speakers Bureau presents the sharp wit of “Ann Richards Being Ann Richards” (Sheraton Conference Center, So. Burlington - click here for ticket information). For a sneak preview, here’s an excerpt from our recent chat with Governor Richards:

Ann Richards
What do y’all do? Tell me about this newspaper … give me an idea of some of the things you write about.

Vermont Woman
We have articles about health care, the political scene, environment, education. We are very political, but we also have humor in the paper. We also carry your friend Molly Ivins' syndicated column.

Ann Richards
Well that’s fabulous. I have been a devotee of the “Today” show for years. I have watched it so many years that I can listen to it, and time myself getting dressed. I know how much time I have left before I have to be out of there. And of late, the stories have been not quite the equivalent of dogs that can walk on their hind legs – but stories like parents helping their children with their homework. As far as any substantial, substantive news, it’s just not there.

Of course I noticed that the producer of the show just lost his job and they’re putting someone else in there, and they’re losing market shares…. I think their assumption is that all we’re interested in is these little, silly human interest stories.

Vermont Woman
Our rule is no recipes and no diets.

Ann Richards
(Laughs) Well that’s a deal!

Vermont Woman
How many times have you been to Vermont?

Ann Richards
I came once, if not twice, to speak for Howard Dean.

Vermont Woman
Have you seen Howard Dean lately? Because we never see him.

Ann Richards
No, I haven’t talked to Howard … and I know he’s going to have one of those opportunities one of these days real soon. And he’s going to hear a lot from me.

Vermont Woman
What will you have to say to him, Governor?

Ann Richards
Well, I am going to talk to him about the general tone and tenor of the Democratic Party. I am going to tell him that when he is looking to build the base of the party, the base that he can depend on, that is really very consistent – it’s the women voters. And when he loses female support, when the Democrats lose female support, they lose elections. So we have to build our base. I don’t think the party would go to black voters and say, “You know, I think we’re going to have to equivocate a little bit on the idea of civil rights, change just a little bit so that we sound better." Or we may tell environmentalists, “Now I don’t want you all to think that we’re not for clean air, but we may have to support legislation that says that air can be just a tiny bit dirty.”


Vermont Woman
Whenever it’s a question of women, there’s always that "We have to temper it" – unlike with any other constituency.

Ann Richards
Right, and that’s exactly what I intend to say. And if Dean wants to keep the base of support of the Democratic Party, they might try to be more artful in the way they express themselves on a lot of issues for women. But they darn sure aren’t going to improve their chances of support by equivocating on women’s right to choose.

Vermont Woman
We were talking to Linda Kaplan Thaler, a media mogul in New York recently, who was considering taking on Hillary’s campaign. She was bemoaning the 40 million women, known as “swingles” (single, self-supporting, low to moderate income women, with kids) who would vote Democratic if they voted – but they don’t vote.

Ann Richards
Yes, so what are we going to do? I don’t like to blame everything on the media, but most people do not gain their passion or their interests because of what is said to them on television. You develop a connection with a person running for office only if you have some link to that person that is personal to you. In the old days, the whole notion was of going door to door and all that. Then the Republicans suddenly picked up and said “We win these races just by buying TV,” and it works pretty well for them. But when it comes to Democrats – they feel like they have some investment in you, and you have some care and attention about them. And we’re a long way away from that.

We’re still trying to win elections running ads. And we might as well be a box of soap, particularly when it comes to young women. What was said to them in the last campaign that would make one bit of difference to them for either one of the candidates? I would suggest to you nothing. ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! So if we can’t learn how to talk to these young women, we’re going to continue to lose elections.

Vermont Woman
Do you think there’s a unifying politic or set of issues that the Democrats can actually address on that account? You know, schools, health care, etc. I think that’s what these women care about.

Ann Richards
I don’t know whether it is or not. You know, this isn’t rocket science. Somehow the Republicans are able to figure out that if we talk about X as an issue, we’re going to capture the imagination of the public if we continue to say it enough. Democrats haven’t done that. Now predictably what we do is we put a list together, and we say “which issues do you care about the most?” And the list is always the same. It’s education, it’s the economy, it’s crime, and the only thing that happens from election to election is that the same issues get shifted in their ranking. So it really doesn’t tell us a whole lot. You can capture the people’s imagination by finding a very specific issue that they show is something that matters to them. Now, if you can’t find that issue, then — boy do I understand that. On the last election that I ran, I could never find it. But I think we have the ability to do that, and we simply haven’t done it.

Then, the other thing is, the Democrats are different than the Republicans We don’t just suit up and march to the drum when somebody tells us this is the candidate. We expect the candidate to then prove themselves to us. We’ll go to a meeting and we’ll say “You know, she didn’t talk about maple trees, she talked about cedar trees. And cedar aren’t a problem for us, it’s the maple trees that are a problem. So I’ll just show her. I won’t vote.” We’re a suspicious bunch.

Vermont Woman
Let's talk about women and politics, and how to get more women into the pipeline. Our big problem is, why is there still not even 50% of women in Congress?

Ann Richards
Well it’s real simple. It's that women have other options. It used to be that a lot of people ran for office just because it was the only way in the community for them to get a really good job and be recognized, and be in a role of leadership. Well now, that’s not true. You know, you can be a doctor, a lawyer, a CPA, any number of things.

Vermont Woman
Is it because the culture of politics is more repulsive to women than the culture of medicine or law?

Ann Richards
No. It’s just that they have other options. It doesn’t mean that the passion isn’t there for politics. You know when I was a young woman and growing up, you had either the option of being a teacher or a nurse. It didn’t mean you had to have passion for one or the other; it just meant that that’s what you could do. Well now you go to college, you can even go to graduate school. We couldn’t go to graduate school when I was a young woman. Now, the opportunities and the options are wide open. So there’s no reason for you to feel a passion about getting involved in politics.

Vermont Woman
Is there a financial issue? Are women not getting the support that they need to run?

Ann Richards
I think it’s harder for women to raise the amount of money. But if you’ve got the credibility and you’ve got ability, you’ll find a way or you wouldn’t have women in Congress now.

I try to talk to women about what their history has been. How dramatically things have changed, instead of this moaning and groaning, wringing your hands over why aren’t there more. You know, I’ve got a pretty good perspective on what a miracle it is there are as many as there are. I think women need to have that perspective. I think they need to understand what sociologically they have been taught to do, is to be caretakers. I think it’s amazing that you find a woman anywhere that can say out loud, “One of things I really need to do with my life is make money.”

You know, they’re just like you all. They’re going to tell me how devoted to the cause they are, so therefore they don’t make any money. They’re going to end up being gray-haired, and their husband’s going to run off with the blonde next door. And they can’t figure out how in god’s name they’re going to support themselves. So I talk about money and how important that is in your life and what you can do. And then I talk about your health. And taking care of yourself, instead of worrying about how to take care of your momma, you should be worried about taking care of you.

Vermont Woman
We're already gray-haired, so it's a good thing we aren't married; at least our husbands won't be running off. We wanted to ask you, are we going to get a woman president? Is it going to be Hillary or Condi?

Ann Richards
Well, I always thought I’d see a woman president in my lifetime. So that means, in the next say 15-20 years. Who’s it going to be? I don’t know. You don’t either. None of us know. The way politics is now, we have a short attention span. We’re always going to go with the person we know the least, because once we get to know people personally, we decide they’re not the reincarnation of the savior.

Vermont Woman
That’s funny, given how long people stay in the Senate.

Ann Richards
Well, you can re-elect them but you can’t elect them President. It’s very hard going from the Senate to being President.

Vermont Woman
So we need more fresh faces to chose from?

Ann Richards
Well, I always think that new means change. And things are going to change, whether they change the way you want them to or not. And the present administration is a perfect example of that. Things change by your not being a participant, as much as they do by your taking on issues, and fighting for them.

Vermont Woman
That brings us to the whole idea of campaign issues. The Republicans so easily capture "family values," which is basically slang for a lot personal stuff. We read something that said basically those personal values are selfish, and contrary to the spirit of community, and democracy. The whole idea of civil liberty – allowing people, with governance, to practice their own beliefs – is falling by the wayside. Maybe the Democrats could capture that?

Ann Richards
All we have to do is ask some people, and they’ll tell us. But you have to ask them in the right way. You have to ask them a question they can actually respond to, to give you the information you need to know. People are perfectly willing to repeat things that sound good, even if it doesn’t make sense. The fact that George Bush was a “compassionate conservative” could be repeated by almost every voter in this country. One, is because he never got off message, and he said it every time he stood up. And secondly, it sounded like maybe he was a nice person.

So it’s not that complicated. You have to go ask people what really makes a difference to them, and we’ve got a lot of sophisticated ways of doing that. But the Democrats simply are unwilling to get a message and stick to it, because we’re trying so hard to have all of these participants under the big tent, and we’re so busy giving every one of them a message that will keep them under the tent, that we confuse the public. And if you want to look at a perfect example here, everybody says “Oh my goodness, look at how Bush has his head handed to him over Social Security.”

Well I want to suggest to you that he’s done a masterful job of distracting the public from the two main issues they care about more than anything else, and that’s health care and the economy. And nobody’s talking about it, because they have controlled the dialogue and made the argument over social security. So it’s not necessarily what is your cause, but also the way you control the message for your purposes. And we know how do to that! We just don’t do it.

Vermont Woman
We can get abortion rights without talking about abortion?

Ann Richards
We can get abortion rights if we can talk about it in terms that people can accept and understand – and times change! When we were working hard on the Equal Rights Amendment, we talked about abortion rights in an entirely different way. Now you have to talk about it today. That doesn’t mean you give up on it. Or give up on a woman’s right to chose, and a woman being the master of her own destiny and future. It means that your language is such that it is acceptable to the public.

Vermont Woman
So what do you think of the Bush dynasty?

Ann Richards
Not much.

Vermont Woman
You’ve been living with them a long time!

Ann Richards
I certainly have. That’s why the graduation rates from the state of Texas are the worst in the union. Kids can’t graduate from high school, because we’ve had Bush’s education program longer than the rest of the country.

I think the foreign policy and the actions of the administration have been dreadful. And I’m scared to death of the economy. And some of the really smart people I know in New York, who are supposed to know about these things, are scared to death too. To me, it’s far more significant to ask who has been the group of people who have suffered the most under this administration. How much money have they lost? How many programs have they lost if they are female or poor? What has been the impact on education?

Vermont Woman
What about that "W is for women" motto?

Ann Richards
Nobody says that here in Texas. He’s been the worst president for our health care, for our opportunities in economic advancement, for our education, for the quality of education, for our children, and I certainly can’t say that as a mother, he has been a good president in sending our young men and women to be killed. But I’ve learned that the public will accept things that are not true simply because they are said over and over again.

Women have very little opportunity to get good solid news because we know that now the Bush administration is putting out the television stories that the networks and the cable stations pick up, that most of the stuff we hear has to do with whether or not diaper rash can be affected by corn starch, or do you really need powder.

The fact that you have a print medium that is going to give them information, statistical information about what this administration is doing to the country, in particular with women, is really important. So I think it’s great if your paper is reaching a lot of women.



“Poor George – he can’t help it.
He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.”

Ann Richards,
1988 Democratic National Convention keynote address

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