Former Texas Governor, Activist Ann Richards, 73

Associated Press
Thursday, September 14, 2006

Former Texas governor Ann Richards, the witty and flamboyant Democrat who went from homemaker to national political celebrity, died Sept. 13 after cancer was diagnosed this year, a family spokeswoman said. She was 73.

Ms. Richards died at home in Austin surrounded by her family, the spokeswoman said. She was found to have esophageal cancer in March and underwent chemotherapy treatments.

The silver-haired, silver-tongued Ms. Richards said she entered politics to help others -- especially women and minorities, who were often ignored by the male-dominated Texas establishment.

"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,' " Ms. Richards said shortly before leaving office in January 1995.

She was governor for one term, losing her reelection bid to Republican George W. Bush.

She grabbed the national spotlight with her keynote address at the 1988 Democratic National Convention, when she was the Texas state treasurer. Ms. Richards won cheers from delegates when she reminded them that Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, "only backwards and in high heels."

Ms. Richards sealed her partisan reputation with a blast at George H.W. Bush, a fellow Texan who was vice president at the time: "Poor George, he can't help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth."

Four years later, she was chairwoman of the Democratic convention that nominated Bill Clinton for president.

Ms. Richards rose to the governorship with a come-from-behind victory over millionaire cowboy Clayton Williams in 1990. She cracked a decades-long male grip on the governor's mansion and celebrated by holding up a T-shirt that showed the state capitol and read: "A woman's place is in the dome."

In four years as governor, Ms. Richards championed what she called the "New Texas," appointing more women and more minorities to state posts than any of her predecessors had.

She appointed the first black University of Texas regent; the first crime victim to join the state Criminal Justice Board; the first person with a disability to serve on the human services board and the first teacher to lead the State Board of Education. Under Ms. Richards, the Texas Rangers pinned stars on their first black and female officers.

She polished Texas's image, courted movie producers, championed the North American Free Trade Agreement, oversaw an expansion of the state prison system and presided over rising student achievement scores and plunging dropout rates.

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