AUSTIN, TEX. -- Say adios to the old Texas stereotypes. No more frontier good old boys running the Lone Star ranch. Democrat Ann Richards, who takes over as governor Tuesday, already has begun to transform the face of Texas.
The tough, savvy grandmother, 57, who now ranks among the most powerful women in American politics, has made several appointments that reflect her desire to bring more women and minorities into the halls of government power.
For an opening on the Texas Railroad Commission, which oversees the oil and gas industry and is considered the ultimate bastion of white-male clubbiness, Richards tapped Lena Guerrero, an aggressive young Hispanic legislator. The governor-elect has broken the color barrier in higher education by nominating Zan Holmes, a black minister from Dallas, to the University of Texas Board of Regents.
Her chief of staff is a woman, former deputy treasurer Mary Beth Rogers, as are her main advisers on ethics, education, commerce and the environment. Best known among that group is her ethics counsel, former representative Barbara Jordan.
Recruitment of women and minorities to important posts will continue, Richards said, until government more closely mirrors the gender and racial composition of the state. This is part of creating what Richards and her top aides are calling "the new Texas," which, like the old Texas of rugged wildcatters and John Wayne-style ranchers, relies upon symbols to help define a socio- political culture.
When Republican oilman Bill Clements was sworn in on the state capitol steps four years ago for the second half of his split tenure, inauguration stories focused on the sea of full-length mink coats worn by his wealthy Dallas friends and supporters on that cold winter day and at the high-society balls that night.
Richards said she hopes the key symbolic event for her big day will come before the swearing-in and partying. Thousands of citizens are expected to gather at the Congress Avenue bridge to line up behind their new leader and, in her words, "march up Congress Avenue and take the capitol back."
"It's been a long time since we marched," Richards said in a recent interview, evoking in those few words a commitment to activism in contrast to the Clements era, when the chief executive at times seemed remote, cranky and disengaged from some of the most pressing issues of the day.
"This has the potential to be a decidedly different government than Texas is used to," said Henry Cisneros, the former San Antonio mayor who has decided not to join the Richards administration but serve as one of her two top informal advisers, along with former lieutenant governor William P. Hobby.
"It's not going to be bricks and mortar, highways and construction," Cisneros said. "You're going to see a different tilt here, toward human resources, education, inclusiveness. And it's exactly what Texas needs."
Whether Richards has any mandate for a new era is not clear, largely because of the peculiar nature of the gubernatorial election last fall.
The Republican candidate, west Texas cowboy oilman Clayton Williams, held a substantial lead at first but tossed it away bit by bit with one foolish wisecrack after another. The prevailing theory after the election was that Richards did not win so much as Williams lost. Hundreds of thousands of independent and Republican voters in urban Texas, embarrassed by Williams, apparently felt compelled to vote for Richards even if they disagreed with her politics.
On the other hand, there is a sense, as Richards and her advisers assert, that Texans, tiring of the way the nation viewed the state, were ready for a change. "Texas has always been ready for more progressive government than people outside of Texas give it credit for," said Rogers, the new chief of staff. "Texas has always been ahead of its reputation."
But for anyone expecting Texas to emerge suddenly as a laboratory for radical experimentation, there was disappointment. That is not Richards's personality, and there is no money for such government. Although the Texas economy is recovering from a four-year recession and state revenue exceeded estimates last year, the state government nonetheless has developed a massive new fiscal crisis, brought about primarily by historical neglect of social problems that courts are forcing the state to address.
"We are going to have to deal with state finances, and it's not going to be easy," Richards said the other day at her makeshift transition office here. She said her advisers estimate that the state must find an additional $6 billion. "It's not going to be a pleasant experience," Richards said. "I'm hoping to avoid a tax increase."
Given the financial situation, whether the Richards administration can meet its objectives in social policy -- improving job training, raising teacher salaries, reforming the mental health care system, improving services for the makeshift rural communities along the Mexican border known as colonias -- "is the $64,000 question," said Ernesto Cortes, leader of the Texas Industrial Areas Foundation, a statewide citizen action coalition.
"Martin Luther King Jr. would have a hard time being a good governor under these conditions," said Cortes, whose groups are seeking government support for job training and education reform. "No matter how committed you are, the resources aren't there right now."
Sarah Weddington, an Austin lawyer and longtime Richards associate, said expectations of Texans for the new administration are "both a blessing and a curse. Seldom have we had a governor in whom so many hopes are resting. She will accomplish all she can, but with no money, no resources, it's going to be hard."
Richards said her first priority will be education. She is planning what she calls a "School Assembly" Jan. 19 at which she will listen to the ideas of teachers, students and administrators statewide. Too often, she said, education reform has been undertaken without the advice of teachers.
Another priority as the new legislative session starts will be ethics reform. Texas legislators and lobbyists have had a historically incestuous relationship. House Speaker Gib Lewis has been charged with failing to report that a major law firm paid part of the taxes for a building he owned.
Described by those who have worked for her as a surefooted, demanding boss, Richards takes as much interest in administration as policy. When asked what excited her most about becoming governor, she cited the opportunity to reform the governor's office so her appointees to major boards and agencies will report to her cabinet-style. Then she added: "The truth is I'm not a very excitable person. What I am about to do is very hard work."