Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Let the People In

“I'm not afraid to shake up the system, and government needs more shaking up than any other system I know.”


I knew very little about Texas before I moved to Austin. I had no connection and no real affinity for this state. Now, over a decade later, I can't imagine leaving. I moved here mid-October of 2000, Gore vs Bush, and it was a crash course in Texas politics. And I know, I know, I should be ashamed that the only thing I really knew about Ann Richards was a famous quote or two (“Poor George, he can't help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth”), and of course I knew what she looked like...that gorgeous iconic hair. What I didn’t know until now was what she meant to Texas (and still means to Texas) and in a larger sense, to the country.

Jan Reid’s biography gives us some real depth into Ann’s life; her childhood, marriage, children, and of course her rise to the governor's office. The details are in here too; her alcoholism, her failed marriage, where some thought her politics went astray. What you walk away with after reading Let the People In is a true sense of how very real Ann Richards was.

“I have a real soft spot in my heart for librarians and people who care about books.”

Ann and Dolly
Several months ago when I began talking to librarians, booksellers and sales reps around the country about this book, most everyone had an Ann Richards story they wanted to share--a memory, a favorite quote, something to be thankful for. I spoke to people from California, Illinois, Utah, DC, and of course here at home where many folks had stories about actually meeting Ann. I’ve worked on many books and it’s a rare thing for one to elicit such personal and profound feelings. I can tell you there is nothing, absolutely nothing better, than when a book you’ve watched so many people work incredibly hard on totally hits the mark; Let the People In is that book. It’s a perfect book for right now.

Cecile Richards
For me, the book was a wake up call; so many things that she fought for all those years ago are once again on the chopping block. And for those of you who wonder, where is our next Ann Richards? Who will be brave enough to not mince words, to take on the establishment? Well, my vote goes to the president of Planned Parenthood. I mean, this woman took on Komen when they wanted to abandon women in need of health care. She took on Komen and won. That takes balls. What the heck is her name? Oh yeah, Cecile Richards. Apples and trees.

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

“I have always had the feeling I could do anything and my dad told me I could. I was in college before I found out he might be wrong.”


Unlike Gianna, I grew up in Texas and Texas politics have been on the periphery of my entire life. That includes Ann Richards, who became governor around the time that I was in high school and becoming more conscious of how elections, people, and policies influence actual people's lives. I wasn't old enough to vote yet, but I remember the heated gubernatorial race between Republican Clayton Williams and Richards, and how the more he talked, the bigger grave he dug. Richards would be called a drunk, and she wouldn't back down.

"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.”

Ann's cameo on
King of the Hill
Some other impressions of Ann Richards--there was the guest spot on King of the Hill (which is the best show ever created about Texas), and there was the retired governor who lived across the parking lot from BookPeople. She would storm into the storm on a weekend wearing workout clothes--usually a t-shirt and spandex tights--and buy a newspaper, and woe to the bookseller who made her wait in line just to buy a newspaper. And then there was Ann Richards the parade marshal during my high school years. She visited Woodville during the Tyler County Dogwood Festival, and served as parade marshal, riding in a horse-drawn carriage down the highway. My high school marching band followed just behind, and I am honored to say that I marched through Ann Richards's horse's poo. Ann's tailor lived in Woodville, the woman who crafted those brightly colored power dresses.

"If you give us the chance, we can perform. After all, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels."

Of Ann the Governor, I remember a woman who wasn't afraid to call a spade a spade, and who fought for changes in policies like education funding. Remember all of those accomplishments that George W. Bush claimed as reasons to elect him President, back when he first ran for office and Texas was a leader in education and business? Those were policies that Ann Richards put in place. Mostly, though, as another election approaches and I found myself yelling at the TV during the first Presidential debate, I wondered what had happened to politicians who weren't afraid to call bullshit. Attacks on the rights of women? Bullshit. Attacks on gays and lesbians? Bullshit. Xenophobia? Bullshit. Ann Richards was that type of Governor, a woman who fought for what she fought was right, even if it wasn't ladylike or genteel. She was a revolutionary and the last great governor of the Lone Star State.

Asked once what she might have done differently had she known she was going to be a one-term governor, Richards grinned. "Oh, I would probably have raised more hell."

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