MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
It’s been 20 years since a Democrat was elected to a statewide office in Texas. And that year – 1994 – also marks the year when the state’s last Democratic governor was voted out. But what a character she was.
Born during the Great Depression, she was a housewife, a teacher, a volunteer and a political liberal who somehow managed to be elected to lead one of the country’s most conservative states – all this with her trademark sense of humor front and center. Here she is giving the keynote speech at the 1988 Democratic National Convention in Atlanta.
(SOUNDBITE OF 1988 DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION)
ANN RICHARDS: I’m 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.
MARTIN: Who could we be talking about but Ann Richards. Today, HBO premieres a documentary about Ann Richards. It’s called “All About Ann: Governor Richards Of The Lone Star State.
Joining us to tell us more is Cecile Richards. She is Ann Richards daughter and you might know her as president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. And she’s with us now from our studios in New York City. Cecile Richards, thank you so much for joining us.
CECILE RICHARDS: Absolutely, delighted to do this.
MARTIN: Did you think your mother was funny?
C. RICHARDS: Oh, she was funny. I think it’s actually sort of undeniable, but it’s different when she’s your mom ’cause I think it – sometimes it can almost verge on the embarrassing. But what you saw in public is what you saw in private. She was very, very much her own person and a lot of fun as a mom.
MARTIN: Was she fun as a mom because – I mean, she was a big personality and sometimes, as you mentioned, for kids that can be fun, it can also be kind of embarrassing?
C. RICHARDS: I know, I actually think the time she came to pick me up when I flew home for college and she was just as Dolly Parton – that probably was the height of embarrassment. But no, I think in general, look, she was someone who loved life. And she lived big. And I think as a kid I now – I sort of recognize our family wasn’t necessarily like other families, but it was pretty wonderful.
MARTIN: Your mom was ahead of her time in many ways. I mean, one of the things that you can’t help but notice. It’s one thing for her to have been the person she is right now, but she’s the person she was when it was kind of difficult in a lot of communities that she was living in and working in to have her point of view and to have to take on the issues that she took on.
Do you know where that came from? As we mentioned, I mean, she was a person who was an activist, you know, for women, for people of color, for LGBT individuals at a time when this was not easy to do. Do you know where that came from in her spirit?
C. RICHARDS: Well, you know, it’s funny – I grew up in Dallas, Texas, which was a very conservative city at the time. And sort of – my folks, as mom described it, they were into politics like other couples were into bowling. Every movement that came through town, whether it was the farm workers, the labor movement, the women’s movement, they were into and so were all their friends.
And I think it just became part of their life. And once she finished being a mom or at least had raised all of us, she got to throw all of her energy into politics, but came from a point of view of really that politics was there to do social good and for social justice. And I think that is also something that set her apart sometimes from other politicians.
MARTIN: A lot of people who may not be familiar with her record in Texas will certainly remember her – if they follow politics at all – from the 1988 Democratic National Convention where she gave the keynote speech. And as the documentary highlights, it was kind of a turning point in her career. Would you agree with that?
C. RICHARDS: Oh, absolutely. I mean, she was already on the scene in Texas, but it was really that speech and at that opportunity to, as she would say, sort of show what she could do, to a national audience that really allowed her to make the race for governor and ultimately win that election.
MARTIN: Well, let’s play a little bit of the speech for people who may not remember it. And here – this might be what some people might call the money bite.
(SOUNDBITE OF 1988 DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION)
A. RICHARDS: George Bush hasn’t displayed the slightest interest in anything we care about. And now that he’s after a job that he can’t get appointed to, he’s like Columbus discovering America. He’s found childcare. He’s found education. Poor George, he can’t help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.
MARTIN: Now, I remember that speech and certainly remember the campaign. And I remember that there were actually kind of mixed feelings about it because on the one hand, people in the hall loved it, but there were other people who thought it was kind of mean and in a way that it a little – backfired. What do you think?
C. RICHARDS: Well, she definitely skated on the edge. And I think, you know, humor can kind of go both ways. She in general I think was very effective at using humor to disarm people. And again, as you said earlier, you know, she was trying to get elected in a state that was much more conservative than her politics were. I mean, it’s a populous state I think in many ways. But she definitely had to – she had to engage people, and I think she did.
MARTIN: She did run for governor. And as we mentioned, she won. It was a brutal campaign. I think we can agree with that, right?
C. RICHARDS: Absolutely.
MARTIN: The fact that she has struggled with alcoholism was something that she talked about during the campaign, not as if she had a choice. Talk to me about that – the campaign kind of from the inside-out. How did she feel about it?
C. RICHARDS: Well, it was a brutal campaign for sure. I mean, she was the first woman to run in that kind of race and the gloves were off. Of course, the film, the HBO film, the documentary really captures that and I think it does a very good job of demonstrating what it was like to run as a woman and certainly as a divorced woman, as a woman who was a recovering alcoholic, someone who had been very public about her addiction.
But, boy, it opened her up for a lot of public scrutiny. And it was a tough race, but she was never one to shy away from a fight. And I think that’s also why people remember her. She was, as she would say, you kind of had to take her warts and all. And people in Texas, at least for a while, they did. And she was very popular as governor.
MARTIN: She was popular, but couldn’t get reelected.
C. RICHARDS: Right.
MARTIN: And I wonder, looking back on it, did she see her tenure as a success or not?
C. RICHARDS: She definitely changed the face of public officials and of the state government in Texas. And for her that was very important. You know, she appointed more women, more minorities, more openly gay and lesbian people than ever before. In fact, I think more than all the previous governors combined. And a lot of the folks that she appointed to office or who worked in her administration are now leaders in their own right, both in Texas and around the country. I think, to me, that’s a huge mark of making something happen in four, what seemed to be very short, years.
MARTIN: What would you like people to draw from this documentary?
C. RICHARDS: Well, I think one – obviously it’s exciting that women and men would learn about mom, a lot of young people who probably never knew her. And I think she shows in this one that you can be amazingly resilient in this life even when you hit some bumps, which she absolutely did.
And probably what she would want people to understand from this is that public service is a noble thing. It’s a good thing. And that you can, whether you’re in public office or you’re in – doing other things for social justice, you can have a really good life and help people along the way.
MARTIN: Some people might feel opposite, though. I mean, there’s always this debate about why doesn’t more women, particularly younger women, don’t get into public life – and some people say it’s the nastiness of it.
And having to – the fact that she struggled with alcohol was a – did, you know, master her addiction but was a recovering alcoholic was something that she had to discuss in the course of the campaign and no getting around it. You know, some people would look at that and think I don’t want that. What do you think she would say to that?
C. RICHARDS: Well, I think she’d say, look, you know, you have one chance to really make a difference in your life and it may not be for everyone but it’s a great chance. And, you know, I think she was always concerned that too many women did sort of take themselves out of the equation, whether it was the public scrutiny or just simply that they never thought they had the right skills or the degree or that their children were too little. There’s a million reasons I think that women hold back.
And she was just a big believer that you really had to go for it, and you had to go for every opportunity that you had as a woman. And I think that would be the message that she would give to young women today. And look, you can look at Congress now, it’s amazing the difference that women in both the Senate and the House are making, and not only on behalf of women, but on behalf of a lot of, I think, social causes that we all believe in.
MARTIN: Cecile Richards is the president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She’s also the daughter of former Texas governor Ann Richards. HBO is premiering a documentary about Ann Richards today. It is called “All About Ann: Governor Richards Of The Lone Star State.” You’ll want to check your local listings for exact times. Cecile Richards, thanks so much for speaking with us.
C. RICHARDS: Michel, great to be with you.
MARTIN: And that’s our program for today. I’m Michel Martin, and you’ve been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let’s talk more tomorrow.
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