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Friday, September 15, 2006

Ann Richards (1933-2006)

The former Texas governor passed away after battling esophageal cancer last Wednesday (Wikipedia article here).

From 1983 to 1990 she served as state treasurer, and it is that part of her political career that earns distinction. Prior to her tenure there, the treasury was a bit lazy about depositing checks it received, which meant lost interest income; Richards put an end to that. I vaguely recall stories about her making some out-of-state trips to cash certain checks at the banks that issued them; the checks would be processed in one day instead of several, and they were large enough that the cost in air fare was less than the interest income that would be gained.

Most of y'all know about her stint at the 1988 Democratic convention, where she razzed GHW Bush with those famous words, "Poor George, he can't help it...He was born with a silver foot in his mouth." Many of y'all might not be aware of this:

President-elect Bush has sent Ann Richards a handwritten "peace offering" and a tiny silver pin shaped like a foot.

Ms. Richards, the Texas State Treasurer, declared in her keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention in July that Mr. Bush, a Republican, had been "born with a silver foot in his mouth."

After the election Nov. 8, however, Ms. Richards sent Mr. Bush a telegram wishing him "the very best" in his new Administration.

Mr. Bush wrote her a note dated Nov. 21, saying: "You've probably received a hundred of these 'feet' but I want you to have this one from me - a peace offering.

"Really, that was a nice telegram. Many thanks, George." Ms. Richards said Monday: "I think it was a kind and generous gesture on his part. I was delighted that he saw and enjoyed the humor in the keynote address."

Clayton Williams, her opponent in the 19090 governor's race, is credited with one of the worst verbal blunders in Texas political history:

Williams made an infamous joke to reporters, likening bad weather to rape, quipping, "as long as it's inevitable, you might as well lie back and enjoy it."

The public reaction was thermonuclear - and still Richards won with a plurality and not a majority, 49% to Williams' 47%.

The two most memorable events of her governorship helped to secure her to one term: passage of the highly controversial Robin Hood school finance plan, and voters' discovery that Texas Lottery funds were going into the general fund and not being earmarked for education as they were led to believe. (Since 1997 lottery funds started going into the Foundation School Fund.) The crumbling of the state Democratic Party didn't help her, either.

Richards supported the North American Free Trade Agreement. I personally believe that NAFTA has a lot of unnecessary bureaucratization but still serves as an improvement over the previous state of affairs. The Texas State Library and Archives Commission has photos of her typed speech she delivered on November 1, 1993 to promote the treaty. Her closing remarks is worth noting:

The bottom line is this...we have been begging, badgering and bashing Japan to give us a level playing field, open markets and an opportunity for friendly competition and cooperation.

Now the Canadians and Mexicans are freely offering the same thing.

Now our friends are willing...and we ought to take them up on their offer.

Condolences to her family.

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