Ann Richards was a one-term alternative to the status quo in Texas and with her death Wednesday, it's time to shuffle through those old what-if bones again.
She was the first woman governor elected in her own right, and her tour of duty was marked by general prosperity. So how did she lose to baby boy George W back in 1990? And if she hadn't, would he still be president today?
Conventional wisdom weighing in on her gubernatorial loss follows two lines. After putting her famous Poor George tag on his father ("born with a silver foot in his mouth"), Richards didn't take his son and his relative inexperience seriously and ran a lousy re-election campaign. The other view is that whereas the rest of the country may have been entertained by her acerbic one-liners, an increasingly conservative Texas was not. Plus, let's face it, W looked the part more than she did. She was the image of Republican womanhood with her suits and helmet hair, and she was an NRA member who liked to go hunting and who wore camouflage in the woods (as opposed to on fighter pilot decks). But he was male and Texas political royalty after all and had a baseball team. And wasn't his mother nice? Much sweeter than Richards.
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Actually, it was that same Texas conservatism that probably helped get Richards elected governor for her first and only term. When opponent Claytie Williams refused to shake her hand, men and women of all political stripes were offended. In Texas, you do not refuse to shake a respectable woman's hand. You should always be a good sport, which he wasn't.
But four years later, Richards was swept out of office and relegated to consultant and board of director work with occasional talk show appearances on Larry King and the likes.
Could she be re-elected today? Oh, probably not. Still it was a hoot and a half to see the quotes from Texas officials, especially the Republican ones, about her passing in today's Houston Chronicle. You know some of them must have been biting the insides of their mouths to get through the short sound bites. They allowed as to how she was a character and that's right; she was about as far from plain vanilla as you could be.