When the 'Good Ole Boy' Is a Girl
Ex-governor Richards teaches power politics
'Politics is a white-male game and it's hard, hard, hard for others to learn it," Ann Richards is telling her audience - 150 spellbound undergraduate students in a packed university lecture hall.Skip to next paragraph
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The former Texas governor has traveled from Austin to Boston to share gleanings from her 40 years' labor in America's political vineyards. With arms crossed over her navy-blue, pin-striped power suit, her trademark silver bouffant hairdo floating above, she's dishing out feisty observations that are both inspiration and reality check to young men and women with a gleam in their eye for politics.
Having thrived in the cauldron of Texas politics, "Professor" Richards is now offering a "tell it like it is" analysis of the nuts and bolts of political power - as well as living proof that a savvy woman really can beat the good ole boys at their own game.
Power is the subject of today's lecture, part of a course on American politics at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass. "What it is, how to get it, how to exercise it." Richards wears the mantle of an elite female politician discreetly, though she broke Texas's political gender barriers and raised four children along the way.
"When I say the acquisition of power and the use of it is ... a white-male game, I say it without any rancor," she drawls genially. She adds with a twinkle: "My two sons are white males and I like them just fine."
Humor has always been Richards's most effective weapon. Just remember her keynote speech at the 1988 Democratic National Convention, when she quipped that "poor" George Bush was not clued in to Americans' needs because he was "born with a silver foot in his mouth."
But she's blunt: "This isn't fairy-tale time," she reminds her audience, jarring any naifs who may have forgotten that politics is a serious game indeed.
"I still meet a lot of very young people who think if they are able to share a few minutes with me, I am going to drop my bag of magic beans with [political] success written all over it," she says.
"I am so sorry to have to disabuse you of that notion," she continues. "The higher up the ladder you go it is all the same.... There's no mystery. No secret. There is only ... determination and keeping on when everyone else has run home to mama."
Trade-offs and compromise
Richards was elected governor of Texas in 1990, the first woman in that post since Miriam "Ma" Ferguson more than a half-century earlier. To get there required more than just hard work, she emphasizes. It required an intimate understanding of the levers of power - the accommodations, trade-offs, and compromises by which to acquire more power - and the determination to use it.
"I've spoken with a lot of women who think that power is a bad thing," she says. "I want you to see that power is not a bad thing. But having the power and not using it is a total waste. You have got to be willing to step up and use the power - not just acquire it."
She reads excerpts of a Lyndon Johnson biography detailing how the master politician used back-room bargaining to ram civil-rights legislation through Congress. She tells her own story of projecting the image of power by "scripting minute-by-minute" her first day as Texas state treasurer in 1976. It was a time, she writes in a biographical note, when "Texas was not noticeably hospitable to the notion that a woman could handle that kind of responsibility."