Richards longtime activist

``Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, only backwards and in high heels.'' So says Ann Richards, a former Dallas housewife who in 1982 took over what one observer called a ``quill pen'' Texas treasury and brought it into the age of computerized money management.

Ms. Richards grew up outside Waco, Texas, living, as she describes it, ``on the lower edge of middle class.'' Her rural upbringing, in a strong work-ethic setting as the nation pulled out of the depression, ``shaped my feelings and thinking very much,'' she says. So did a father who told her she could accomplish whatever she wanted.

After teaching to help put her husband through law school, Richards settled into raising four children. But she wasn't too settled.

In Dallas she took part in Democratic causes. In the '70s, after moving to Austin, she helped elect women to the Texas Legislature.

In 1976 she tossed her own hat into the political ring, winning a seat as a county commissioner. Six years later she became the first woman in Texas history (who wasn't running as her husband's successor) to win a statewide race. She has her sights set on the governor's seat in 1990.

Richards has often credited her years in the home with providing her the budgetary and organizational skills she needs to run a bureaucracy and keep the state's books in order. The latter is no trickier than balancing the family checkbook, she says: It just involves more zeroes after the numbers.

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