It’s still a bum deal, Ms. Richards…

01 Dec
It’s still a bum deal, Ms. Richards…

The great Holland Taylor is currently performing in a one-woman show about former Texas governor Ann Richards (“ANN: An Affectionate Portrait of Ann Richards“) at the Charline McCombs Empire Theater in San Antonio, Texas. This is essentially the chocolate and peanut butter of theatrical experiences as it combines two of my favorite people.

Ann Richards electrified everyone watching — including the 14-year-old me — when she delivered the keynote address as the 1988 Democratic National Convention. Every line was Julia Sugarbaker gold but the most remembered is her lament for “Poor George (H.W. Bush)… He can’t help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.” One less recalled line but one that still rings true is, “And you don’t have to be from Waco to know that when the Pentagon makes crooks rich and doesn’t make America strong, that it’s a bum deal.”

Of course, beneath the sharp wit is the sadness of what came to pass: The Reagan Era that Richards says was soon to end obviously didn’t. I always thought it was because we sent a Dukakis to do a job best suited for a Richards.

Ms. Richards was governor of Texas from 1991 to 1995. She had struggled with alcoholism in her life but that battle helped inform a compassionate means of dealing with substance abuse and crime:

… the state of Texas, when I was governor, we built an awful lot of prisons. And to be frank with you, I made a deal, and the deal was that I would help pass the legislation and be for building a lot more prisons in Texas if I could get rehab programs for people who were alcoholics and drug abusers because I knew that over 80 percent of the crime committed in Texas was committed by people under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

And unless you treat that alcoholism and you treat that drug addiction, when they go right back out on the street, you got a drunk or you’ve got an addict that is going to commit a crime again.

George W. Bush defeated Ms. Richards in 1994. Karl Rove, the brains behind this victory, cynically stated that her loss was attributable in part to her opposition to a concealed weapon bill, which Bush later signed into law while also executing more prisoners than any other governor in history (he obviously did not see the cognitive dissonance here), and her warning to a Girl Scouts conference to beware of “Prince Charming on a motorcycle with a beer gut and a wandering eye.” That was actually pretty sound advice — not just for Girl Scouts but for the whole country. Rove is less upfront about the dirty tricks that were linked to him during the campaign.

In 1994, when Bush ran against Democratic Gov. Ann Richards in Texas, a whisper campaign began in East Texas that Richards had appointed gays and lesbians to state positions, which was true. The issue got little notice until Bush’s East Texas campaign chairman accused the governor of naming “avowed and activist homosexuals” to high offices.

I am impressed that 20 years ago Ms. Richards hired qualified people regardless of their sexual orientation (“avowed and activist” is usually translated to mean “not frightened and in a closet”). I also appreciated her inclusiveness — speaking Spanish during her keynote address in recognition of her state’s background.

Here is a clip of Holland Taylor as Ms. Richards in the play she painstakingly researched and wrote herself. If it eventually reaches Broadway, it will prove a worthy rationale for my brief return to New York.

And, because I love watching it, here’s Ms. Taylor accepting a well-earned Emmy for her work in “The Practice”:

“Overnight,” indeed.

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Posted by on December 1, 2011 in Political Theatre, Pop Life


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