Ann Richards, A Great Texan and Public Servant

This has not been a particularly good year from a personal standpoint. This is the fourth time this year I have written obituary columns about family or close friends.

Earlier this year, I remembered my uncle Stanley Marwil, a member of the World War II “greatest generation.” That was followed by a commentary on the life of Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and a eulogy to my late wife, retired Army Major General Kathy Frost.

Now comes word that my old friend, former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, has died.

Ann Richards, who passed away Sept. 13 after a battle with cancer and was buried today, was a Texas original. She was the prototypical Texas politician…larger than life, blunt, and borderline outrageous from time to time. She possessed all the characteristics that Texans and the country love to see in Texas political figures, except for one. She was a woman. The fact that she not only survived but prospered in a male dominated state like Texas made her even more special.

I first met Ann Richards more than 30 years ago when she was a political activist in Dallas. She later moved to Austin where she was elected Travis County Commissioner, state treasurer and ultimately governor in 1990.

The most exciting political moment in my life was when I won my first election to Congress in 1978. The second most thrilling political moment for me was the night I was present at the Ann Richards victory party for governor in 1990. The race was close and then it was over. Ann entered the hotel ballroom to the sound of the theme music from the movie “Chariots of Fire” and a new day had arrived in Texas.

Ann Richards was more than just a witty public speaker. She was a terrific public servant. She devoted her life to such issues as racial and gender equality and brought equal opportunity to life by her appointments of women and minorities during her four years as governor.

She was a great promoter of the Texas economy and courageously supported the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) when her allies in organized labor were on the other side.

I stood with her outside the plant gate at the General Motors Assembly plant in Arlington, Texas, the day before her re-election defeat in 1994. UAW members, who had always supported her, refused to shake her hand because of her NAFTA stand. That wasn’t the only reason she lost to George W. Bush that year but it certainly didn’t help her cause.

After she left the governor’s office, she tirelessly campaigned all over the United States for Democratic candidates for Congress and statewide offices. Ann Richards was a star and always drew a crowd and press attention when she stumped for a candidate. She made several appearances for me, making a real difference in 1998 when I was falsely accused of employment discrimination by a former female staffer at the DCCC (the legal action against me and the DCCC was dismissed after the election as having no merit).

She was always there for her friends and she had plenty of tough words for her foes. She was a terrific public speaker, but took great pains to prepare her remarks in advance so they would be just right.

Ultimately, she lost her re-election campaign in 1994 because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. She was a Democratic governor at a time when the state was tipping to the Republican side. She could not withstand the tide and was swept out of office after doing a remarkably good job and having high personal approval ratings.

No Democrat has been elected governor of Texas since Ann Richards and it is my guess that we won’t win another governors race in my state for some time to come.

Ann Richards was a terrific politician and a truly genuine person. What you saw is what you got. There were no airs about her. She was the real deal.

My state and our country need more politicians like Ann Richards. We are a better country because of her time on earth. She will be missed by millions of supporters and admirers in and outside the state of Texas.

Martin Frost served in Congress from 1979 to 2005, representing a diverse district in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. He served two terms as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the third-ranking leadership position for House Democrats, and two terms as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Frost serves as a regular contributor to FOX News Channel and is a partner at the law firm of Polsinelli, Shalton, Welte and Suelthaus. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri and a law degree from the Georgetown Law Center.

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