Ann Richards

The Economist has an interesting but bit odd obituary for Ann Richards, former governor of Texas.

Her best joke, told in that twang at the Democratic National Convention in 1988, commiserated with “Poor George” senior, “born with a silver foot in his mouth”. Mr Bush laughed gamely, sending her a silver-foot pin which she wore whenever he, as president, returned to Texas. (“A woman always wears the jewellery when the man who gave it to her comes to visit.”) But Barbara Bush seethed about “that woman”, and young George plotted, and got, eventual revenge.

By the time he did, ousting her from the governor’s mansion in 1994, Mrs Richards had made a fair amount of difference to her state. Over eight years as treasurer she had modernised cash management, shifting it from punch-card computers to electronic transfer, and earning an extra $1.7 billion a year in interest on investments. As governor, from 1990, she tried to clean up and open out the state commissions and agencies, starting proper audits and performance reviews and appointing more women and minorities than all the governors before her put together. And lest this was dismissed as typical woman’s stuff, she also oversaw the biggest prison-building programme in American history.

Some things she never tried to change. What would she do, she was asked once, if the legislature repealed the death penalty? “I would faint,” she replied. Texas schools remained glaringly unequal, despite a court order to share funds more evenly. Oil revenues were stagnant, but Mrs Richards knew better than even to mention a state personal income tax. Though Texas increasingly looked like a broad, bragging California, full of high-tech clusters and with the white Anglo culture besieged by Latinos and Asians, Mrs Richards was well aware of the unchanging lower layers. She lost in 1994, in part, because she opposed allowing Texans to carry concealed weapons. But then, as she said, what woman in Texas could possibly find a handgun among the clutter in her bag?