In a new documentary airing on HBO, the life and struggles of Ann Richards take center stage. The documentary, called “All About Ann: Governor Richards of the Lone Star State,” follows Richards through her childhood, political career, and briefly into her life after the governorship.
Hilarious and deeply moving, the parallels to the current gubernatorial race are unmistakable. It is impossible to watch Richards' struggle to secure and then keep the governor's seat without noticing how little campaign strategy has changed when a Democratic woman is at the top of the ticket.
More on the documentary and the eery similarities in conservative rhetoric unchanged in the last twenty years below the jump.Whether you're a fan who voted for Ann or a newcomer to the former governors' charm, it is impossible to watch this documentary without being moved. The dreams and visions of Ann Richards continue to inspire those of us engaged in the progressive struggle in Texas today – to create the kind of Texas where everyone has a fair shot, no matter who they are or where they come from.
This was key to Wendy Davis' speech when she announced her decision to run for office, and it makes sense. Ann Richards' vision for a better Texas is still in the making. Though as the documentary clearly shows, Richards certainly made great strides in including minority groups in her appointments and staff, we have yet to fully walk through the doors she kicked open. One doesn't have to look any farther than the makeup of the current state legislature to know that we have a long way left to go.
From Richards' goals to the campaign that brought her down, this documentary leaves the viewer with an intense case of déjà vu. When Karl Rove and George W. Bush decided to challenge Ann, they used sexism and conservative fear tactics to tarnish her image. The film goes into the smear campaign, including claims that Richards would “take away your guns,” and a “whisper campaign” questioning Richards' sexuality. Bush claimed to be the correct choice, because he was a conservative in a conservative state – whereas Richards was wrong, because she was just too liberal.
Even the parts of the documentary that go into Richards' life after her time in office ring far too true. In a clip from a television show where Richards appeared as a guest, she brings up the part of the Republican party platform that includes a constitutional amendment that will overturn Roe vs. Wade. When another guest, a conservative pundit, tells Richards that she thinks they've “heard enough” about abortion, Richards responds, “You have just started hearing about abortion.”
Perhaps the most poignant parts of the film are when Ann is allowed to speak for herself in footage from speeches throughout her career. In one, from 2004, she is speaking to a group of LGBT activists, and she reminds them why there is still a reason to keep fighting:
We have got to remember: we have the power. We have the power to choose, the power to resist! Our dreams about a country where all God's children are free at last, about a pluralistic society where human dignity is cherised, and human rights are won, about a safer – and saner – planet, those dreams can still come true if you are willing to work for them. Because, even in these difficult times, we have the power, if we will only use it.
For Democrats in this state with a historic ticket including two exciting women at the top of the statewide ballot, this is a sentiment that rings true. These times are difficult – for women's health, public schools, and access to voting rights, just to skim the surface. But Richards' words are a great reminder that we do have the power to fight for the kind of Texas we can all believe in.
The film ends with a description of the importance of public service in Richards' own words:
Despite the frustrations and disappointments – which are many – there is no work that is more rewarding than public service. You may go somewhere else and you may make a lot of money, but you will never receive the kind of gratification that you receive from looking someone in the eye who says, 'Thank you for helping make my life better.'
Though she only served one term, Richards left an impact on the political landscape in Texas that we are still benefiting from to this day. We are the inheritors of her fire, her passion, and her honest dedication to letting the people in to the government of Texas – all the people. It is certainly a film worth watching.