An ardent feminist who could make the most unrepentant male chauvinist laugh out loud, Richards seized the national stage with her keynote address to the 1988 Democratic convention. "Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did," she drawled. "She just did it backwards in high heels." With perfect timing, she skewered the GOP nominee, then Vice President George H.W. Bush. "Poor George." [ Pause; crowd laughter ] "He can't help it." [ Pause; more laughter ] "He was born with a silver foot in his mouth." [ Crowd roars ] Richards was elected governor of Texas in 1990, upsetting the good-ole-boy incumbent, Clayton Williams. Proclaiming a "New Texas," she opened up state government to women and minorities. She was in turn upset by George W. Bush in 1994. Democrats complained that Bush's message boiled down to "gays will take away your guns," but Richards may have underestimated Bush, who ran a tight campaign. Divorced, a recovering alcoholic, she had empathy as well as humor. Meeting with addicts in the state penitentiary, the governor would introduce herself, "I am Ann, and I am an alcoholic." She showed, her old friend columnist Molly Ivins said, "how close laughter and tears can be."
CORRECTION: We described former Texas governor Ann Richards as having upset incumbent Clayton Williams in the 1990 gubernatorial election ("Transition," Periscope, Sept 25). In fact, Williams was not the incumbent. NEWSWEEK regrets the error.