Thursday, September 14, 2006

On an act that will be hard to follow

Okay, so the world is a little bit less ballsy today. Former Texas governor Ann Richards died yesterday at the age of 73.

Ann Richards has always been close to my heart because she's the reason I started paying attention to politics in the first place. When, in 1988, she gave the keynote address to the Democratic National Convention, I was really too young to understand what was going on, but I was amazed to see someone - a woman, particularly - talk like that in public. I just saw this maternal-looking woman with pearls on saying things about the administration that I literally did not know people were allowed to say. First-grade social studies wasn't terribly heavy on the free-speech issues, and politically active women had only been presented in the most abstract, distant sense; I thought Ann Richards was the ballsiest, bravest woman in the world.

Then, in 1990, she was elected governor of Texas, and again I was amazed, because I literally didn't know that women could hold public office. I mean, sure, I knew, this wasn't some failing of the educational system, but I knew in that same abstract, textbook sense, the same way I knew that a black man could be elected president but hadn't been. She was still that maternal type in pearls, but now she was in charge of one of the biggest states in the country. And that amazed and inspired me. And throughout her career as governor, and even after, she remained one of the few politicians who still spoke their minds independent of party politics or public opinion. And that amazed and inspired me.

Of all of the politicians and leaders I've encountered since I really became politically aware, Governor Richards has stuck with me like none other. She opened up government to me just as she did to the non-white, non-men she appointed when she was governor. Even with Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Senate and Condoleezza Rice in the White House and Ruth Bader Ginsberg on the Supreme Court, the image of a woman in power, to me, still has a perfectly-sprayed Texas perm and a string of pearls. And a pair of the biggest cojones a human being can carry around. The world is a little less no-shit-taking for her absence, but if we can keep her spirit with us, we'll be all the better for it.

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