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Let the People In: The Life and Times of Ann Richards

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When Ann Richards delivered the keynote of the 1988 Democratic National Convention and mocked President George H. W. Bush—"Poor George, he can't help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth"—she instantly became a media celebrity and triggered a rivalry that would alter the course of American history. In 1990, Richards won the governorship of Texas, upsetting the GOP's colorful rancher and oilman Clayton Williams. The first ardent feminist elected to high office in America, she opened up public service to...

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Let the People In: The Life and Times of Ann Richards

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Overview

When Ann Richards delivered the keynote of the 1988 Democratic National Convention and mocked President George H. W. Bush—"Poor George, he can't help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth"—she instantly became a media celebrity and triggered a rivalry that would alter the course of American history. In 1990, Richards won the governorship of Texas, upsetting the GOP's colorful rancher and oilman Clayton Williams. The first ardent feminist elected to high office in America, she opened up public service to women, blacks, Hispanics, Asian Americans, gays, and the disabled. Her progressive achievements and the force of her personality created a lasting legacy that far transcends her rise and fall as governor of Texas.

In Let the People In, Jan Reid draws on his long friendship with Richards, interviews with her family and many of her closest associates, her unpublished correspondence with longtime companion Bud Shrake, and extensive research to tell a very personal, human story of Ann Richards's remarkable rise to power as a liberal Democrat in a conservative Republican state. Reid traces the whole arc of Richards's life, beginning with her youth in Waco, her marriage to attorney David Richards, her frustration and boredom with being a young housewife and mother in Dallas, and her shocking encounters with Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter. He follows Richards to Austin and the wild 1970s scene and describes her painful but successful struggle against alcoholism. He tells the full, inside story of Richards's rise from county office and the state treasurer's office to the governorship, where she championed gun control, prison reform, environmental protection, and school finance reform, and he explains why she lost her reelection bid to George W. Bush, which evened his family's score and launched him toward the presidency. Reid describes Richards's final years as a world traveler, lobbyist, public speaker, and mentor and inspiration to office holders, including Hillary Clinton. His nuanced portrait reveals a complex woman who battled her own frailties and a good-old-boy establishment to claim a place on the national political stage and prove "what can happen in government if we simply open the doors and let the people in."

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Editorial Reviews

Economist
Illuminates the challenge of being a woman in Texas politics during the late twentieth century. . . . Credit for the changing times belongs in large measure to the fortitude of Richards and others like her.
Houston Chronicle
There’s something interesting on almost every page of Let the People In. This is a terrific book about a fascinating woman.
Booklist - Mary Carroll
Required reading for political junkies—and for women considering a life in politics.
Texas Monthly - David Oshinsky
Reid is a clever stylist and a terrific storyteller. He has a fine grasp of Texas politics and no ideological ax to grind. As an account of Richards the politician in Lone Star surroundings, Let the People In is about as good as it gets.
Washington Post - Bryan Burrough
Hers is a darned good story, and Reid, a veteran of Austin literary and political circles, tells it with sympathy, insight and a deep knowledge of contemporary Texas politics.
The Washington Post
…Richards, as…Jan Reid demonstrates in his savvy new biography…was more than the sharp-tongued granny she often played for the national press. She was among the first ardent feminists to gain high office, and for a time in the early 1990s, she was mentioned as a presidential candidate…Hers is a darned good story, and Reid, a veteran of Austin literary and political circles, tells it with sympathy, insight and a deep knowledge of contemporary Texas politics.
—Bryan Burrough
Publishers Weekly
Many people remember Ann Richards's 1988 signature line about George W. Bush being "born with a silver foot in his mouth," but there was more to this spunky Texan politician than her gift of gab, as Texas Monthly¬?writer-at-large Reid (Texas Tornado: The Life and Music of Doug Salim) attests. Reid's friendship with Richards (1933–2006) permits her access into the complex, conflicted, larger-than-life personality of the self-made woman from Waco, Tex., who rose through the cutthroat ranks of state politics from county commissioner to governor and media celebrity. Her fascinating journey wasn't a smooth one, cluttered with alcoholism and a divorce, but through it all, her magnetic presence shines forth. Although her appointments of women, homosexuals, and minorities to state posts are huge achievements in a conservative region, her maverick style of pushing educational, prison, and environmental reforms stand out. Reid's revealing portrait of Richards¬?pulls no punches and stands as a tribute to Richards's rare gifts of grit, survival, and grace. Photos.
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Booklist
Required reading for political junkies—and for women considering a life in politics.
— Mary Carroll
Texas Monthly
Reid is a clever stylist and a terrific storyteller. He has a fine grasp of Texas politics and no ideological ax to grind. As an account of Richards the politician in Lone Star surroundings, Let the People In is about as good as it gets.
— David Oshinsky
Library Journal
It's hard to believe that as recently as the early 1990s, the bright-red state of Texas had a pro-choice female Democrat as its governor. But Ann Richards (1933–2006) was not your typical lib'rul. A shrewd, quick-witted politician, Richards had a natural ability to connect with everyday citizens and political power players alike. Reid (writer-at-large, Texas Monthly; The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock) tells the story of this remarkable woman, writing not only as her biographer but also as her friend over several decades. Despite his closeness to his subject, Reid keeps personal anecdotes to a minimum and assembles a comprehensive narrative of Richards's life, from her humble upbringing in Waco to her time in the governor's office. VERDICT This book, which maintains a brisk pace and is filled with characters found only deep in the heart of Texas politics, is an indispensable addition to any collection specializing in Texas or state politics and feminist political figures. Both scholarly and accessible, it will appeal to almost any reader interested in the lives of American politicians.—Brett Rohlwing, Milwaukee P.L.
Kirkus Reviews
A lucid biography of the Texas politician who briefly mounted the national stage, only to be swept aside by the events of two decades past. Readers who recall when Texas was Democratic will certainly remember Ann Richards (1933–2006), the tough-talking, motorcycle-riding governor who drove the Bush family to distraction. At the 1988 Democratic National Convention, she famously said of Bush's gaffes, "He can't help it--he was born with a silver foot in his mouth." Bush senior laughed it off, but Bush junior swore vengeance, unseating her as governor and effectively retiring her politically. Reid (Comanche Sundown, 2010, etc.), a former Richards staffer, does a solid and evenhanded, if surely partisan job of recounting Richards' rise from a politically interested but unconnected, thoroughly liberal homemaker to chief executive of one of the nation's most important states. The road was rocky, complicated by Richards' drinking and drug use--a little marijuana here, a few prescription pills there ("But Ann was an alcoholic," said one intimate. "She had a vodka problem, she didn't have a drug problem"). Texans generally had no problem with Richards' habits or friendships with the likes of Lily Tomlin and Willie Nelson, though one particularly ugly Republican smear campaign accused her of bisexuality--and that was before Karl Rove got into the game. Reid notes the considerable curiosities of Texas politics, in which more real power seems to rest with the lieutenant governor than the governor, and the railroad commissioner seems to answer only to God. Richards was nothing if not colorful, but she made dangerous enemies, one of whom would use her supposed indifference to educational excellence to become The Decider. Politics junkies--particularly students of strange doings in the Lone Star State--will revel in this sturdy life.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780292754492
  • Publisher: University of Texas Press
  • Publication date: 9/1/2013
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 495
  • Sales rank: 526,563
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Jan Reid has written for Texas Monthly, Esquire, GQ, Slate, Men’s Journal, Garden & Gun, the New York Times, and many other publications. His books include The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock, The Bullet Meant for Me, Rio Grande, Texas Tornado: The Times and Music of Doug Sahm, and two award-winning novels, Deerinwater and Comanche Sundown. He lives in Austin, Texas.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Prologue: Glimpses

Part I: Gardens of Light
Chapter 1: Waco
Chapter 2: New Frontiers
Chapter 3: Lovers Lane
Chapter 4: Mad Dogs and First Fridays
Chapter 5: The Hanukkah Chicken

Part II: Superwoman's Chair
Chapter 6: Problem Lady
Chapter 7: Landslides
Chapter 8: Raw Deals
Chapter 9: Capsized
Chapter 10: The Class of '82
Chapter 11: Raise Money and Wait
Chapter 12: Cheap Help

Part III: Only in Texas
Chapter 13: Poker Faces
Chapter 14: The Speech
Chapter 15: Dispatches
Chapter 16: Backyard Brawl
Chapter 17: Answer the Question
Chapter 18: Bustin' Rocks
Chapter 19: The Rodeo

Part IV: The Parabola
Chapter 20: The New Texas
Chapter 21: Fast Start
Chapter 22: Ethicists
Chapter 23: Odd Couples
Chapter 24: Favorables
Chapter 25: White Hot
Chapter 26: Heartaches by the Number
Chapter 27: Troubles by the Score
Chapter 28: Sass
Chapter 29: Collision Course
Chapter 30: Queen Bee

Epilogue: Passages
Notes
Photo Credits
Index

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