( 1933-), a voice for political empowerment
BONNIE J. DOW
In 1990 Ann Willis Richards was elected governor of Texas, the nation's third most populous state, and one with a decidedly masculine cultural ethos. The myths that dominate Texan culture are those of rugged individualism and cowboy heroics, and her rise to state and national prominence reflects her success at merging old and new political wisdom to create a place for herself in this tradition. Willis Richards' ability to blend substance with elements of feminism, humor, and folk wisdom in an engaging rhetorical style has been the key to her success in Texas and in national politics. She has become a nationally known figure sought after for her ability to analyze the nation's political condition.
Willis Richards' distinctive approach to politics, enacted in her rhetoric, is a combination of her faith in the power of democratic politics to improve the lives of the disempowered, her reliance on family issues and values as central to political life, and her belief that government exists to serve the people. These core concerns can be traced to her early life experiences as well as to her experiences as a political volunteer and as a wife and mother in the years before she ran for public office.
Born Dorothy Ann Willis on September 1, 1933, in Lakeview, a tiny community outside Waco, Texas, she was the only child of hardworking parents from rural farming backgrounds. Her early commitment to civil rights and her rhetorical skills can both be linked to adolescent experiences. When her father was drafted by the Navy in 1942, she and her mother moved to San Diego, California, to be near him. Until that time, she had lived in the strictly segregated world of rural Texas, but in San Diego, she attended school with children of varied ethnicity and background. As she comments in her autobiography, "I was never able to understand racial prejudice after that" ( Richards, 1989:56).