Political Portrait Autobiography for the Campaign Season BY W. GARDNER SELBY STRAIGHT FROM THE HEART By Ann Richards New York: Simon and Schuster 255 pages, $18.95 ALL RIGHT, Texas political pundits, here’s a question to ponder: Is it foolish or clever to send forth your autobiography five months before voters consider you in the Texas gubernatorial primary? The answer, given to us by State Treasurer Ann Richards, is both. Her fresh work, while drawing praise in the national media attention, brims foolishly at times with rapturous goodwill, so much so that readers may wonder how in Hades Richards ever became a Travis County commissioner, then state treasurer, and then acclaimed keynote speaker at the 1988 Democratic National Convention in Atlanta. Her life up to now, it seems, has been a series of pleasant surprises marred only by treatment for alcoholism and the subsequent breakup of her 30-year marriage. In boosting her candidacy, however, this work could be considered quite clever. As any TV spin doctor or high school debater would advise, Richards has taken her potential weak spots as a single, middleaged divorcee and recovering alcoholic and given them a most positive slant. She writes that she eventually savored her hospital treatment for alcoholism in 1980, and that she welcomes public discussion of her battle. She says her 1984 divorce was tough, but could not be avoided. Cursory acceptance of these statements might lead us to see the folksy Richards as an iron lady after all and just tough enough, as another Democratic candidate for governor says, to be a guy. Unfortunately, however, Richards spins her story too cautiously. Maybe she thinks she has to do this to get into the Governor’s Mansion. Only in passing does she mention nor. Yet, craftily enough, the photograph on the back of the book jacket shows the author, with famous granddaughter Lily on her lap, posed with family in front of an Ann Richards for Governor banner. Coincidentally or not, Straight From The Heart matches the title of a 1987 collection of speeches by the Rev. Jesse Jackson. In fact, the Richards book might better be called Straight From The Stump, if only W. Gardner Selby is an Austin writer. GAIL WOODS because she dictated large portions to coauthor Peter Knobler. She begins one chapter: “I don’t believe I’ve talked sufficiently about women:” and in another, awkwardly declares: “I’m a great believer in synergism,” which amounts to saying, “I believe teams play better football than quarterbacks on their own.” While tossing out Texanisms like Honest to Pete and howdying of making big points such as where we might place her beyond the podium in Atlanta. Unlike, say, a Jim Hightower or Phil Gramm, she also fails to direct criticism toward other public figures a tack that might have defined her by artful gibe. RICHARDS CAN tell a good story on herself, and in several fine passages, offers clues to her suc cess. After charting her early exposure to Democratic Party politics in Dallas and Washington, D.C., she tells us about her first serious foray into campaign work as an organizer for soonto-be State Rep. Sarah Weddington of Austin in 1972. Richards reasonably hearkens to her own Waco childhood by describing seminars she and political friends gave to citizens’ groups around Texas on how to succeed in public proceedings. “We were a new generation of Home Demonstration Ladies,” she writes, “but with a much wider menu!” Demonstrating her political acumen, Richards also details her analysis of local voter patterns preceding her rookie run for county commissioner. After the successful campaign, during which Richards left personal notes on numerous doorsteps, she recalls: “The phone rang one afternoon and when I answered, a woman said, ‘Mrs. Richards, I have your cat.’ I was perplexed . . . ‘Did one run away?” No, Mrs. Richards. You wrote me on that postcard and said if my calico cat ever had kittens, that you wanted one? I have her for you.’ . . . I went over to the woman’s house and got that cat; she turned out to be a darling kitten, and I still have her.” To students of Texas politics, these sections improve the book. They provide some of the details that help explain Richards’s impressive rise to national prominence. From such a natural storyteller as Richards, I anticipated an equally coherent personal story. Instead, little gaps in her tale suggest too much writing done on the fly. Why, for instance, did she drop her first name, Dorothy, in high school? Does the evangelical bent of the Rev. Billy Graham, which the young Richards considered “as glamorous as one-arm driving,” still play a role in her life? What personal historical significance should we attach to a photograph of Richards sharing balloons with children \(over her saying, “And I do Most personally, Richards fuzzes on the dissolution of her marriage to high school sweetheart Dave Richards a divorce she calls “the hardest thing I have ever done.” Instead of delivering what might have been a dramatically insightful look at how alcohol and public success affected her marriage, Richards backs off. She says only: “The 16 OCTOBER 13, 1989
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