Those of us who worked for the late Ann Richards used to run our plans by her. The former Texas governor did not suffer fools, gladly or otherwise, and if your plan had flaws, she'd let you know in great detail. Working for her was like the Army; she was the toughest boss we ever loved.
Mark Strama worked for Richards' 1990 campaign. "I was terrified of Ann," he remembered. "I was 22. She was very intimidating."
After selling his company that registered voters online, Strama returned home to run for the state legislature, and that meant presenting his plan to the old boss.
When I decided to run, everybody said, 'You've got to call Ann Richards. Ask for her support.' I found that at the age of 37, I was as scared of Ann Richards as I'd been at 22. But I called her and asked if she'd support me. She was very stern on the other end of the phone. She said, 'Mark, why are you doing this?' I launched in to my entire stump speech. I started telling her everything I believe in and all of the issues that I care about and all the ways I could make a difference. I poured all my passion and idealism in to this way-too-lengthy soliloquy, and when I finally ran out of breath, there was five seconds of silence. Then, for the first time in all the time I'd known her, Ann Richards softened up toward me and said, 'Aw, sweetie, that's the dumbest thing I've ever heard in my whole life.'
Richards told him the only reason to run is because you can win, and he did by 569 votes. He has held the seat for a decade. Strama recently announced he wasn't running for reelection partly because being a Democratic lawmaker when Republicans won't let you make laws has "been frustrating and at times disheartening." Ann Richards' protégés have now come and gone, and Democrats still haven't won a statewide race since she was governor.
Obama's 2012 national field director Jeremy Bird never worked for Ann Richards. Now he's created Battleground Texas to, in his words, turn Texas into a swing state by treating it like a swing state. It's a shame Bird can't run his plan past Governor Richards to see if it passes muster.
What we do have is Holland Taylor of CBS's "Two and a Half Men" who has written and is starring in "Ann," a one-woman play now on Broadway. Taylor is so convincing as Richards when I see her in costume I worry about getting yelled at. And no less an expert than Ann's ex-husband read the script and pronounced, "She got it right," even though Holland estimates that she made up 90 percent of the script.
Bird says he wants to run "a 21st century campaign with real organizers in neighborhoods working for every single vote" as they did in Florida and Ohio. He even got Obama's Ohio field director, Jenn Brown, to come run Battleground Texas. This all sounds great, but I felt the need to run it by Ann Richards to make sure. So I asked Taylor to channel the late governor for me: Is this how Texas becomes a swing state?
"Turn Texas into a Swing State?" asked Richards (via Holland). "You mean by suiting up and going out to fight for every damn vote? Working your shiny butt off for the goddamn moon? Shoot... You might as well be a woman -- a divorced woman, a ten year sober alcoholic woman, and a Democrat, too -- and then run for Governor of Texas -- as launch a dumb-ass plan like that."
Ann Richards is enjoying a renaissance these days. Besides Holland's Broadway play, a biography and a feature-length documentary about her came out last year. Amid all this hoopla, the one thing we don't have in Texas is Ann herself, and Democrats could really use her leadership right now. As Bird and Brown mount a new Texas revolution, local Democrats lack Richards' star power, fundraising ability, and -- perhaps most of all -- her political instincts. This time, we're going to have to make it work without the Godmother's advice.