I wish Ann were here

Over the past year, as Hillary Clinton has emerged as the first serious female contender for President of the United States, a lot of us in Texas have said the same thing: “I wish Ann were here.”

Ann Richards would be riding high right about now. Because whatever happens in the next few days and weeks, this is a historic time for women. And Ann had a lot to do with getting us here.

Most everybody in Texas has an Ann Richards story. I got to be a part of her gubernatorial inauguration, when she led a parade down Congress Avenue to the capitol building — her way of showing the Bubbas that a new sheriff was in town. For those of us who were young adults when she was elected governor, she was a symbol of hope in a state where good ol’ boys had always been in charge. Since she carried the women’s vote by 60 percent, seems that a lot of those good ol’ boys’ wives voted for Ann.

Ann had already made an impression on the rest of the country. At the 1988 Democratic National Convention, her opening remarks included a sound bite that is Ann at her best.

“Twelve years ago Barbara Jordan, another Texas woman, Barbara made the keynote address to this convention, and two women in a hundred and sixty years is about par for the course.

But if you give us a chance, we can perform. After all, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels.”

The whole speech is a gem. Take a listen when you have a few minutes. Get ready to be inspired — and irritated that so much of what the Republicans were doing 20 years ago, they’re still doing today. Same song, second Bush.

A few days ago, AfterEllen.com blogger Ace told me she always wanted Ann to be president, with Molly Ivins as White House spokesperson. What an administration! We’d actually look forward to the State of the Union address.

Molly herself said that if Ann had been 10 years younger, she could’ve been president. Instead, she spent her career using her fabulous wit and down-to-earth manner to combat sexism and racism. And at every juncture, she’d step back, smile, and say, “Idn’t it wonderful?”

This week, the Hillary campaign in Texas put together a video with highlights from Ann Richards’ career. It has sparked controversy, since it assumes Ann would’ve campaigned for her friend Hillary. Ann’s youngest daughter, Ellen, thinks that indeed she would. In a statement, she said, “I believe that if my mom were alive today that she would be stumping across Texas and around the country supporting Hillary for president.”

Ann’s boys, Dan and Clark, aren’t so sure. “As her children, we never presumed to know her mind when she was alive and we are not prepared to make a claim as to who she would endorse or what she would do if she were still with us.” Fair enough. Predictable, Ann was not.

The blogosphere is ablaze with opinions on both sides. Hillary supporters, especially women, think the video is a grand tribute to Ann and to the progress of women. Obama supporters are outraged that Hillary claims endorsement from a dead person (apparently forgetting that Barack never shies from invoking the spirit of JFK).

Whatever your opinion, set it aside for a few minutes and enjoy the greatness of Ann Richards.

Would Ann have supported Hillary? We can’t know. My suspicion is that if Ann were alive, Hillary would be a much different candidate, thanks to a straight-shooting friend who got in her face when she veered off-course. And Ann wouldn’t have hesitated for a minute to call out the media for its sexism.

One thing’s for sure. Ann would have been tickled to death that the choice for the Democratic nomination is between a woman and an African American. I can almost hear her, watching the debates, taking it all in and saying, “Idn’t it wonderful?” And you know, it really is.