Ann Richards is best remembered for her skewering of George H.W. Bush at the 1988 Democratic National Convention (“Poor George. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth”), and later — somewhat poetically — for losing the Texas governorship to Bush’s son. “All About Ann: Governor Richards of the Lone Star State” putties in the gaps, painting Richards as the life of every party, albeit someone who had the misfortune to be a Democrat in a deeply red state. HBO’s warmly felt doc isn’t a hard-hitting look, but it does give the late Texan a curtain call she no doubt would have relished.
A former schoolteacher, Richards became the first woman elected to statewide office in Texas when she ran for treasurer in 1982. A gubernatorial race against Clayton Williams — a comically gaffe-prone Republican candidate who kept having to apologize for his more inane and inarticulate statements — swept Richards into the governor’s office, but as those remembering her make clear (she died in 2006), her challenge to Texas’ entrenched interests and Karl Rove’s bare-knuckled politics (including an alleged whispering campaign, according to Richards associates, about her being a lesbian) ultimately led to her re-election defeat. George W. Bush became governor, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Yet while Richards’ interactions with the Bush family help burnish her significance, most of the time “All About Ann” seems happy enough just to celebrate what a gifted speaker and political humorist she was. Bill Clinton, for example, recalls a dinner with Richards, Robin Williams and Billy Crystal, asking the comics how often they weren’t the funniest people at the table.
Filled with “friends of Ann,” as some are called, there is no naysaying here about her political legacy. What seems clear, regardless of one’s view of her politics, is that Richards possessed the kind of natural political gifts that would have made her an attractive national candidate had she not hailed from a state where Democrats are about as easily elected as Republicans are in California.
Although Wendy Davis is currently bidding to become Texas’ third female governor, “All About Ann” doesn’t overly make that connection. Stripped of that, this represents the sort of nostalgic fare HBO indulges in mostly because it can, shedding light on a figure who certainly loved the spotlight.
There are probably other ways to spin the project, but as a good ol’ gal like Richards might say, that dog won’t hunt.