Ann Richards

The Wendy Davis campaign: Desperate times call for disgusting measures

Gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis makes a stop at the Family Crisis Center in Harlingen, Texas, Friday, Aug, 8 2014, to speak on the topic of domestic violence and the efforts she has made to help the victims of this crime. (AP Photo/Valley Morning Star, Maricela Rodriguez)

Gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis makes a stop at the Family Crisis Center in Harlingen, Texas, Friday, Aug, 8 2014, to speak on the topic of domestic violence and the efforts she has made to help the victims of this crime. (AP Photo/Valley Morning Star, Maricela Rodriguez)  

The desperation of the Wendy Davis campaign for governor has long been a subject of light derision thanks to the many fumbles of the state senator’s team. But the most recent thoughtless act born out of desperation is absolutely disgusting. With less than three months until the general election, the Davis campaign has finally released an ad reminiscent of one aired by the Ann Richards campaign, which referenced an insensitive remark made by Richards’ opponent Clayton Williams about rape during the 1990 gubernatorial race. The Richards ad was highly effective and largely responsible for her victory. But Wendy Davis is no Ann Richards, and the extremely disturbing ad has made me lose any modicum of respect for the gubernatorial candidate.

The Davis ad, which leaves very little to the imagination, references an instance in which a woman was sexually assaulted by a Kirby vacuum salesman whom she had let into her home for a demonstration. She sued Kirby Vacuums because there was no background check conducted on the salesman, who was on probation for a sex crime. At the time, current Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is also Davis’ opponent, was an associate justice on the Texas Supreme Court. When the case reached the high court, Abbott wrote a dissenting opinion because, according to him, the manufacturer was not responsible for the local distributor’s hiring process; the local distributor employed the vacuum salesman. The highly dramatized ad along with torrential winds, shows the salesman entering the home, the woman’s children sleeping, a door shutting and the salesman leaving the house.

In an effort to portray Abbott as someone who will relentlessly side with corporations even in the horrific case of sexual assault, the incompetency of the Davis campaign has yet again come to light by exploiting what I am sure is a painful memory for the victim. Additionally, it’s hard to believe that Abbott, who has spoken out against human trafficking and obscene photography, has the same nonchalant attitude toward rape as Clayton Williams. The ad does not show a candidate who fights for women and against sexual assault; all I see is a desperate campaign that would rather go deep down in the gutter than accept a likely defeat.

Davis is an associate editor.

Correction: An earlier version of this blog post stated the victim was not contacted. The victim was not spoken to directly by the campaign, but by representatives from a Democratic group that supports the Davis campaign. According to Davis, the victim was told by the group that the issue could possibly arise during the gubernatorial race. Representatives from the Davis campaign did not speak with the victim directly before airing the commercial, however. 

Texas Sen. Mark Strama, D-Austin, and his wife, former FOX 7 news reporter Crystal Cotti, gave insight into the lives of both politicians and journalists at the start of the Communication Council’s spring lecture series Wednesday night at the Belo Center for New Media.

Cotti said upon her initial arrival to UT she knew she wanted to be a news reporter and immediately got involved with KVR.

“I started out as an intern on-air and stayed as an intern off-air”, Cotti said. “My strategy was, basically, I would stick around until they had to start paying me. And it kind of worked out that way. I stayed around as a regular intern even after it was over and then in the spring of my junior year, I took the place of the morning reporter for a three-month period of time. I finally got paid for three months and left on pretty good terms.”

Cotti said she landed her first TV job straight out of college with FOX 7 in Austin. This was roughly the time she met Mark for his first campaign in 2004.

“That’s sort of what it takes to be a successful reporter,” Cotti said. “Sort of having that sense of what’s going to happen before it happens. You anticipate it and know what questions to ask so you can have this story come out with meaningful content.”

Strama said one of the reasons they hired her as a reporter at FOX straight of college is because she was very aggressive. In the reporter world you’re always competing with other reporters for the scoop.

Strama said he originally wanted to work in the music business, but he eventually volunteered for former Texas Gov. Ann Richards’ campaign and was hired. After Richards won, Strama met state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, who was impressed by his experience and hired him as his legislative director.

“He didn’t realize the only reason I was working for her is because we were using my grandmother’s town car to take people around,” Strama said. “He made me his legislative director which was an incredibly bad decision on his part but an incredible opportunity for me.”

Strama said he became interested in Texas politics again in 2003 because at that time the Texas Legislature was a total disaster.

“All the time they were making budget cuts, they were more focused on their political gain,” Strama said. “I got really frustrated with it and I moved back to Austin. That’s where I won my first political campaign. I was running against an incumbent in a republican district.”

Strama also announced yesterday that this will be his last term in the Texas Legislature.

“The biggest reason this will be my last term in the Legislature is in 2010 the Republican title wave that year took us from a House of Representatives that had a 76 to 74 republican majority to one that had a 101 to to 49 majority,” Strama said. “My ability to influence outcomes in the Legislature dropped dramatically.”

Strama said he announced his leave to make it easier for the four politicians running for his seat.

“Normally in politics you don’t announce that you’re a lame duck, you kind of marginalize yourself,” Strama said. “To make things easier for them I announced myself as a lame duck. I think the decision feels kind of liberating.”

Cotti said that it is possible that Strama will run for mayor of Austin but the decision will not be made until this summer. Strama says while he has a long list of reasons why he should run for mayor, he wants to have something to bring to the office if he wins.

Book: “Let the People In: The Life and Times of Ann Richards” 
Author: Jan Reid 
Publisher: University of Texas Press

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

In the long, sprawling history of outsized Texas political personalities, former governor Ann Richards’ star shone as bright as any. Her irreverent wit, small-town charm and straight-shooting personality led her from the rural fields of Lakeview, Texas, to the highest office in the state, blazing a trail for countless aspiring politicians inspired by her remarkable life story.

It is a story that acclaimed Texas journalist and author Jan Reid captures poignantly in “Let the People In: the Life and Times of Ann Richards,” published earlier this month by the University of Texas Press. In the book, which Reid describes as “a biography that contains a thread of memoir,” the personal friend and one-time environmental policy advisor recounts not only the later years in which Richards entered the statewide and national political spheres but also the four-and-a-half decades of her life preceding, which turn out to be just as captivating.

Reid, whose background is mostly in music journalism, starts with the future governor’s working-class upbringing in rural North Texas. He follows her through Waco High School and Baylor University, where she starred on the debate team; then he describes her marriage and early family life with high school sweetheart David Richards.

Reid moves the story along with a steady prose that is supplemented by revelatory photographs, anecdotes from family and friends and excerpts from Richards’ own 1989 memoir, “Straight from the Heart: My Life in Politics and Other Places.” The most interesting part of “Let the People In” is when the young Richards family moves to Austin in 1969. Upon arriving, they become acquainted with many of the musicians and counter-culture figures of the era, such as Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker and writers Gary Cartwright and Bud Shrake.

It is surprising to read how closely connected these seemingly opposite ends of the cultural spectrum were in that era. In describing the scenes and episodes from the era, Reid provides us with an eloquent portrait of Austin while also documenting the confluence of politics, history and cultural studies. He peppers the story with references to many recognizable Austin landmarks, such as the Armadillo World Headquarters, the Broken Spoke, Sholz Garten and the Texas Chili Parlor, as well as an extensive list of the colorful characters who populated them.

Reid then details Richards’ big break: getting the call to deliver the keynote address at the 1988 Democratic National Convention. This introduced Richards to the nation, making her an overnight political star with her famous attack on then-president George H.W. Bush: “Poor George, he can’t help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.”

The final section of “Let the People In” describes the ups and downs of Richards’ tenure as Texas’ 45th governor, from her initial successes at diversifying the office to her struggles and ultimate failure in fending off George W. Bush in her bid for re-election in 1994.

Overall the book is an engaging, informative read. In the current election cycle, this book is an excellent way to gain perspective on the changes in the political climate over the last 20 years.

Like any politician, Ann Richards was a somewhat polarizing figure, garnering many admirers and detractors alike. However, she was one of the major figures of late 20th century Texas politics, casting a highly influential shadow on subsequent generations. “Let the People In” is a definitive biography, with a story as inviting as its title suggests.

Jan Reid will be speaking and signing at BookPeople Wednesday at 7 p.m.

Printed on Wednesday, October 17, 2012 as: Author lets people in life of politician Ann Richards