Too Much Inside Baseball


Let the People In: The Life and Times of Ann Richard (2012. University of Texas Press. ISBN 9780292719644)

Before my now-departed law clerk, Rachel Bell, a bright young lawyer who graduated from the University of Texas Law School, gave me this biography of the last Democrat elected governor in the state of Texas, I had a vague recollection of Richards’s importance to the national political scene. Sadly, after plowing through this 440 page tome written by Texan and freelance journalist, Jan Reid, my understanding of Richards’s place in the history of national Liberal politics isn’t much more defined or focused. Beyond recounting tidbits of the late governor’s close relationship with Bill and Hillary Clinton and a few other notable politicos of national stature (late Congresswoman Barbara Jordan for one), much of the storyline of this book concerns Texas political gossip and history; hardly the sort of knowledge I’d hoped to gain when Rachel handed me the biography a few months’ back.

That having been said, the strongest and most compelling feature of the book is that Reid takes us back to Ann’s wild and wooly days in Austin as a feminist Liberal, when Richards (along with her activist lawyer husband) occupied the far left edge of Democratic politics in the Lone Star State.  Reid’s reportage of the early years, particularly Richards’s angst and internal turmoil over her place in America as a mother of small children seeking political advancement while battling alcoholism, is spot on. There’s no question that Reid has the chops to pull off a concise, compelling, and complete telling of Richards’s “activist housewife to national politician” story. But he doesn’t quite make the mark. Too often the author resorts  to insider baseball, dropping personal asides from his own interactions with the governor or her staff or her family, or vignettes from long-past political encounters, into the narrative. These diversions rarely move the story forward.

Most troubling to me as an author of political biography (Mr. Environment: The Willard Munger Story) is the author’s insertion of “me” and “I” into what should be a cleanly wrought third-person exposition of the governor’s life and times. I took particular care to exclude myself from Rep. Willard Munger’s life story so as to preserve editorial and authorial distance from the subject matter despite my close personal ties with my uncle. Mr. Reid’s insistence on inserting his (and his wife’s) personal encounters with the governor into the greater story of Richards’s career was distracting and, quite frankly, reduced the credibility of the reporting for me.

This is not to say that the book doesn’t have its moments of clarity, humor, and relevance. The chronicling of Governor Ann Richards’s rise serves as a reminder that once, long before George W. Bush and Rick Perry, the people of Texas elected a smart, Liberal, forward-thinking, pro-choice woman as their leader. What is missing from the book, at the end of the day, are political observations from folks like President Clinton, Senator Clinton, Jim Hightower  (and others who knew Ann and championed her causes and her career) is whether the Lone Star State’s changing demographic (soon to be a state where the majority of potential voters are of Hispanic descent) can sustain a state-wide victory for another Democratic candidate.

Overall, the book is a valuable resource for political junkies, Texas Democrats, and the folks who loved the governor’s feisty personality. But Reid’s insistence on inserting himself into the story and his emphasis of Richards’s importance to Texas politics (as opposed to her prominence in national Liberal circles) reduces the book’s scope and impact.

3 and 1/2 stars out of 5.





About Mark

I'm a reformed lawyer and author.
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