Ann Richards is diagnosed with esophageal cancer

Long may the former governor of Texas' wicked wit reign!

Published March 9, 2006 2:59PM (EST)

Bad news: Ann Richards, 72, has cancer of the esophagus, which the Associated Press reports kills 3,000 of the 3,300 American women diagnosed with it every year. The former governor of Texas will be treated at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, one of the best cancer hospitals in the world.

Most know Richards for one zinger from her keynote at the Democratic National Convention in 1988; in her rich drawl, she said of the first President Bush: "Poor George. He can't help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth."

Yet, there are so many other bits worth remembering from that excellent speech, such as: "I'm delighted to be here with you this evening, because after listening to George Bush all these years, I figured you needed to know what a real Texas accent sounds like." And the very next line: "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." You can listen to her awesome accent as she gives the speech here thanks to the magic of MP3, or read the transcript.

Some bear a grudge against Gov. Richards for losing her reelection campaign to George W. Bush in 1994, and unleashing him on the state, then the nation and ultimately the world, God help us. But as a transplanted Texan, I'll always treasure her for defeating another Texas oilman back in 1990 in her first governor's race. Clayton Williams refused to shake Richards' hand at a debate -- a snub that did not sit well with Texans -- while treating her like cattle on the campaign trail by vowing to "head her and hoof her and drag her through the dirt." During this memorable race, Claytie also famously compared the weather to rape: "As long as it's inevitable, you might as well lie back and enjoy it." What if Clayton Williams had won that election, I ask you, and had gone on to become president of the United  oh, never mind.

Plus, Richards has always encouraged other women to get into the political fray, attesting: "Let me tell you, sisters, seeing dried egg on a plate in the morning is a lot dirtier than anything I've had to deal with in politics." And Richards became governor of the Lone Star State after divorce and rehab -- "I smoked like a chimney and drank like a fish" -- proving that you do not have to have a perfect personal life to get ahead in Texas politics, even if you're a lady. And check out this motorcycle pic!

(Obligatory public health announcement: Yes, a history of smoking and drinking heavily is a risk factor for esophageal cancer.)

Best wishes to Richards while she wrestles with cancer. May she head it, hoof it and drag it through the dirt. In the meantime, we can all take comfort in the fact that she already has a very powerful successor: her daughter Cecile Richards, who is the president of Planned Parenthood.

By Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

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