THE THORNY ROSE...

THE THORNY ROSE OF TEXAS. The reasons liberals will miss former Texas Governor Ann Richards, who died yesterday of cancer, are many -- not least among them her biting wit and willingness to turn it on the Bushes. She first caught the nation's eye as the keynote speaker at the 1988 Democratic National Convention, at which she took on the transplant-to-Texas and bumbling George Herbert Walker Bush, playing on the Connecticut native's patrician roots. "Poor George," she said in her trademark twang, "he can't help it; he was born with a silver foot in his mouth."

Of course, the Bushes -- that vindictive dynasty of mediocrity -- got their revenge when, in 1994, Richards was defeated in the Texas gubernatorial race by none other than our current president.

My reasons for mourning Richards are more personal. She was a feminist, a champion of civil and gay rights, and a recovering alcoholic who went public with her recovery. It was as if she were my personal champion, the patron saint of queer, feminist recovering alcoholics.

Any of those things would mark her as a woman of courage anywhere in the country; but to be all of those things in the great state of Texas, as it turned ever-rightward, required a steely gut. Throughout her life, Richards remained true to her larger-than-life self without descending to the cheap trick of self-parody.

I last saw Richards at a 2004 Democratic fundraiser I covered for the Washington Blade, the capital city's gay newspaper. With the GOP flogging the gay marriage issue to shore up its base, the Democrats, it seemed, wanted to talk about anything but. Their purpose that night -- in addition to raising lots of money, of course -- was to demonstrate party unity, apparently by expressing a middle-of-the-road message. It would have worked, perhaps, except for the fact that Richards had been chosen as the evening's emcee.

"We are so unified," she said, "that before their wives got wind of it, Joe Lieberman and Al Sharpton were on their way to San Francisco for a marriage license."

May she rest in peace.

--Adele M. Stan

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