FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 15, 2006
Texas is laying to rest a leader who made and changed history, and altered the face of government in South Texas.
Governor Ann Richards was a friend of mine and a friend of South Texas. It wasn't hard to work with Ann. Despite our political differences, we always found common ground. She was issue-oriented, and we agreed on most issues. When I talked to her about the need for more representation from this area on state boards and commissions, she listened. During her tenure-1990 to 1994-she appointed over 60 South Texans to these important posts.
It is said of Queen Elizabeth I that she planted a seed in the mind of humanity about the capabilities and possibilities of women that culminated in the modern women's rights movements. The seed germinated in Ann. She gave women and minorities a golden opportunity that had not been extended before. It is reported that almost half of her gubernatorial appointees were women, 20 percent were Hispanic and 14 percent were black.
Ann once said, "The truth is that we cannot solve any of our problems until our institutions-both public and private-reflect the diversity of our population." These words expressed her sentiments and goals for Texas.
This great Governor always believed that South Texas is the front door to the United States and to a new world of economic development for Texas. We shared the vision of eradicating colonias and raising the standard of living of our colonia residents along the Border. She worked closely with us to secure Congressional dollars to begin bringing water and wastewater services to colonias. Most legislation that enriched the lives of people became part of her legacy.
Altogether, Ann signed 1,028 bills into law, and one of those was the bill I carried in 1991 that created a partnership between Texas Southmost and the University of Texas at Brownsville.
Her advocacy for higher education transitioned into public education reform. She championed a bill in 1991 in response to the ruling by the Texas Supreme Court holding the public school finance system unconstitutional. The bill created 188 county and multi-county education districts, established a two-tier system of funding and set the maximum tax rate at $1.50, excluding debt service. She valued a school system that was soundly and fairly funded, and was the first Governor to tackle how we finance our public schools. Two years later, she further demonstrated her love of children by offering leadership on a proposal to immunize all children under the age of 18. She also founded the Texas Commission on Children and Youth to improve public programs for children in the areas of education, health care, juvenile justice and family services.
During her tenure, the Texas-Mexico Border gained three new international bridges, including the Pharr International Bridge, which alone cost $35 million. She envisioned an expanded transportation infrastructure for the Rio Grande Valley, a struggle that we continue to this day. However, she supported several transportation projects from El Paso to Brownsville, including airport expansions.
Her staunch support of NAFTA benefited the Border and our agriculture industry. Gov. Richards believed that exports were essential to increased economic growth in agriculture. The Office of Rural Affairs, in what was then the Texas Department of Commerce, was created by Ann to help small and rural communities, like those that dot South Texas.
In 1990 Ann Richards won the Governor's seat and I won my District 27 Senatorial seat. Perhaps it was fate. Perhaps it was luck. Regardless, it was a pleasure to work with a woman of such strength and character. We shared more commonalities than differences. I understood her political alliances and respected them. Ann Richards was a great Governor. Her wit made people smile. Her national and international fame made Texas proud.
I've been quoted as saying that Governor Ann Richards made us laugh and she made us think. The following comment she made in 1993 rings so true for us: "We have said for years that government cannot do it all. But now we must decide what government can do…and then we must do it well."
As always, if you have any input or questions regarding these or other matters, please do not hesitate to contact Doris Sanchez, my press secretary, 512-463-0385.