Book Review: Hope and Hard Truth: A Life in Texas Politics

Life beyond the governor’s office with Ann Richards’ chief aide

Mary Beth Rogers has experienced the highs and lows of Texas politics, most famously in her role as campaign manager and chief aide to Gov. Ann Richards. She was there for Richards' historic 1990 victory, and then worked zealously in the governor's office with an often fractious Legislature. She was there as well for Richards' 1994 defeat by George W. Bush, a loss that initiated a Republican hegemony now unbroken for nearly three decades.

The Richards administration was the visible high point of Rogers' long career in grassroots politics. They first met in a Dallas woman's political "Study Action" group, and their friendship and collaboration persisted for 35 years. Her first chapter of her new memoir, Hope and Hard Truth, understandably highlights the Richards connection, "but this is not her story. It is mine," Rogers emphasizes. Her broader subjects are "historical trends that shaped my life and the lives of other women of my generation who chose to be active in Texas politics."

That sounds perhaps more programmatic than Hope and Hard Truth turns out to be. Certainly a strong undercurrent is the rising feminist sentiment expressed and encouraged by Rogers' work in local, county, and state politics, and the other efforts recounted here, like the Texas Foundation for Women's Resources and its resultant Texas Women's History Project. These cultural efforts, important in their own right, fed the political campaigns that Rogers joined or led. It's no exaggeration to say that she was at the center – or as she might prefer it, one step beside the center – of a transformation of Texas politics, with louder reverberations nationwide.

But despite its subtitle – A Life in Texas Politics – Rogers' memoir is more personal than political, an attempt to understand and recount her own interest in public matters as an outgrowth of her family background and her familial convictions. A good part of the book is devoted to her marriage with John Rogers: They met at The Daily Texan, the UT-Austin student newspaper that has launched quite a few political as well as journalistic careers, and in this case initiated a romantic and activist alliance that lasted until John's early death in 1987. (In the San Antonio labor movement, they earned the half-serious epithet "Mr. and Mrs. Extremo.")

Also here are memories of her parents, her East Texas Methodist mother and Sicilian businessman father, who provided a moral grounding and a certain emotional reticence. Rogers traveled to Corleone, Sicily, in Italy in part to better understand the public reticence of her father. Like the cinematic Corleones, he had learned early not to share family matters too readily. While Rogers has also led a very public life, not only in literal politics but as a professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, as the CEO of KLRU-TV, and as a writer, Rogers attributes her own reluctance to seek the limelight in part to her father's example.

In Hope and Hard Truth – the double-edged title suggests idealism tempered by pragmatism – while she has plenty to say about her experiences in state politics, she offers little commentary on the contemporary predicaments of Texans under incompetent and increasingly reactionary Republican administrations. That's not her subject this time around. The book is a reflective memoir of a time when patient, rational, progressive politics seemed to have a real chance to mold a different future for all Texans. Mary Beth Rogers, Ann Richards, and their generational cohort did what they could to lay a foundation for a more inclusive, generous, and productive Texas. That work will have to be built upon by those who have followed.

Hope and Hard Truth: A Life in Texas Politics 
Mary Beth Rogers, University of Texas Press
232 pp., $26.95

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Hope and Hard Truth: A Life in Texas Politics, Mary Beth Rogers, Ann Richards, UT Press

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