Ann and Bob: What happened?

Ann Richards loved to tell stories. But the one she refused to tell, at least publicly, could have provided an entire juice-fueled chapter for a book Dave McNeely is co-writing with Jim Henderson on another Texas giant: Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock. It's no secret that the relationship between Richards and Bullock turned sour not long after Richards took office as governor in 1991. But McNeely, who has covered the Legislature for more than four decades and knew Richards for nearly that long, couldn't pry that potential gem of a tale out of the grande dame of Texas storytellers.

"When I went to interview [Richards] about Bullock, she said, 'McNeely, I love you, but I'm not going to talk to you about Bullock,'" McNeely recalled. "It was really strange in some ways because they at one time had been drinking buddies, back when they both were still drinking." In researching his book, McNeely said he heard of one Bullock-Richards story that had the two of them flying to New York for the 1980 convention on Bullock's private plane. Once they hit NYC, McNeely said, "They didn't go anywhere near the convention. They just sort of drank and partied all over town. That may have been one of the things that precipitated her going to 'drunk school' [as Bullock called it]."

Later that same year, Richards' friends and family had an intervention for the rising star, and she agreed to check herself into a rehabilitation facility. She stopped drinking and smoking, although privately confided to friends that she worried she "wouldn't be funny anymore." In November, she and McNeely canoed down the Lower Canyons of the Rio Grande together. Turns out that Richards sober was just as funny as she always was.

Bullock and Richards' relationship was "relatively OK" during the governor's first year in office, 1991, McNeely said. "Bullock had this huge temper; he would just lose it, and I think the Richards administration" – filled with a new crop of women and minorities on the rise – "pretty much figured, 'We're not going to reward that kind of nasty behavior.'" A widely held theory explaining Bullock's ill will toward Richards is that he was angry that she was holding the position he had always wanted but, for one reason or another, never sought. It was further insulting that Richards stole what had previously been his spotlight, his press coverage, his Capitol. But it also had to do with the traditional, institutional tension between the two offices. "Bullock thought that Ann Richards should just cut ribbons and sign bills and that as lieutenant governor he ought to be doing all the nuts and bolts and details," McNeely said. "But Ann was into everything. She kept getting involved in things and Bullock resented that." Richards' strong hands-on approach to management likely proved a weakness more than strength. "She was a detail person," said McNeely, "and I think sometimes leaders can err in becoming too involved in things."

Folks who got along with Bullock knew well enough to keep him informed on anything and everything, McNeely recalled, but Richards refused to do that. "Bullock thrived on gossip, and the way to keep him happy was to provide him as much information as you could, including personal gossip. Richards simply did not supply that to him." When Richards ran for a second term in 1994, Bullock switched his allegiance and backed Bush. The two were a perfect match. "Bush came in and supplied [gossip] to him in spades," McNeely said. "Bush literally had Bullock eating out of his hand."

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