Cenizo Journal Spring 2023 - Page 9

and it had seemed to a few associates and a handful of pundits that she did not have the spirit for the fight . The governor had acquired an impression that her accomplishments in the job had been underappreciated . Recent polls had shown that male voters had backed away from her after a speech to high school girls at the legislature when she warned that their future husbands were likely to leave them alone with “ the kids , the mortgage , and the Volkswagen payments .” Was she being a bit too honest for a candidate seeking reelection ? One of the programs of which Richards was proudest involved a retraining effort that had been entitled , “ Smart Jobs .” When technology began to emerge as an economic force in Texas , and oil faltered , the governor had gotten the legislature to fund an effort to teach displaced energy workers how to function in the increasingly digital economy . She chose to highlight the success of the transitional training when she , ultimately , launched her reelection campaign . And I grew to regret her decision . The governor flew her media entourage to a factory in East Texas where welders were learning how to create aluminum vegetable trailers . The day had been long and hot , and we had been anticipating a different type of event . We trailed behind her through the un-air-conditioned plant trying to capture snippets of her conversations with the welders . I was overdressed for the heat , playing correspondent in a French blue shirt with a coat and tie , not having anticipated a factory floor as a destination . Lugging a tripod and microphone on a boom only made me hotter . “ How is welding aluminum different ?” Richards asked a trainee . “ I can ’ t say it right . But it ’ s just diff ’ rent .” “ How , though ? Can ’ t you explain it for me ?” “ Well , you just put your tip up in there , and , and it ’ s just diff ’ rent .” “ Well , okay ,” she said , satisfied at the accomplishments of her Smart
Jobs funding and how it had been spent .
The temperature in the factory was blazing greater than an arc welder but the governor persisted in talking to what felt like every man alive in the building while trying to understand the glories of aluminum welding and what her policies and politics had brought to the piney woods of East Texas . My light blue shirt had turned dark navy with sweat as I lugged the mic boom and heavy camera tripod on her circuit through the shop , which lasted over an hour . There was no one who was not soaking in perspiration and silently urging our garrulous governor to wrap it up and hold her news conference .
No podium was available for her to stand behind or support all the audio gear , which meant TV photogs and technicians taped their microphones to a light stand where Richards was to speak . There were also no chairs for reporters , and they were consigned to a location behind the row of TV cameras to avoid blocking the view . My cameraman did not want all that gooey gaffer ’ s tape on his expensive wireless rig , which meant I had to hold the long , extended boom out toward Richards .
When she finally arrived to take questions , I assumed that she was astute enough to have sensed our frustration with the heat and her lingered inquiries regarding the mysteries of welding .
I may have been the only familiar face the governor saw in the crowd , alone in front of the bank of cameras , and off to the side . Consequently , she turned to me for the first question of the news conference .
“ Well , Jee-im , you want to get us started ?” I was never sure if she was overdoing the accent to have fun , but she often gave my name two Texas syllables .
“ Why , yes , governor , I do .” I was ready , frustrated , dripping with sweat , and thought I had the sharp wiseass crack to highlight the absurdity of this campaign event . “ Go ahead , then ,” she said . “ Governor , I ’ m wondering if welding is a ‘ smart job ,’ what exactly is a dumb job ?”
The question did not reflect my values about work . I believe all work is honorable , and ought to be respected , but the governor had been dragging us through various campaign stops for a week and we were all on a physical and emotional edge with deadlines and daily reporting . I saw my question register as the dig it was intended to be and Richards looked me over closely as I cradled the long microphone boom in both hands and struggled to keep it steady while she spoke .
“ Well , Jee-im , it don ’ t look to me like bein ’ a microphone holder is a real smart job .”
If I had been able to formulate a comeback , or a follow up question , it would not have been heard over the laughter of my colleagues .
Ann W . Richards often viewed reporters as adversaries , determined to write only of her failures . My sense has been , through the decades , there was some fairness to this assessment for all public officeholders , but daily , we were simply doing our jobs of gathering information about the government and trying to put it into an accessible and understandable form for our audiences .
I was not certain how the governor had viewed me during my time reporting on her and had not given it much thought until being invited to ride the river . In fact , I did not care what her perceptions might have been because I knew I was acting professionally and objectively in the execution of my journalistic tasks . I had no control over her opinion and wanted no such influence .
When we pulled up our tent stakes after our night camping and stuffed our sleeping bags before pushing back into the river the next morning , I was still stuck pondering my invitation for this trip . I was pleased to have seen the governor more relaxed and uninhibited in her surroundings and when she did a few brief interviews on camera she did not sound like she was measuring her words for fear they might be improperly parsed . There was the thought that , perhaps , she was determined to be seen as a person of considerable charm and not a calculated politician . �

Cenizo Spring 2023 9