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

Mary Beth Rogers has experienced the ups and downs of Texas politics, including her role as campaign manager and senior aide to Governor Ann Richards. She was there for Richards’ historic victory in 1990, then worked diligently in the governor’s office with an often turbulent legislature. She was there, too, for Richards’ 1994 loss to George W. Bush, a defeat that initiated a now unbroken Republican hegemony 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 “Study Action” political group, and their friendship and collaboration spanned 35 years. His first chapter of his new memoirs, Hope and hard truth, naturally highlights Richards’ connection, “but it’s not his story. It’s mine,” Rogers points out. Her broader topics are “the historical trends that have shaped my life and the lives of other women of my generation who have chosen to be active in Texas politics.”

It sounds perhaps more programmatic than Hope and hard truth turns out to be. A strong undercurrent is certainly the growing feminist sentiment expressed and encouraged by Rogers’ work in local, county, and state politics, and the other efforts chronicled here, such as the Texas Foundation for Women’s Resources and her Texas Women’s Resulting History Project. These cultural efforts, important in themselves, fueled 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, a step off the center — of a transformation in Texas politics, with stronger reverberations across the country.

But despite its subtitle – A Life in Texas Politics – Rogers’ memoir is more personal than political, an attempt to understand and recount his own interest in public affairs as an outgrowth of his family background and family beliefs. Much of the book is devoted to her marriage to John Rogers: They met at The Texas Dailythe UT-Austin student newspaper that launched quite a few political and journalistic careers, and in this case initiated a romantic and militant alliance that lasted until John’s untimely death in 1987. (In San Antonio Labor Movement , they earned the half-serious epithet “Mr. and Mrs. Extremo.”)

Here are also memories of his parents, his East Texas Methodist mother and his Sicilian businessman father, who provided him with moral grounding and some emotional reticence. Rogers traveled to Corleone, Sicily, Italy, in part to better understand her father’s public reluctance. Like the cinematic Corleones, he had learned early on not to share family affairs too easily. Although Rogers also led a very public life, not just in literal politics but as a professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, as CEO of KLRU-TV, and as a writer, Rogers attributes his own reluctance to seek the limelight in party following the example of his father.

In Hope and hard truth — the double-edged title suggests idealism tempered by pragmatism — while she has a lot to say about her experiences in state politics, she offers little commentary on the contemporary struggles of Texans under incompetent Republican administrations and more more reactionary. It’s not his topic this time. The book is a reflective memoir of a time when patient, rational, and progressive politics seemed to have a real chance of shaping a different future for all Texans. Mary Beth Rogers, Ann Richards, and their generational cohort did what they could to lay the foundation for a more inclusive, generous, and productive Texas. This work will have to be developed by those who have followed.

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

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