The Cowboy and the Good Ol' Girl : In an Era of Bland Politics, Claytie Williams and Ann Richards Are Brawling, Down and Dirty, in Texas

J. Michael Kennedy is the Houston bureau chief of The Times

CLAYTON WILLIAMS JR., in a pricey gray business suit and straw summer cowboy hat, strides toward the several hundred people gathered at the Circle R Ranch in Flower Mound, a bedroom community north of Dallas. He flashes his face-splitting grin and begins his meeting-and-greeting, running-for-governor routine, part of which is kissing just about every woman who comes within arm's reach and having his picture taken with the ladies, always with his thumb pointed toward the heavens.

His voice sounds like heavy-duty sandpaper against rough wood as he makes his way to the head table: "How're you? Glad to see you. Thanks for coming by."

Once seated, he flips his tie back, licks his fingers and digs into a plate of barbecue with a plastic knife and fork. His hat rests on the table in front of him, and a growing bald spot at the back of his head is revealed. True, Williams is the star attraction, but there are other matters to be discussed before he takes the speaker's stand, namely, the upcoming Western Week celebration in neighboring Lewisville.

A young blond woman holds forth for an eternity, introducing the Western Week grand marshal and other dignitaries and gushes about the booths, dance groups, gunfight shows and chalk art being prepared for the big event. When Williams finally gets behind the microphone, he begins the speech that marks his every stop. "Hold on to your seats," he tells the crowd. "I'm liable to be your governor."

Then, predictably, comes the yarn of Williams' early years in Fort Stockton, the largest dot on the map between San Antonio and El Paso, of how he played halfback for the Fort Stockton Panthers. Williams pauses at this point because he knows he's going to get them with this one.

"They were small and, boy, they were slow," he says of his team, anticipating with relish the punch line that has become a permanent fixture in his repertoire. "We had a 5-5 record--" Long pause. "We lost five on the road and we lost five at home."

The crowd laughs appreciatively, as it always does. He ticks off his spiel about how--without any new taxes--he plans to mount a war on drugs like no one has ever seen: beefing up law enforcement, doubling prison space and sending first offenders to boot camp for rigorous, military-style training. All of which is the setup for the line that put Clayton Williams here, delivered in his most sincere voice: "Gov. Clayton Williams is going to introduce them to the joys of bustin' rocks!"

The crowd really goes for that one, applauding and whooping it up. Those words, first spoken in one of his television commercials, are the ones that propelled Williams out of political obscurity, turning him from just one of many millionaires in the dusty West Texas city of Midland to the odds-on favorite in the Texas gubernatorial race. He has gotten this far solely on the strength of images, of television commercials and crowd-pleasing speeches. For the 59-year-old Republican, the governorship is the ultimate trophy to hunt down and add to his collection; the heads of the many big-game animals he has shot crowd his office walls. He is going after it with all of his trademark zest. Now all he has to do is beat Ann Richards.

IT'S A TAKE-YOUR-COAT-OFF DAY, A SCORCHER, THE WAY IT always is just before summer turns to autumn in Fort Worth. Texas State Treasurer Ann Richards is standing in front of a gate at the General Dynamics plant, where, inside the cavernous hangars, an army of workers builds F-16 fighter jets.

It seems that one of the prerequisites for the job of governor is having to stand on the edge of the broiling parking lot at the 3:30 p.m. shift change. Richards, in a pink-and-white checked skirt, her swirled white hair absolutely immovable as always, braces herself as she is almost trampled underfoot by the wave of workers who crash through the gate, racing for their cars.

"Good to see you," says Richards, handing a campaign brochure to a plant worker. "I'm Ann Richards, and I'm running for governor." The woman accepts the brochure with no hint of recognition. But there are others who recognize Richards at once, like the man wearing "Another Man for Ann" T-shirt and Brenda Brimer, a procurement analyst at the plant and a member of the Texas Democratic Party Executive Committee. The two women hug; they have known each other for years. Brimer once gave Richards a coffee cup inscribed: "Behind every successful woman is a surprised man."

From early morning, Richards, 57, has been pressing the flesh, first in San Antonio, then in Fort Worth. Dallas is on the evening calendar. She has been at full tilt since late August, when most politicians were working the fund-raising circuit and resting up for the grueling campaign stretch. She has good reason. The most-recent polls showed her to be more than 10 percentage points behind Williams.

The man is an absolute political neophyte. She has been a successful public servant for 14 years. Yet she is the underdog. But this is the quintessential down-and-dirty media campaign, and experience has little to do with anything.

Although still battle-weary from a primary in which her opponents accused her of, among other things, having a history of mental illness and cocaine use, she has no intention of losing the governorship to a quasi-cowboy who has built himself almost entirely out of TV commercials and canned speeches.

"We're going to have to have more than pretty pictures and catchy slogans on television," she tells a cheering crowd. "We won't be solving many of our problems in 30 seconds of prime time."

WILLIAMS IS AN OILMAN and ranch owner who arrived on the political scene last year with a pumped-up wallet and some of the slickest TV commercials ever seen in the state. His detractors often refer to him as the "Donald Trump of Texas" because he's such an unabashed self-promoter; his friends call him Claytie. He doesn't own a pair of shoes--only cowboy boots--and he once rode a horse up the steps of the state capitol as a publicity stunt for a telephone company he once owned.

Give Williams a couple of beers and he'll croon some of his Spanish favorites--or get in a fistfight. During the primary he was accused of playing to the "Bubba vote." Williams replied without missing a beat: "I am Bubba."

Running against Bubba is, of all things, a woman. Richards was catapulted into the national spotlight with her keynote address at the 1988 Democratic National Convention--the one with the wicked line about George Bush's being "born with a silver foot in his mouth." Richards is a member in good standing of what Williams derisively calls "that Austin crowd," which over the years has included some of the state's best-known writers, musicians and left-leaning thinkers. She has survived alcoholism and a failed marriage to become one of the state's most popular politicians, much of it on the strength of her considerable wit and skill as an orator.

Richards and Williams are a formidable duo even by Texas' larger-than-life standards, and theirs is unquestionably the most colorful race of the year; the California race between Pete Wilson and Dianne Feinstein has been positively genteel in contrast. The verbal sparrings between Williams and Richards are frequent and fierce, with no apology from either side--at one point, Williams said he was going to tie up Richards like a calf and "drag her through the dirt." The Williams people are doing their best to portray Richards as some kind of pointy-headed liberal, a gay-lesbian sympathizer with questionable patriotism who, among other things, committed the sin of accepting money from Jane Fonda. He has attempted to paint her as part of the Hollywood crowd and an accomplice in the savings and loan scandal, and claims she is weak on crime and supported by Death Row inmates.

The Richards people, meanwhile, are trying to put chinks in Williams' son-of-the-earth routine, calling him a junk bond peddler and a polluter, a man who's as ignorant as a box of rocks when it comes to state government. In a recent speech, Richards derided Williams as "some media cowboy who rides off into the sunset and kisses the horse instead of the girl." Her camp has depicted Williams as a businessman with serious financial problems, including failure to pay his employees, and has accused him of fraud and price-fixing.

One of the most shameless groaners of the race came in late September. Shortly after a Houston Chronicle poll showed Richards losing by 15 percentage points, her camp claimed that she was only six points behind. "I hope she didn't go back to drinking again," Williams said to reporters in San Antonio.

Later, by way of clarification, Claytie-style, he added, "Well, she's running for governor of Texas, not mayor of San Francisco." He refused to apologize.

A Richards spokesman countered by calling Williams a "fraudulent, honking goose."

It has been a campaign of symbols--the rugged cowboy and the spunky lady duking it out. This, after all, is Texas, where politics is blood sport, where down-and-dirty tactics are a tradition, where Lyndon Johnson won a 1948 Senate race by withholding a ballot box until he could be sure he had the votes to win. But despite its entertainment value, there is a growing sentiment that this year's contest is a low-road comedy that has turned the state into a political laughingstock. Following on the heels of a horrendous and well-publicized mudslinging primary, the Williams-Richards race seems anachronistic to many Texans who want a different image of their state: that of a forward-thinking place suitable for high-tech investment.

A popular joke goes like this: Clayton Williams and Ann Richards are on a life raft that's sinking. Who will be saved? Answer: The people of Texas.

There is more than a little bitterness behind the humor. In this battle of personalities, the issues have become secondary. And in a state with more than its share of major problems, that is no laughing matter. In a recent editorial, the Dallas Morning News chided both candidates for "trading 30-second lies and half-truths over the airwaves" when they should be "doing more to describe their vision of Texas' future." And Jack Loftis, editor of the Houston Chronicle, the largest paper in the state, is so disappointed with both candidates that the paper may not endorse either one.

Williams and Richards have squared off in a bid to replace Gov. Bill Clements, a Republican who, like Williams, made his fortune in the oil business. He took office for a second term four years ago and then practically disappeared after his role in the Southern Methodist University football scandal was revealed. Clements knew about players being paid when he was president of the SMU board of governors, but opted not to report it.

During those four years, Texas fought to recover from the fiscal flogging it suffered during the oil bust. The recent dramatic rise in the price of oil has helped some sectors of the economy but is by no means a panacea. The state finds itself with a tenuous economy, bulging prisons, a school system under court order to reorganize its funding distribution, and two candidates who swear there will be no new taxes, no matter what. Williams has made the war on drugs the central theme of his campaign, is against abortion except to save the life of the mother and has vowed to trim bureaucracy to the bone. Richards, who supports the legal right to abortion, has taken a number of positions, from rekindling the economy to insurance reform. She has, in fact, been criticized for tackling too many issues instead of choosing a few key points and hammering on them.

The fact that Richards is a woman affects the campaign, but not as much as one would think; Texas, despite its macho image, is not loathe to hand women the reins of power. Thestate's five largest cities have had women mayors recently; four are still in office. But analysts expect the gender gap will make a difference on Election Day. Currently, Williams holds a 10- to 15-point lead in public statewide polls (although about one-third of the voters strongly oppose him). He is running as much as 30 points ahead among men, while among women voters, he and Richards are about even.

The stakes are high. A Republican win will show once and for all that the state is no longer a Democratic cornerstone. For generations, Texas politics was mostly decided at the Democratic primary; the Republican Party was almost non-existent. But as the state grew by more than 6 million people during the past 20 years, Republicans made great strides. Texas voters do not have to register by party, but primary voting figuresindicate things have changed. In the 1978 primary, 158,403 Republicans voted versus 1.8 million Democrats. In the 1990 primary, 852,121 Republicans voted, as contrasted with 1.4 million Democrats.

Texas now is a genuine two-party state, and the Republicans are hoping to show that traditional Democratic claims--that Democrats were the party o the working class and that Republicans are fat-cat elitists--are no longer true. And the political party of the governor probably will fare better in the redistricting sweepstakes next year when Texas should get at least three new members of Congress.

For Ann Richards, the race has one more prize--she would like to prove that a woman can be governor of a state that rather likes its image as a place where cowboys ride into the sunset. A Richards win would help fulfill widespread predictions that 1990 would be the year of women in politics.

Winning in Texas is a Herculean task, given the state's size and diversity--its population is expected to surpass New York's by 1992. It takes a candidate with a serious chunk of cash--and the stamina of a lumberjack--to put the message out from El Paso to Texarkana. But Williams finds himself in the enviable position of being a bona fide political phenomenon. He has spent almost twice as much money as Richard has, including $6 million of his own considerable fortune. So far, it's been one of the best investments he's ever made.

ONE THING ABOUT CLAYtie, he'll try to make good use of most anything, even something that looks like it should work against him. As he was talking to the Flower Mound crowd, a cuss word was on the end of his tongue when he reeled it back in.

"I'm working on my language," he said slyly to the crowd. "And I'm not going to be talking any more about the women."

Williams' comments about women--more specifically, the subjects of rape and whorehouses--have gotten him in trouble before. During a branding session at a cow camp in the aftermath of his primary victory, Williams jokingly said that the drizzly weather was like rape--"If it's inevitable, just relax and enjoy it." A few days later he admitted to a Houston Post reporter that, as a teen-ager, he had gone to Mexican border towns to be "serviced" by hookers.

When these Texas-sized gaffes hit the media, all hell broke loose. Twice. The calls and letters to the editor came flooding in, and Williams ended up apologizing for each. But, in fact, the two remarks were in character with the way Williams talks and acts. He probably wouldn't have given either quip a second thought, except for the fact that he was caught in the glare of the campaign trail with reporters standing nearby instead of just a bunch of ranch hands.

From that moment on, Williams' campaign changed, even though polls showed the gaffes had not registered much on the Texas outrage meter. He became a man who no longer wanders too far from the script, whose discussions with the press are restricted to a few minutes of questions and answers after a speech before he is hustled off by his handlers. He almost never gives any lengthy interviews, not like the days of the primary when the prevailing attitude was to just let Claytie be Claytie.

Williams never has behaved quite like most folks. Take, for instance, his devotion to his alma mater, Texas A & M University. Texas has a fair number of Aggie zealots, but Williams carries it to the extreme. The swimming pool at one of his 12 ranches is in the shape of the knee-high boot worn by the military cadets of A & M, and beside the pool is the Aggie logo that once adorned the 50-yard line of the university's Kyle Field. And the alumni building at the university is named for Williams, on the strength of his $2.5-million donation to the school.

Williams was born in the West Texas town of Alpine and grew up in nearby (by Texas standards) Fort Stockton. Despite Williams' homespun mannerisms, he comes from a well-educated background. His grandfather graduated from Harvard. His father was a farmer and a county commissioner who owned the biggest house in town. But Clayton Sr. was most famous perhaps for pumping Fort Stockton's Commanche Springs bone dry to irrigate his land, much to the detriment of other farmers downstream.

When Williams finished college with a degree in animal husbandry and did his stint in the army, he became an insurance salesman. That was a passing fancy on his way to the oil and gas business. His first well didn't come in until 1959, and not until 1975 did he really hit pay dirt with a well in Loving County that produced $50,000 worth of natural gas a day. Along the way, he married, fathered two daughters, then divorced in 1964. He met his second wife, Modesta, a year later at one of his favorite Midland watering holes; they have a daughter and two adopted sons.

After almost three decades in the energy business, Williams very nearly went belly up in the oil bust of the '80s. His fortune has suffered considerably, but most estimates put it around $150 million. He operates 12 ranches and a farm--481,750 acres in all--in Texas and Wyoming.

Williams has a penchant for grand gestures. This is a man who used to give a party each year with 8,000 guests to auction off his prized Brangus cattle. In 1984, each cow was adorned with a $6,000 string of pearls while it was paraded before the guests. When toddler Jessica McClure fell down a Midland well in 1987, Williams sent his jet to Colorado to fly in the best engineers to dig her out. But Williams didn't really earn statewide attention until 1988, when he starred in a series of television commercials for his telephone company, ClayDesta Communications. Suddenly, Clayton Williams, riding a horse and wearing a weathered cowboy hat, was in living rooms across Texas. Looking like a cross between his hero, John Wayne, and the Marlboro Man, he peered into the camera and said: "Picking the best long distance for your money is like picking a good cow. Breed her with your best bull, and you've got quality."

Last summer, veteran political consultant and lobbyist George Christian was surprised by a call from Williams. He asked Christian his views on Williams entering the primary.

"For lack of anything better to say, I told him, 'I guess you'd be a wild card,' " Christian says. "And he said, 'I like that. I like being the wild card.' Frankly, I didn't think he had a chance."

And then came the announcement for governor and, with it, more polished ads, including the now-famous "bustin' rocks" commercial. Williams caught everyone off guard by walloping the primary opponents--all of whom were experienced, credible candidates-- with 61% of the vote. His brilliant media strategies blew everyone else out of the water. In a campaign focused on each candidates' level of enthusiasm for exercising the death penalty, image won resoundingly over substance.

"He's got the nerve of a daylight bank robber," says his friend of 20 years, oilman Ted Collins. "He's not afraid of the devil."

As Williams finishes his Flower Mound speech, he tells the folks that he once was admonished during a political debate that he couldn't ride a horse into the 21st Century.

"Well, you can, too, if you ride a good horse," he says. Then he declares that he intends to "put my foot in the stirrup, pull out my rope and lasso that bureaucracy."

Williams steps away from the platform and is about to sit down when something occurs to him. He steps back up to the mike.

"And one more thing, folks. To be a good governor, you've got to be a good salesman, and I once sold life insurance. If you can talk a fella into taking his beer money and putting it into a life insurance premium so when he dies his wife can live happily ever after with another man--I'm telling you, I'm a pretty good salesman."

ANN RICHARDS is nearing the end of another long day in East Texas, once a land of "yellow dog Democrats"--people who would rather vote for a yellow dog than a Republican-- now considered swing-vote country.

She started with a group of supporters at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, moved on to a reception at the Conroe Rotary, slept for an hour on the drive, visited with supporters at the Dayton Library and ended up in Liberty, the county seat.

Here, she works the courthouse halls, shaking hands with one old codger who had no idea who the gubernatorial candidates are. Working the courthouse has been a part of Texas politics for generations, as is the perfunctory picture-taking with the county judge.

Richards then delivers a little speech to the dozen or so supporters who sit on the court benches, telling them to go out and tell the teachers of the county that she is their only hope. It is short, succinct and personal. Unlike Williams, whose road managers delight in reeling off his next line before he does, Richards tailors her speeches to the audience. In Huntsville, the central theme is education. In Conroe, it's business opportunities for the state. She tells the people of Dayton she would oppose a proposal to inject hazardous waste in nearby salt domes.

At each speech, it is as if she flicks a switch and the words come out just so. After the primary, Richards was tired and her speeches were flat, but that has changed. On many occasions, she chastises Williams for inexplicably declining to be on the same stage with her, much less debate her. The closest thing to a direct confrontation was in Victoria, where Richards berated Williams for running a radio commercial she later described as a string of "mean-spirited and unfair" accusations. Williams backpedaled and aw-shucked his way out of the jam.

At the Liberty Whataburger, where she sips a cup of coffee, Richards is asked whether the political arena is worth the brutality. Her opponent in the primary runoff, Atty. Gen. Jim Mattox--a mean campaigner even by Texas standards--steered a course that political pollster George Shipley described as "the outer edge of nuclear politics." Mattox tried to label Richards not only as a recovering alcoholic--which she readily admits--but also as someone who had been a drug abuser--possibly of cocaine. Richards had stonily refused to answer the charge. That episode had been followed by a spate of negative ads from the Williams camp that kept her on the defensive. Only recently has her campaign evolved a more positive approach.

"Do I like it? No. Do I want to participate? No. Do I want to govern? Yes. This is what I have to do to pay my dues." she says, visibly weary despite protests to the contrary.

And what did she think of Mattox? "I think Mattox did everything he could to win the race. It wasn't personal."

That there has been some wear and tear is obvious. At one point in the campaign, Richards became so testy with the media that her irritability became the object of articles and columns in the state's newspapers. It was the first time she ever received bad press. Some of those who voiced the criticism had known Richards for years and considered her more than an acquaintance. They couldn't understand the change, though the reason seems simple: This is the first time Richards has been a decided underdog.

Funny how things worked out. She wouldn't even have run for governor had not two of her best friends in politics--Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby and former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros--decided not to run. Instead, 1990 would have been the year she ran for lieutenant governor.

Then came her nationally televised speech at the Democratic Convention. Suddenly, Richards was the darling of the Democratic Party. Her ability to raise money increased dramatically. "When I looked over the field, I knew that running for governor made much more sense," she says. (Williams, characteristically, uses even that famous speech to his advantage, frequently chastising her for being disloyal to a fellow Texan.)

Richards also stresses her country roots. She says "that dog won't hunt" (referring to something that won't work) enough to make it a candidate for cliche of the year. Her 1989 autobiography, "Straight from the Heart," is written in a folksy way that drips with syrup.

Richards grew up in Lakeview, a small town just outside Waco in Central Texas, the daughter of a pharmaceuticals salesman; Dorothy Ann Willis was what she was called then. "If my Mama and Daddy didn't put a lot of stock in scholarship, they greatly valued personality," she wrote in her book. "I was always encouraged to perform. . . . I learned early on that people liked you if you told stories, if you made them laugh."

When it was time for Dorothy Ann to go to high school, the family decided to move to Waco so that she could get a proper education. On the first day of class, she dropped the Dorothy. And she went around and introduced herself to every person in her class.

From high school, it was across town to Baylor, the largest Southern Baptist university in the world, known throughout Texas as "Jerusalem-on-the-Brazos." Richards won a debating scholarship. One year after two male members of the debating team had been sent to a tournament at Notre Dame, Richards walked into the office of coach Glenn Capp. How come, she asked, you only send male students out of town? Richards and another woman debater got the next out-of-town trip, Capp recalls, laughing.

At 19, Ann Willis married David Richards, whom she had dated since high school. For the next 20 years or so, Ann Richards was a devoted wife and mother of four, teaching high school to put David through law school.

David became a prominent labor lawyer. Their homes, first in Dallas and later in Austin, were hothouses of liberal politics, a rare thing in Texas in those days. Ann was the envelope stuffer, David was the star. But Ann became involved in the campaigns of women making their first bids for political office in Austin.

Then, in 1975, a group asked David to run for county commissioner. David was not interested. Ann was. She won the election with ease in 1976 and has remained in public office since.

Ann Richards' life took a dramatic new direction--as she became more independent, she and David went through a long and painful period of growing apart. They divorced in 1984, after almost 30 years of marriage. There was another problem as well: Richards' drinking was getting out of hand. Her friend Bill Kugle, an East Texas lawyer, remembers when he, Richards and a group of friends drove a Winnebago to Georgia to go canoeing. Everyone else drank beer. Richards was drinking straight vodka all the way.

"We didn't notice that much, though, because everyone else was drinking at the time," Kugle says.

For a while, the drinking only added to Richards' boisterous reputation--with a couple in her she was likely to err on the side of the outrageous. Molly Ivins, now a columnist with the Dallas Times Herald and no shrinking violet herself, recalls an incident in the mid-1970s at a huge political to-do at Scholtz Beer Garten in Austin. The cast included Ivins, Richards, state Comptroller Bob Bullock--all white--and Charlie Miles, then Bullock's director of personnel, who is black.

"Some of us got the tired feet," Ivins says. "We were leaning our butts up against the table like birds in a row. Well, up comes this ol' racist East Texas judge to Bullock, and they commence to slapping backs and meetin' and greetin' and Bullock says, 'Judge, I want you to meet some of my friends. This is Molly Ivins of the Texas Observer.'

"And the judge said, 'How yew, little lady?' And then Bullock introduced Charlie Miles. That judge just looked at him as if he had just stepped into a fresh cow pie. After a long while, the judge stuck out his hand so it touched Charlie's for about a fraction of a second. Then he said, 'How yew, boy?'

"And then the judge turned to Ann, the pretty, blond, blue-eyed woman standing next to Miles. 'And who is this lovely lady?' the judge asked.

"Ann just beamed and said, 'I am Mrs. Miles.' "

One afternoon in 1980, Richards was invited to the house of a friend. When she stepped inside, unsuspecting, she looked around to see David and many of her best friends. They confronted her about her drinking. And in the end she checked into St. Mary's Hospital in Minneapolis for a monthlong treatment program for alcoholism. She has been dry, she says, ever since.

In 1982, Richards again was drafted to run for office, this time for the post of state treasurer. She won easily, becoming the first woman to hold a statewide office in 50 years. Her most notable achievement was bringing the state treasury from the dark ages of accounting to the era of computers. Her reelection four years later was even more resounding.

BUT THIS YEAR is a different story. Even Richards' most ardent supporters admit that she might not win the race. Garry Mauro, the Democratic state lands commissioner and an astute observer of the Texas political scene, says the only way Richards can win is to perform brilliantly in the last two weeks of the campaign, particularly in the quality of her television advertising. "It will come down to whose TV is best," he says simply.

Although Williams has the lead, he has not escaped unscathed. Some of the rugged-cowboy image has deteriorated as the weeks have turned into months. Thanks in part to pollster George Shipley's office, retained by the Richards campaign to dig up dirt on Williams, questions have been raised about Williams' business past.

While ClayDesta Communications may have made Williams a star, it is hardly a venture that he can point to as an example of his business savvy. When he sold the company last year, he did so at a loss of $15 million. Shipley's 88-page document, "Meet the Real Clayton Williams," also reveals that Williams has been sued dozens of times (almost all the suits were settled before the campaign began), including one by a plaintiff who claimed that it was his idea to start the long-distance telephone company. That version is a far cry from the one Williams has been telling for years in which--with typical, can-do spirit--he started the company when angered by the fact that a new tenant in his ClayDesta Plaza business park could not get his telephones installed for several months. The suit was settled last year for an undisclosed amount.

So far, Williams just keeps moving along, the Teflon cowboy. Several days after his visit to Flower Mound, Williams and his entourage are walking across the square at predominantly black Texas Southern University in Houston. He has seized the opportunity to visit the campus after Hobby, the lieutenant governor, suggested that the school be closed. The scene is an odd one. Here is a conservative Republican coming in to act as savior after the liberal lieutenant governor has criticized the school for offering substandard education. In a conference room upstairs, microphones have been set up. Williams walks in and glances at the sparse crowd.

"Howdy, gang," he hollers.

From the back of the room comes a small but firm female voice: "We are not a gang," a student says testily.

After a short speech offering the school his support, Williams fields questions. One student raises his hand and makes an impassioned plea for the survival of his school. In passing, the young man also mentions that he's on the football team.

Williams' eyes light up. Here is his chance. "I was an athlete, a fullback," he says, breaking into his crescent moon of a grin. "We went 5-5--five losses on the road, five at home."

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