What does Kay Bailey Hutchison have in common with Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, John Kerry, and Joe Lieberman?
Like the certain Democratic nominee for President in ’08, the ’04 Democratic nominee, the 2000 Democratic vice presidential nominee, and the last two Presidents, the 64-year-old Texan known throughout the Lone Star State as “KBH” lost a bid for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1982. In losing the Republican nomination for the Dallas Fort Worth-area district, Hutchison was defeated in large part because she was perceived as a “moderate” against stalwart conservative and winning opponent Steve Bartlett. That image of being less than conservative was primarily due to her close association with more “Establishment” Republican figures in Texas such as Anne L. Armstrong (national co-chairman of the Republican National Committee and President Ford’s ambassador to the Court of St. James) and second husband Ray Hutchison, a former state party chairman bitterly opposed by backers of Ronald Reagan in the 1976 Presidential primary against Ford.
In addition, former television reporter and Ford Administration official (she was number two at the National Transportation Safety Board), Kay Bailey Hutchison — then as now — was not pro-life. As the Almanac of American Politics noted in its 2008 edition, “She is opposed to outlawing abortion and favors embryonic stem cell research.”
Undaunted after her defeat at the hands of Bartlett, Hutchison was general counsel to the RepublicBank Corporation, owned a candy company, and was elected state treasurer of Texas in 1990 at the same time voters were electing Democrat Ann Richards as governor.
In 1993, after veteran Democratic Sen. Lloyd Bentsen resigned to become secretary of the treasury, Hutchison entered the free-for-all special election to succeed him. Democrat Robert Krueger, whom Gov. Richards appointed to succeed Bentsen in the Senate, topped the field with an anemic 29 percent of the vote. He was followed closely by Hutchison with 27 percent (two Republican House Members, both considered more conservative than Hutchison got 14 percent of the vote each). In the resultant run-off, conservatives set aside any problems with Hutchison’s abortion position and her moderate pedigree to help her. Running largely against the fledgling Clinton Administration, Hutchison was elected her state’s third Republican senator since Reconstruction by rolling up a stunning 67 percent of the vote against Krueger. In three subsequent trips to the polls, she has always been re-elected with more than 60 percent of the vote.
Elected chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee in 2006, Hutchison is Number Four in the Senate GOP hierarchy. Now, at 64, “KBH” is widely mentioned as a possible running mate to Sen. John McCain. When I asked her during a recent interview if she was interested in running with McCain, the Texas senator replied: “I really am not, I don’t want to be vice president I’m not seeking to be on the list, I don’t want to be vice president, I’m really not in that direction.”
Much of the conservative distrust for her from past years has faded with her overall conservative voting record (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 90 percent). Although still opposed to outlawing abortion, Hutchison won over many pro-lifers with her votes against federal funding of abortions and to ban partial birth abortions Senate Appropriations Committee Member Hutchison also backed all of the Bush tax cuts and was in the forefront of the movement in the Senate to repeal the marriage penalty. After 32 years, nearly all of the alumni of the Reagan primary campaign have put aside differences and voice admiration for Hutchison’s voting record.
This year, Hutchison has emerged as a major Senate player on voters’ top concern: energy. She was helping lead the push for a measure in the Republican energy package that including drilling in the Arctic Natural Wildlife Reserve (ANWR) in Alaska. The measure failed, but nearly every Republican senator present voted for it — underscoring one of the key differences between GOP senators and their presidential nominee (McCain was not present for the vote).
In underscoring her support for ANWR and energy independence, Hutchison is passionate. As she told me, “It’s even more a necessity that we prioritize supply, or we will never become energy self-sufficient. So we control our own destiny until we increase ethanol and bring down the mandate and looking at the subsidies and the tariffs. That would bring down the costs some.. [But] The real answer to bringing down the costs is to reduce dependence on foreign oil.”
But how? The Texan says without hesitation: “Coal, I think clean burning coal is an option. I hear conflicting reports from people I trust about whether we have technology yet to do it. I think it is a real potential, and I think we will have the technology and we should pursue the technology for clean burning coal.
“I think we have to look at an array, we need a balanced approach. I think we need to try to put ethanol back in a perspective so that it isn’t affecting and crowding out other crops and affecting ability to our livestock producers to have their food stock. All of those foods are being affected in price because of this focus on ethanol.
Hutchison concluded that “[I]f we can look at the technology for clean burning coal, increase refineries with environmental safeguards, increase supply by exploration at ANWR and our outer continental shelf and look into further use of the Gulf of Mexico, we can become independent.” She added that the U.S. should also “look at continuing to build our nuclear power plants, which is really the cleanest, most efficient, cost-effective of all of our resources that we haven’t tried. We should also look at renewables, such as solar and wind, and we’re now looking at some currents and waves as an energy source. All of these things together should be what we go for.”
VEEP — OR GOV IN 2010?
Even political enemies concede that Kay Bailey Hutchison has been an achiever throughout her adult life. When the one-time prom queen and University of Texas Law School graduate could not land a job with a major firm in Houston, she turned to broadcasting. With her first election in 1972, she became the first Republican woman to serve in the state legislature. Defeated for Congress in 1982, she bounced back eight years later to be elected state treasurer and, in 1993, the first woman of either party to become senator from Texas.
So it really is no surprise in 2008 that interviews with the senator almost always close with discussion of the vice presidential speculation swirling around her. When I closed our session with the inevitable question, she replied: “I don’t want to be Vice President. I’m not seeking to be on the list, I’m not looking to be Vice President. I’m not really going in that direction.”
Her preference is to serve two more years in the Senate and then run for governor of Texas in 2010, when incumbent Republican Rick Perry is expected to retire from the office in which he succeeded George W. Bush in 2001.
“Well I’m certainly hoping that I can run for governor,” she told me, “I really want to.
But, I persisted, if Senator McCain called her and offered her second spot on his ticket, would she turn him down?
“Well, I never said that,” she replied, “because I don’t anticipate that, really, he will. And I don’t answer hypotheticals. But I’m not trying to position myself in anyway. And I think he has some other good options, I’ll say that.”
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