Hutchison set standard to emulate
WE SAY: Kay bailey HutcHison
her nearly 20-year tenure, Kay Bailey Hutchison was never a Sunday morning senator — one who haunts the weekend news/talk shows. Texas’ senior U.S. senator isn’t quick with a quip or colorful quote.
No, she wasn’t a Sunday morning senator, but she was the real deal every day of the week. Hutchison can leave office with her head held high and the knowledge that Texas is the better for her service.
Hutchison was a complex politician: Her demeanor was reserved and her manner quiet. She is a serious person who served with serious purpose. In the context of these hyperbolic times, she was not a chest-thumping Republican. She chose to be an effective one.
Her reserved manner no doubt contributed to the humiliating loss to Gov. Rick Perry in 2010 when she challenged the incumbent for the GOP gubernatorial nomination. She had lots to talk about, but the message got lost in the avalanche of ultra-conservative rhetoric doled out effectively by the Perry campaign.
Politics is a tough business, and it’s hard on people who aim high and miss. It would be a disservice to the senator, however, to let that primary loss define her as she closes the book on a political career that spanned four decades, starting with service in the Texas House.
In 1993, she became the first woman to be elected to the U.S. Senate from Texas, defeating Democrat Bob Kruger in the race to succeed U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen. Her victory served to weaken the Democratic grip on statewide offices. Some say Democrats never forgave her and offer the indictment accusing her of official misconduct to buttress the claim. A Travis County grand jury returned the indictment four months after the 1993 special election.
If the indictment was indeed an attempt to slow her down, it had the opposite effect. The charges were dismissed after Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle declined to proceed with the prosecution after an adverse evidentiary ruling in midtrial.
The dismissal appeared to fuel Hutchison’s political ascendancy. After that, she rolled to easy victories in subsequent elections. In endorsing her bid for a full term in 1993, we noted that during the period between indictment and the aborted trial: “(Hutchison) never lost focus on her congressional duties. Her accomplishments in the first year of service are impressive for a freshman and reflect her devotion to the state.
“A member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, she was instrumental in keeping Kelly Air Force Base and the Naval Station at Ingleside from being closed. Both are important to the economies of San Antonio and the Corpus Christi area.”
She never lost that aforementioned focus. When she entered the Senate, Phil Gramm was the senior senator and was preparing for his unsuccessful presidential bid. While Gramm made the national rounds, it fell to Hutchison to look after Texas interests and she did it well and kept doing it throughout her term in the Senate.
Her performance has earned her well-deserved respect and accolades from her Senate colleagues.
In remarks she made summing up her career recently, Hutchison noted that “Congress suffers a great deal of criticism for its partisan acrimony. (W)hile we may disagree politically, and air our opposition in this chamber, it is the conversation behind the scenes that cements and defines our relationships. I will leave the Senate knowing I have worked with men and women of great patriotism, intellect and heart from both sides of the aisle.”
As an example she offered her work with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat. “We passed the Feinstein-Hutchison Breast Cancer Stamp bill that, through voluntary purchase, has raised $72 million for breast cancer research,” she said. “And Senator Feinstein and I took the Amber Alert for abducted children nationwide, which has accounted for rescuing almost 600 children since its passage.”
Kay Bailey Hutchison was no backslapping, glad-handing politician but she was passionate in representing the state and its people. She set a high standard. Ted Cruz, her successor, and other senators, present and future, would serve us well if they tried to meet that standard.
We wish the senator well and thank her for her service as she closes this chapter in her career.
Former Hutchison staffer Matt Mackowiak writes about his experience as the senator’s press secretary.
On the Viewpoints page
U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, will close her Senate career next week. Her years can be measured not in sound bites but in accomplishments for her constituents.