For 19 years, Hutchi­son did stel­lar job for Texas

Austin American-Statesman - - VIEWPOINTS - Reg­u­lar Con­trib­u­tor Mack­owiak is an Austin and Washington-based Repub­li­can con­sul­tant and pres­i­dent of Po­tomac Strat­egy Group LLC.

It was a dream job.

I was hired in June 2009 to serve as press sec­re­tary to se­nior U.S. Sen. Kay Bai­ley Hutchi­son.

For two years, I earned a master’s de­gree in com­mu­ni­ca­tions from one of the masters.

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from law school, KBH be­gan her ca­reer as the le­gal and po­lit­i­cal cor­re­spon­dent for a Hous­ton tele­vi­sion sta­tion. That job led to a chance en­counter with Anne Arm­strong, then the co-chair of the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee in Washington. Kay Bai­ley be­came her press sec­re­tary, mov­ing to Washington.

Any flack will ad­mit that work­ing for a boss in pol­i­tics who has first­hand com­mu­ni­ca­tions ex­pe­ri­ence is both a bless­ing and a curse: they like to do me­dia, but they also be­lieve they know more than you do. Hutchi­son never saw pub­lic­ity the way some me­dia-hun­gry politi­cians do. “There’s a dif­fer­ence be­tween good press and bad press,” she would of­ten say.

KBH was in­tim­i­dat­ing. Much of her com­mu­ni­ca­tion is non­ver­bal, and she makes quick de­ci­sions about peo­ple. If you made the cut, you were en­trusted with im­por­tant tasks, in­vited to wit­ness the lesser-known per­sonal side of her life and to be the trusted re­cip­i­ent of email mes­sages at all hours.

That two-year pe­riod was filled with in­ter­est­ing ex­pe­ri­ences, na­tional news and non­stop travel through Texas. I vis­ited all 20 me­dia mar­kets at least once, from Texarkana to El Paso, Amar­illo to Brownsville. We even en­joyed a few weeks of in­tense vice-pres­i­den­tial spec­u­la­tion that was pure fun.

Was KBH hard to work for? Yes, un­ques­tion­ably. How­ever, chal­leng­ing bosses on Capi­tol Hill are not rare. But the spe­cial ones are si­mul­ta­ne­ously de­mand­ing and wor­thy of ad­mi­ra­tion and re­spect. She worked harder than any­one else. She be­lieved in a big-tent Repub­li­can Party, in con­stituent re­la­tions, in rep­re­sen­ta­tive government, in pub­lic ser­vice, and in set­ting an ex­am­ple for girls and women.

Was she a con­ser­va­tive? Cer­tainly more con­ser­va­tive than many give her credit for:

■ She con­sis­tently sup­ported our mil­i­tary, not only with her Se­nate votes but also while serv­ing on the Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee. She later moved over to Ap­pro­pri­a­tions, where she re­lent­lessly fought for Texas on the De­fense Ap­pro­pri­a­tions sub­com­mit­tee, strength­en­ing the mil­i­tary in­stal­la­tions in San An­to­nio, se­cur­ing Fort Bliss in El Paso, sav­ing the Waco Vet- er­ans hospi­tal, and help­ing pro­tect bases across Texas.

■ Her eco­nomic record was very strong — she was a staunch sup­porter of low taxes, lim­ited government and re­duced reg­u­la­tion on the pri­vate sec­tor. Re­grets? She ad­mits that her vote for the bailout was a mis­take, say­ing it was falsely sold to her and other sen­a­tors. Even the most rigid con­ser­va­tives, like then soon-to-re­sign Jim DeMint of South Carolina, once used ear­marks as a way to bring tax dol­lars back to their states. She did it too, very ef­fec­tively.

■ So­cial is­sues? She al­most al­ways voted pro-life, although that side of the story was rarely heard. My un­der­stand­ing of her view: Roe v. Wade was cor­rectly de­cided and should not be over­turned, but rea­son­able re­stric­tions on abor­tion should be made. No is­sue caused her more grief than abor­tion — but it was her deeply held view and a com­mon one for fe­male Repub­li­cans in the Se­nate. Un­til last year, no fe­male Repub­li­can se­na­tor had a bet­ter pro-life vot­ing record than she did.

Hutchi­son came to the U.S. Se­nate in 1993 with Sen. Phil Gramm as her part­ner. He was a na­tional fig­ure, plan­ning on run­ning for pres­i­dent in 1996, ask­ing her to mind the store back home and she du­ti­fully did. That work did not al­ways win her na­tional ac­claim, but she was very pop­u­lar in Texas.

In 2010, af­ter pass­ing twice be­fore, she ran for the of­fice she wanted most: gov­er­nor. Be­liev­ing in­cum­bent Rick Perry would not run again, she ad­mit­tedly ran a bad pri­mary cam­paign in a dis­ad­van­ta­geous po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment. Had she run in 2002 or 2006, things may have been dif­fer­ent, given her record.

What did I learn? The im­por­tance of hard work, de­ter­mi­na­tion, paying at­ten­tion to the lit­tle de­tails, not say­ing yes to ev­ery press op­por­tu­nity — and yes, hir­ing hard-work­ing, com­pe­tent staff mem­bers.

Her legacy, while hard to suc­cinctly sum­ma­rize, in­cludes con­sis­tently de­liv­er­ing for Texas for 19 years, se­cur­ing crit­i­cal projects for hun­dreds of Texas com­mu­ni­ties, al­ways sup­port­ing the state and na­tional Repub­li­can Party, and pro­vid­ing a ster­ling ex­am­ple for young girls who some­day want to fol­low in her sen­si­ble heels.

One thing Sen. Hutchi­son and I have in com­mon: We both got our dream jobs.

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