For 19 years, Hutchison did stellar job for Texas
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.