The Tug of War

Rick Perry and Kay Bailey Hutchison are locked in a pitched battle over the soul of the GOP. They are also running for governor.

In 1982, she too suffered a political setback, losing a bitter primary fight in Dallas for the U.S. House to future Dallas Mayor Steve Bartlett. Taking a break from politics, she became a bank executive and ran a candy company, giving her the small-business credentials politicians love to tout on their résumés. When Ann Richards resigned as state treasurer in 1990 to run for governor, Hutchison resurfaced to run for the open seat with Karl Rove as her campaign manager.

Although Rove led her to victory, Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle derailed her momentum when he raided her office shortly after her 1993 Senate runoff. Earle had received a tip from a Treasury employee claiming Hutchison ordered him to delete computer records that proved she was using Treasury employees for political purposes. Earle had been conducting an investigation of possible abuses by Hutchison for more than a year, but the tipster had evidence to corroborate his story: He had kept backup copies of the deleted computer files stored in a pizza box in his garage. A grand jury subsequently indicted Hutchison on felony charges of official misconduct and tampering with governmental records.

At trial, Judge John Onion refused to rule on the admissibility of the "pizza-box tapes" until after the testimony began, which oddly resulted in Earle refusing to present his case until he knew the tapes would be admitted. Onion swore in a jury anyway and then, faced with the state's refusal to proceed, ordered the jury to find Hutchison not guilty.

Governor Perry continued to preach the Texas Miracle when he was featured speaker at the Texas Economic Development Summit.
Photos by Danny Fulgencio
Governor Perry continued to preach the Texas Miracle when he was featured speaker at the Texas Economic Development Summit.
Speaking before the local Republican Jewish Coalition in North Dallas, Hutchison preached a big-tent ­approach for the Republican Party.
Photos by Sam Merten
Speaking before the local Republican Jewish Coalition in North Dallas, Hutchison preached a big-tent ­approach for the Republican Party.

Despite the acquittal, Earle gave the Houston Press's sister paper the Dallas Observer ("The Case Against Kay," June 23, 1994) access to his case file, which included sworn grand-jury testimony from 26 Treasury employees. The resulting article detailed Hutchison's alleged misconduct at the Treasury and referred to testimony that painted her as a demanding, paranoid boss who berated her staff and used them to handle her personal affairs. While the story provided a damning insider's perspective on Hutchison, she was able to escape the trial and the bad publicity with her reputation virtually unscathed.

In November 1994, she was re-elected by a landslide, receiving more than 60 percent of the vote against her Democratic opponent Richard Fisher and taking her seat among a new Republican majority in the U.S. Senate.

The American Conservative Union, a lobbying organization that provides annual rankings indicating how aligned politicians are with its conservative ideals, gives Hutchison a lifetime 90 percent rating. Yet Hutchison has been difficult to categorize on litmus-test issues near and dear to the religious right. While she bristles at labeling herself pro-choice, she has supported a woman's right to choose, but with limits such as parental notification and a ban on partial-birth abortions. Unlike Perry, the 66-year-old University of Texas alum also supports embryonic stem cell research.

Yet true to her constituency, she is a staunch gun rights advocate and voted in favor of the "don't ask, don't tell" legislation that prohibits individuals who are open about their homosexuality from serving in the military. In 1996, she also voted for passage of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.

Donna Blumer says she doesn't trust Hutchison because she's an establishment candidate and not a true conservative. "Perry has his warts, but he's a conservative. And Kay is kind of like a chameleon."

As with other establishment Republicans, her voting record is decidedly anti-Obama. She voted against the confirmation of U.S. Supreme Court Justice nominee Sonia Sotomayor and has held fast with her party's majority in opposing Obama's proposals for health-care reform. For months, she said her commitment to defeating "Obamacare" was her reason for delaying her Senate resignation until October or November.

But October passed and November came, and the issue of her resignation continued to be a drag on her campaign. Resign and she risked losing everything: her Senate seat, the governorship, the right to appoint her own successor. Stay in office and she risked running a shoddy, part-time campaign. Perry was already exploiting the issue, saying she needed to stay in Washington and represent the good citizens of Texas — not go "AWOL" and miss important votes for the sake of some political campaign. But delaying only made her look indecisive again, and it frustrated many politicians ready to make their political move if and when she did resign.

Her paralysis even made ideologue Cathie Adams sound pragmatic. On October 24, the new Republican State Party chair told reporters, "If she's going to run for governor, I think that it would be best for our party if by the January 4 filing deadline that we know clearly who is running for what."

Finally, on November 13, Hutchison put an end to several months of speculation: She announced she would resign from the Senate, but only after the March primary. Her obligation to defeat health-care reform, she said, as well as the cap-and-trade legislation endorsed by the White House to control environmental pollutants, had made her resignation at this time untenable. She would do the statesmanlike thing and stay.

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