Hutchison has said she’d rather be governor than senator and is looking hard at running for that job in 2010. Friends say that, in private, she’s rather open about wanting to run.
After all, as governor, she’d be one of one, not one vote in 100, and the job comes with a house, transportation, a security detail, an airplane, and a big podium. It’s a job her husband Ray sought in the 1978 Republican primary, only to be thumped by multimillionaire Bill Clements.
Kay had strongly hinted she’d run for governor in 2002 and again in 2006 but backed off both times, rather than take on Gov. Rick Perry in a divisive Republican-primary bloodbath. Many observers thought she could have beaten Perry in either election.
She was easily re-elected to the Senate in 2006 and got far more votes for the Senate spot than Perry did for governor – 900,000 more, in fact. She won with 61.7 percent of the vote, while he got just 39 percent.
Her declaration that this will be her last Senate term came during a recent interview with Texas Monthly. Hutchison even indicated she might quit the Senate as early as 2009, to give her successor a head start on seniority. Of course, running for governor is a lot easier if one doesn’t have to keep rushing back to Washington to cast votes.
In addition, now that the Republicans are in a minority in the Senate and expected to be even more so after the 2008 elections, Hutchison will be without the power that goes with majority party status.
Even though Perry is posturing as though he might make another run, another reason Hutchison may want to finally run for governor is that the clock’s ticking. She’s eligible for Medicare on July 22, when she’ll turn 65. If she is elected governor, she’ll be 69 when she assumes office – just four months younger than Republican Clements was when he was inaugurated for his second term in 1987. Her hubby of almost 30 years, whom she met while both were members of the Texas House of Representatives in the early 1970s, is 75. They adopted toddlers Houston and Bailey in 2001. Ray Hutchison has two grown daughters from his first marriage.
Whether Hutchison runs for governor or not, if she resigns her seat in 2009, her initial successor will be appointed by the governor – presumably Perry – to serve until a special election for the remainder of the term is held a few weeks later.
That election could attract several candidates. When Hutchison, then state treasurer, was first elected to the Senate in 1993, it was via a special election that drew a field of 24, including five Democrats, 10 Republicans, two sitting congressmen – everything but a partridge in a pear tree.
There could be some elbowing among Republicans to get Perry to appoint one of them as the interim senator, in hopes of getting a leg up for the special election.
But the appointment is no guarantee of winning the special election. In fact, for the record, such an appointee has never gone on to be elected senator. The election could well attract some Republicans that Perry had passed over for the appointment, plus possibly Democratic officeholders who could make a Senate bid without having to give up their current offices – including, potentially, State Sen. Kirk Watson of Austin, who ran for attorney general in 2002.
If, as she has indicated, Hutchison quits early, she’ll miss out on the slight chance that she might actually appoint her Senate successor.
If she runs for governor and wins and doesn’t resign her Senate seat before the inauguration, she would automatically resign from the Senate upon being sworn in as governor. As governor, she could then appoint someone to fill the Senate vacancy she created.
Veteran Texas journalist Dave McNeely can be reached at email@example.com. His book Bob Bullock: God Bless Texas, with co-author Jim Henderson, will be published by the University of Texas Press in March.