Hutchison kicks off governor’s race, slams Perry

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R), the great-great-granddaughter of a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence, made official Monday morning her bid to become governor of her home state.

In a morning speech at her old high school in La Marque, near her birthplace of Galveston, Hutchison declared herself proud of her home state while castigating its current governor, Rick Perry (R) — her opponent in the primary election.

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“Now he's trying to stay too long — 14 years, maybe longer,” Hutchison said. She accused Perry of leaving the state with record-high property taxes, spiraling debt, excessive school tuition and dropout rates and the largest number of uninsured children in the nation. “Ten years is enough. We can do better."

“We need results, not politics. And that starts with term limits for Texas governor. For any governor, eight years is enough,” Hutchison said. “We can’t afford 14 years of one person appointing every state board, agency and commission. It invites patronage. It tempts cronyism. And it has to stop, now.”

Hutchison, who has served Texas in the Senate since 1993, promised “a clear, conservative vision for the future of Texas,” focusing on fiscal discipline, education, transportation, healthcare and government reform.

The three-term Republican also promised her party would change its ways under her guidance, growing instead of shrinking.

“For the last decade, the Republican Party in Texas has been shrinking. We’re losing elections we used to win easily,” she said. “As Republicans, we can continue down the road of shrinking majorities. Or we can inspire, unite, and grow our party.”

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Hutchison, who faces the conservative Perry in one of the most conservative primary electorates in the nation, will have to simultaneously reach out to those on the right who are skeptical of her candidacy while maintaining her independence and good relations with Texas’s growing Hispanic population.

She has already tacked to the right on several issues, voting against the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, citing a differing view on the Second Amendment, and opposing the so-called “cash for clunkers” program.

But Republicans who back Perry will have other votes to point to, like the State Children's Health Insurance Program, on which Hutchison sided with Democrats, and last year's GI bill. On the latter measure, though senators eventually reached a bipartisan compromise, Hutchison backed Democrats’ initial bill.

Hutchison and Perry also differ on the economic stimulus package. Though Hutchison joined all but three Republicans in voting against the initial bill in February, she has attacked Perry for attempting to reject $555 million in funding aimed at unemployed Texans.

Perry has spent the last several months railing against Washington, and, by extension, his future opponent, for out-of-control spending and an economy that remains in the tank. Public polls suggest the tactic has worked, and that Hutchison needs to take an aggressive stand against Perry, who now holds a lead among Texas Republicans.

The latest reliable poll, conducted by the Texas Lyceum from June 5 to June 12, showed Perry with a 33 percent to 21 percent lead over Hutchison. The poll showed both Hutchison and Perry with strong approval ratings of 65 percent and 58 percent, respectively.

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Both candidates, too, have huge warchests thanks to Texas's virtually non-existent campaign contribution limits. Hutchison announced in July she had raised $6.7 million in the first six months of the year and had $12.5 million in the bank, while Perry had $9.3 million in reserve.

Beyond Texas, Hutchison’s decision to run for governor will likely be felt in Washington. She has said she will resign this fall, likely in October or November, in order to focus full-time on the governor's race. That would set off a special election, perhaps coming as early as May, that could attract a massive field of candidates.

Hutchison herself won a runoff in a 1993 special election for the seat, after then-Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D) was appointed to become Bill Clinton's first Treasury secretary. She beat out 23 other candidates and easily beat appointed Sen. Bob Krueger (D) in the runoff. (Hutchison's win in a field of two dozen paled in comparison with that of ex-Sen. John Tower, a Republican who outlasted 70 other candidates in May 1961 to fill Vice President Lyndon Johnson's seat.)

Already, a strong and crowded field is taking shape, even though Hutchison has not resigned and Perry has not set a date for a special election. State Railroad Commissioners Elizabeth Ames Jones (R) and Michael Williams (R) are running against state Sen. Florence Shapiro (R) and Roger Williams, the former secretary of state. Ex-state Comptroller John Sharp and Houston Mayor Bill White are the leading Democratic candidates.

Three other prominent Republicans have not yet made their intentions clear. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R), who could easily fund his own campaign and who many believe would be the early front-runner in the race, Rep. Joe Barton (R) and Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) remain on the sidelines, for now.

If Hutchison beats Perry and the eventual Democratic nominee, she would be the third woman governor in Texas history, following Democrats Miriam "Ma" Ferguson and Ann Richards.