Hutchison, Perry take off gloves
Pigs are what Gov. Rick Perry’s backers trotted out to greet U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s tour to announce she’s running against him.
If there was any remaining doubt the primary election battle between two of the Texas Republicans’ biggest stars will involve mud, it was put to rest this week.
Hutchison’s 19-city announcement tour included a stop Monday at the University of Texas at Austin, where she had been a cheerleader. Supporters of Perry, who had been a yell leader at rival Texas A&M University, wore pig snouts, and passed out “bailout bucks,” adorned with Hutchison’s picture.
They stood near a pickup truck with a sign that said, “Pork: Washington’s other financial mess.” In a cage in the back of the truck were two live pigs.
At her first stop southeast of Houston, earlier, at La Marque High School where Hutchison also had been a cheerleader, the Perry’s minions had a truck parked with a sign bearing Hutchison’s picture, plus “Kay Bailout Express” in huge letters – a jab at Hutchison’s vote for the 2008 federal stimulus bill.
Perry is the longest-serving governor in Texas history, at eight and two-thirds years. It’ll be 10 years at the end of his current term. He could be governor for 14 years if he wins re-election next year and serves a full term.
Ten years is too long -- much less 14 -- Hutchison charged in her prepared speech.
“And after 10 Perry years, where are we?” Hutchison asked rhetorically at each stop. “Property taxes? Highest in the country. State debt? Doubled. Tuition? Skyrocketing.
“Dropout rates? Among the highest. Uninsured children? Leading the nation. Private property rights? At risk.
“Ten years is enough,” Hutchison declared. “We can do better.”
Hutchison proposed a two-term limit, or eight years, for Texas governors. “We can’t afford 14 years of one person appointing every state board, agency and commission,” Hutchison said. “It invites patronage. It tempts cronyism. And it has to stop, now.”
Hutchison’s risk in suggesting term limits is that she pledged in her first election in 1993 to serve only two six-year terms as senator. But in 2006, she ran for and won a third term.
At a Tuesday press conference on health care, Perry was asked about Hutchison’s charges that he’s bungled matters including taxes, tuition deregulation, children’s health, and turning down $556 million in federal stimulus money for unemployment insurance.
Perry claimed the Texas economy and education systems are the envy of other states.
“The senator has been in Washington for 16 years. She may not have a grasp of all that is going on in Texas,” Perry said. “She may not know or understand the progress we have made in this state.”
Perry outlined his campaign strategy.
“The senator will have to defend her record in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “This is pretty simple to me. It’s going to be Washington vs. Texas. Has Washington got the best answers or does Texas have the best answers?”
“It is so weak for the governor of Texas to act like I’m from Washington,” Hutchison told the Austin American-Statesman. “I have represented Texas in the United States Senate, I have fought to protect Texas, I have kept my home in Texas.”
Hutchison says she’s conservative, but is considered more moderate than Perry. Some think Hutchison would be smarter to run as an Independent in the general election, when the moderate and independent vote will be much larger than in the GOP primary.
But Hutchison reiterated her allegiance to the Republican Party, even though she said it’s been in decline in Texas for the past decade.
“(W)e can continue down the road of shrinking majorities,” Hutchison declared. “Or we can inspire, unite, and grow our party. Rebuild it from the bottom up.“
Hutchison presumably was helped by Austin’s popular former mayor, Democratic Sen. Kirk Watson, deciding to seek re-election in 2010 rather than governor.
If the Democratic primary is ho-hum, more independents, moderates, and even Democrats may be attracted to the Republican slugfest.
So far, Tom Schieffer of Fort Worth is the only Democrat running a full-bore campaign. Other candidates may include entertainer Kinky Friedman; therapist Mark Thompson; history teacher Felix Alvarado; and former Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle.
Meanwhile, Democrats hope the bruising GOP contest will leave Texans thinking Hutchison is shrill and strident, and Perry is Sarah Palin in cowboy boots.