March 25, 2005

Kay Bailey Hutchison -- Break The Term-Limit Pledge

Let me say it -- I think term limits are a bad idea. While some argue that the current system deprives us of new blood and new ideas in government, I see term limit as depriving us of experienced leaders. I find voluntary term limits to be an even worse idea -- they force a politician to either break his or her word and appear hypocritical, or to abide by it even if that is detrimental to the best interests of their constituents. And that is the situation faced by the senior Senator from Texas, the Honorable Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Hutchison, back in 1994, promised not to run for a third full term in the Senate.

Hutchison made her promise in television ads and personal statements in 1994, and on election night she said:

"I've always said that I would serve no more than two full terms. This may be my last term, or I could run for one more. But no more after that. I firmly believe in term limitations and I plan to adhere to that."

Seems pretty unambiguous to me. I suspect that she may now recognize the problem of that simplistic scheme. She is now in the best position to benefit her Texas constituents and the nation as a whole with her relatively senior position in the Senate, but her own commitment will deprive the state of her services in the Senate, an institution in which seniority is critical. It's not that she is indispensable (no politician is), but rather than unless the term-limits apply across the board they are an act of unilateral disarmament.

The result is that she may run for governor. That means an ugly primary fight against the incumbent, Rick Perry, and comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, a GOP maverick (and mother of White House spokesman Scott McClellan). The winner will face an undetermined Democrat (possibly former Houston Congressman Chris Bell) and an independent, singer and author Kinky Friedman. A difficult GOP primary could mean trouble for the winner. And that would also leave open the possibility of a Democrat winning a Senate seat that would be secure if Hutchison seeks reelection. Currently only San Antonio Republican Congressman Henry Bonilla has publicly indicated interest in running in the event that the incumbent steps down, while no Democrat has stepped forward. That will change by the January 2006 filing deadline.

How ugly might the primary be?

Perry's campaign has been skirmishing with Hutchison and Strayhorn in recent weeks, releasing lists of endorsements and supporters around Texas.

Perry's campaign this week also admitted to having video taped Hutchison with U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton at a Washington speaking engagement in which the Democrat called Hutchison "my partner on so many important fronts."

"Any potential opponent, we're going to research, we're going to follow. Any good campaign would do the same," said Perry campaign manager Luis Saenz. "Any potential opponent should not expect a free ride."

Saenz declined to comment on Hutchison's term limit pledge, saying that was for "her to decide."

Perry is a scrapper, and I don't doubt that he would pull out all the stops to win. He doesn't seem interested in a "seat-swap' with Hutchison, either, running for her current job while she seeks his, in part because Bonilla would be a difficult candidate for him to beat in the primary. Besides, he knows that if he does not seek reelection, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst will file for the gubernatorial nomination, leaving that very powerful position (the Lieutenant Governor makes all appointments to committees in the state senate, including designating the committee chairperson) open for a Democrat challenger.

My preference is to see the Senator stay right where she is. I'd like to see the Governor and Lt. Governor stay right where they are. Jerry Patterson has already said he is staying put as Land Commissioner (a pretty powerful job in Texas, and one elected statewide), and I think the incumbent Railroad Commissioners (again, statewide elected positions with a fair amount of clout) are all staying put. The only person looking to move is Strayhorn, who would likely face a primary challenge after angering most everyone in the GOP the last couple years with her public criticism of budgets and fellow Republicans.

And so I'll say it right now -- Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison should break the two-term pledge. I believe that Texans will ratify that decision if she does by overwhelmingly reelecting her to the US Senate. I know this Harris County Precinct Chairman would do so even without the political disarray a decision to step down would engender. Kay Bailey Hutchison is good for Texas and good for America. She deserves another term.

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NAME: Greg
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