Friday, December 7, 2012

Kay Bailey Huchison's Career | Casey's Last Word

Kay Bailey Huchison is in the last weeks of her nearly two decades in the U.S. Senate and is beginning to get the accolades that customarily accompany the termination of such careers.

I am confident that no one will paraphrase Shakespeare’s epitaph of MacBeth by saying of Huchison that, “Nothing in her career became her like the leaving it.”

There are two reasons. One is that she was a very solid Texas senator.

She was conservative, as is the state. The Conservative Union in 2006 gave her a 91 percent lifetime rating, slightly higher than Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Her CU rating would dip to 76 percent in 2008 before rising to 96 percent in 2009 and 2010.

She also was a very hard worker, especially in protecting the interests of Texas.

The oil companies loved her, but so did many local officials of both parties.

She was very effective as a member of the Appropriations Committee in finding money for their needs and wishes in the form of earmarks.

In 2008 and 2009 she helped win nearly $500 million in earmarks.

When earmarks fell out of favor as deficits grew, she made no apologies.

She was, she argued, just bringing our money back home.

She especially impressed San Antonio leaders by the way she marshaled the efforts of most the Texas delegation – Republican and Democrat – to limit the effects of military base closures on Texas, and even to make the consolidations greatly benefit San Antonio.

The work paid off.

In 2000, she garnered 200,000 more votes than George W. Bush in his first presidential race.

Neither Senator John Cornyn in 2008 nor Ted Cruz in 2012 won more votes than the men at the top of their tickets, losers John McCain and Mitt Romney.

For years polls showed Huchison to be the most popular statewide politician in Texas.

But she squandered that capital in her most inelegant end game.

Which brings us to the second reason no one will say nothing in her career became her like the leaving it.

Huchison flirted with running for governor against Rick Perry in 2006, then finally decided to do it in 2010.

Many believed it would be a fight for the soul of the Texas Republican Party, pitting the state’s most popular politician a traditional Republican, conservative but not hard-edged against a governor who had allied himself with fundamentalist Christians and was flirting with the Tea Party.

But that battle never took place.

Rather than trying to rally suburban Republicans and independents who are worried about the direction the party is taking, Huchison tried to run to Rick’s right.

There were two problems.

One is that there is very little space there.

The other is that it is not who Huchison is.

It showed most painfully when in a televised debate she tried to explain why she has supported Roe vs. Wade, the Supreme Court decision striking down state laws that prohibited all or most abortions.

It was to protect life, she argued.

If states were let loose on the issue, she said, “we would then have some states that would allow abortion as the baby is coming out of the birth canal.”

As she tried to elaborate along that line the audience started to laugh at her.

In fairness, it was the height of Tea Party anger.

So maybe if Huchison quit the Senate and came home to run a campaign based on her record but focused on the problems facing Texas – education, water, transportation – she may have lost anyway.

She may not have been able to bring to the primary polls enough practical Republicans, the independents and even some Democrats who would rather have a problem-solving conservative.

But it was the only chance she had.

And even if she lost, it would have been a fight worth waging and a more fitting way to end a commendable career.

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