Hutchison will resign in October or November
Kay Bailey Hutchison will resign Senate seat to devote time to Texas governor race
06:53 PM CDT on Wednesday, July 29, 2009
By CHRISTY HOPPE/ The Dallas Morning News
AUSTIN — The Republican race for governor devolved into a schoolyard taunt of who should be the quitter Wednesday, after Kay Bailey Hutchison said that she would resign her Senate seat within four months to challenge Rick Perry full-time.
Her comments suggest that Hutchison has determined it will take an intense effort to wrest the Republican nomination from the politically astute Perry, already the longest-serving governor in state history.
Resigning her Senate seat will leave her rival with the plum task of hand-picking her successor. But it will untether her from difficult votes and the Washington commute so that she can devote herself to the campaign, said University of Texas political science professor Bruce Buchanan.
“She feels to have a chance to unhorse Perry she’s got to come into the state and make a full court press,” Buchanan said. “She’s coming out with both six-guns blazing, so it looks like it’s going to be a rough fight.”
Hutchison told WBAP-AM (820) host Mark Davis that she would officially kick-off her campaign in August.
“Formal announcement: I am in. Then the actual leaving of the Senate will be sometime — October, November — that, in that time frame,” she said.
It was her most definitive statement yet that she would leave the Senate in the middle of her third term. Hutchison said she was basically forced to make the decision to resign because Perry refused to realize that seeking 15 years in the governor’s office was too much.
I just can’t [stay in the Senate], as long as Governor Perry stays in the race,” Hutchison said. Four years ago, she said, she decided not to challenge him “because I thought it was the right thing for Texas. But for him to try to stay on for 15 years is too long.”
Later, she and her campaign seemed to suggest that the decision to resign wasn’t final, if Perry reverses course.
“Rick Perry should do the right thing for Texas and stop his quest to be governor for life,” spokesman Jeff Sadosky said. “But if he stays in this race and continues to put personal ambition ahead of the people, then Kay Bailey Hutchison will resign her seat this fall when the time is right for Texas.”
Perry said after an appearance at a high school in Carrollton that he wasn’t putting to much weight into her announcement, saying she has been back and forth on the subject repeatedly.
“We heard this in ’06; we heard it in the spring; we heard it in the summer,” he said. “I’m just doing my job.”
Asked if wanting 15 years in his job was too long, he retorted: “I guess 15 years in the Senate is not too long.”
Hutchison took office in 1993 and has won three full terms. Perry became governor in late 2000 and has won two four-year terms. If he’s re-elected next year, that term would run until early 2015.
Perry spokesman Mark Miner said the governor has fulfilled the terms he’s been elected to serve and will continue to do so.
“It’s clear from her comments that she’s putting her political aspirations above all else, above the people of Texas, above their needs and that’s what’s clearly driving her,” Miner said. “Even though she’s failed miserably at it, she was elected to serve that term.”
The harsh words are a stark contrast to the praise Perry heaped upon former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin — commending her tenure and willingness to continue serving conservative causes — when she announced her resignation, Hutchison spokesman Sadosky said.
Buchanan said leaving the Senate is probably not the best choice politically for Hutchison — after all, Barack Obama, Hillary Rodham Clinton and John McCain kept their posts while running for president.
But she is probably motivated by the desire to come home and wants supporters to see she is willing to engage in a hard race and devote her fulltime attention, he said.
“She’s decided she’s going to have to come down here and make a commitment. I think signaling that is one of the things she needs to do to tip the odds,” he said.
If Hutchison resigns, Perry would fill the position quickly, Miner said. He has sole discretion over whom to appoint to the seat.
Then, the voters would decide who serves the remaining two years of the term. Perry’s appointee would have a head start, but already seven candidates have expressed interest in running for the seat if Hutchison resigns.
Such a free-for-all would be of particular importance to Hutchison’s Senate colleague, John Cornyn, who runs the GOP’s Senate campaign committee.
“If there were to be a special election it would be a top priority for him,” said Brian Walsh, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. He said the group is “ absolutely confident that it will continue to be a Republican seat next year” but would take nothing for granted.
If Hutchison leaves the Senate in October or November, the next uniform election date on which a statewide contest could be held would be in May. But Perry could declare an emergency and pick an earlier date. He said Wednesday that he would consider doing so.
“For us not to have someone in the United States Senate looking after Texas’ interests is irresponsible,” Perry said.
But, he added: “Trying to follow a moving target — if there’s going to be a Senate opening — is not one I waste one bit of energy on.”
Staff writers Matthew Peterson in Carrollton and Marjorie Korn in Washington contributed to this report.