> El Paso meeting sparks barbs between Hutchison,
> Gary Scharrer
> Austin Bureau
> A meeting between U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and
> prominent El
> Paso businessmen turned testy this week and
> triggered the most heated
> exchange yet between her and Gov. Rick Perry, the
> fellow Republican
> she may challenge in 2006.
> Several El Paso businessmen who support Perry asked
> Hutchison to run
> for re-election to the Senate rather than challenge
> the governor,
> according to those at Tuesday's meeting at the Bank
> of the West in El
> Paso. The El Paso Perry supporters -- who so far
> have given a
> combined $800,000 to the governor and plan to donate
> hundreds of
> thousands more -- said their large campaign
> contributions to state
> leaders have increased El Paso's influence in
> Hutchison then gave a lecture-like response,
> denouncing the role big-
> money contributions play in state government,
> several of those
> attending said.
> "We didn't expect that reaction," El Paso
> businessman Ted Houghton
> said. "That's when the meeting fell apart,
> unfortunately. Our point
> was, we like what we have for El Paso and we like
> what we have for
> the state of Texas.
> "We're not going to get into a (shouting) contest
> with her, but it
> fell all apart," Houghton said. "We did not expect
> After word of Hutchison's comments in the private
> luncheon began
> circulating, her spokesman confirmed that the
> senator condemned the
> role of large donations in the Texas political
> "Senator Hutchison is appalled that people are being
> feel they have to hand over huge contributions in
> order to be heard
> in the state's political process," spokesman Dave
> Beckwith said
> Friday. "What she's been hearing around the state is
> encouragement --
> to provide the leadership to clean up that system."
> That statement -- perhaps the harshest yet from the
> Hutchison camp as
> she considers a 2006 Republican primary showdown
> with Perry --
> brought a swift response from the governor's
> "Others can deal in the Washington-style politics of
> destruction and blind ambition to do what is best
> for themselves, but
> Governor Perry will continue to be a strong, ethical
> and effective
> leader for El Paso and Texas as a whole," said Luis
> Saenz, Perry's
> campaign director.
> The opening salvos in what could be a bitter
> gubernatorial campaign
> between Texas' most prominent Republican leaders
> were prompted by
> Hutchison's remarks at a private meeting with 14 El
> Paso business
> leaders Tuesday. The meeting was organized by former
> El Paso Mayor
> Jonathan Rogers as a briefing by the senator on
> various issues, but
> several Perry supporters eventually turned the
> conversation to the
> coming gubernatorial election and tried to persuade
> Hutchison not to
> challenge the governor, witnesses said.
> El Paso businessman Woody Hunt said he reminded the
> senator that El
> Paso had not fully participated in state politics in
> the past and has
> long been neglected. He and others decided to open
> up their
> checkbooks and become players.
> "We need to be better connected to the state. We
> need to be able to
> have access. We need to be able to communicate,"
> said Hunt, who's
> donated almost $200,000 to Perry in the past four
> years, campaign
> finance records show. "And we endeavored to do that,
> and we thought
> we were succeeding."
> He and others told Hutchison that she and Perry are
> both doing good
> jobs for El Paso.
> Different perspectives emerged about what happened
> during the closed-
> door luncheon, but those who spoke about the event
> generally agreed
> the discussion got severely strained after some of
> the business
> leaders mentioned their large contributions to
> The senator's neck turned red, according to one of
> the participants.
> "It was obvious by the way she was inching up in her
> seat that she
> was fixing to let everybody have it," one of the
> business leaders
> said. He did not want to be identified because he
> has supported both
> Perry and Hutchison and doesn't want to stay in the
> "She did lambaste the idea of large contributions of
> the nature that
> we had been encouraged to make. She said she would
> never be a party
> to that," he said.
> Eleven of the 14 El Pasoans attending the meeting
> have given to
> Perry's campaign since 2000, with their combined
> totaling more than $800,000 as of June 30, according
> to Texas Ethics
> Commission records. Rogers was the only one in the
> meeting who gave
> to Hutchison in that period, with his contributions
> totaling $7,000
> to her campaign and political action committee,
> Federal Election
> Commission reports show.
> Eight El Pasoans have pledged an additional $100,000
> each for Perry
> between this year and the 2006 election.
> The meeting with Hutchison was not designed to start
> the political
> debate, its organizer said.
> "I told her, 'The next time you're in town, give me
> a holler, so I
> called some of my friends,'" said Rogers, who was El
> Paso's mayor
> during 1981-89 and has been the senator's friend for
> 30 years.
> "I felt that she was here talking to us to see
> what's going on and to
> give us some good news, which I'm not privy to talk
> about because it
> was supposed to be a closed meeting," Rogers said.
> Houghton and Hunt led the opening discussion about
> El Paso's emerging
> role in state politics.
> "What we did tell her was, 'Senator, we love you.
> We've been working
> in this community for 50, 60 years and, finally, the
> moon and the
> stars have all lined up,' " Houghton said.
> Houghton, Hunt and others fear that a bruising
> primary battle between
> Perry and Hutchison would turn incendiary and
> threaten the Texas
> Republican Party.
> "We don't want to go through a process where the
> Republican Party
> devours itself in internal conflict, which, in this
> case, is
> unnecessary," Hunt said. "We have two people doing a
> very good job
> where they are.
> "They are benefiting the state and benefiting our
> community," Hunt
> said. "I think we have good access to both of them."
> The money issue
> Some of the participants dispute whether Perry's El
> Paso supporters
> brought up their specific contribution amounts, or
> whether the
> senator did.
> "The monetary issues never came up from our
> perspective. She brought
> it up," Houghton said. "We said we have made an
> investment in the
> leadership of the state. That's as far as we went."
> The senator's spokesman said Hutchison reacted to
> Perry supporters
> specifically touting the accomplishments produced
> after significantly
> stepping up their political contributions.
> Houghton and several others in the room agreed that
> the senator took
> a swipe at Perry's leadership record, particularly
> about the state's
> failure to solve the school finance crisis and its
> accompanying high
> property taxes.
> Houghton said he told her: "Nothing's perfect. You
> can't have
> everything, but you strive to achieve."
> Perry last year made Houghton the first El Paso
> member of the state's
> powerful Texas Department of Transportation
> Commission. Hunt was
> appointed by Perry as the first El Pasoan in more
> than 40 years to
> serve on the University of Texas System Board of
> Other El Pasoans attending the meeting with
> high-ranking Perry
> appointments included Robert Brown (Texas Parks and
> Commission), Rick Francis (Texas Tech Board of
> Regents) and Paul
> Foster (Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board).
> "We have made an investment in the leadership of the
> state, and we're
> playing at the highest levels of the state,"
> Houghton said.
> Several attending the meeting agreed that Hutchison
> told them she had
> not made up her mind about running for governor.
> "As far as I know, right now she's a senator. If she
> decides to run
> for governor, it will be a different story. I will
> certainly be on
> her side," Rogers said.
> "There is plenty of support for her in this city,
> lots of support,"
> Rogers said.
> More on pay-to-play Gary Scharrer's column, 1B
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