In Texas, a Battle for the Soul of Conservatism, with Impacts for Feminism


A formidable opponent.

Anyone who’s spent half a second in Texas, or payed more than a moment’s attention to the recent history of the U.S. Senate, will have heard the name Kay Bailey Hutchinson (KBH to we honorary Texans). For her constituents, friend and foe alike, she’s synonymous with the honest, competent conservatism of the late governor Ann Richards, a reputation that’s won her a fair amount of bipartisan support (in the 60s, which is better than McCain did).

Despite her popularity, her moderation on some “red meat” issues – e.g., she wouldn’t completely overrule Roe – has unfairly bought her the outright enmity of elements of the GOP, potentially endangering her bid for governor. See for yourself:

SEN. HUTCHINSON (R-TX): “Because I speak in civil tones, some want to try to label me a moderate. My voting record is one of the most conservative in the U.S. Senate. … We can’t expect to remain the majority party in Texas if we drive out voters that support Republican principles but might not agree on every single issue.

She’s clearly right. Hutchinson is not only a Texas icon, she’s precisely that rare conservative – principled, intelligent, and unblemished – that the GOP will need to rebuild its shattered image (whither “conservative competence”?). And yet the state party stands poised to throw her under the bus in her primary challenge against state embarrassment, incumbent governor Rick Perry. For shame.

This story should sound familiar. While Texas is indeed the birthplace of conservative stateswoman-stars, they have a history of losing, unfairly, to unremarkable men. Take Ann Richards, a true progressive conservative, laid low by George W. Bush and his particular breed of nasty politics, eminently qualified to sum up his entire life in a nutshell: “some jerk.”

Just so. Don’t get me wrong – I’d prefer a Democrat in Hutchinson’s seat (like Barbara Ann Radnofsky) – but everyone benefits from a sensible opposition party. No matter how much fun we derive from sideshow acts like Rick Perry, we as Democrats should celebrate Republicans with real ideas, when they emerge, and Kay Bailey Hutchinson is just that. Here’s hoping the Texas GOP knows it.

Incidentally, this is precisely why people like me were skeptical of the GOP’s brief fling with feminism during ’08. Adding a name like Kay Bailey Hutchinson to a national ticket says “we believe in leaders who are strong, independent, and intelligent — oh, and if they’re women, all the better!” Adding Sarah Palin to a national ticket, though – a woman whose sole contributions to any national debate remain winking, smarmy catch phrases, and ‘Joe the Plumber’ – says “we believe in divas, photo shoots, and empty talking points.” That’s not feminism: that’s staging.

Too bad. Wake me when the GOP decides to put competence over shrill partisanship.


  1. Considering that the Republicans did the same thing to Maryland COngressmen Wayne Gilcrest in the 2008 election (which handed over a long standing republican seat to a Democrat) I’m not surprised they are doing it here. Almost makes me want to donate to her campaign – I’m so tired of seeing good intelligent conservatives loose.

    1. Sad story. I can’t imagine why the GOP thinks culture warriors like Gingrich will play better than coolly competent people like KBH. Ah well.

  2. Since Texas has open primaries, and since Democrats have failed so very poorly in state-wide elections as of late, I would think it sensible for Texas Democrats (at least the most moderate) to strongly support her candidacy. Whichever Republican wins the primary will be a lock for governor, so let’s hope it’s KBH not Perry.

    1. There’s an idea…

    2. That’s one of the reasons I’ve loved living in open primary states. It’s particularly true when one party’s got someone unopposed in the primary. I mean, the other party’s person’s got a 40-60% chance of becoming the next Whatever. So even if your first choice is the person running unopposed, don’t you have a responsibility to make sure the alternative’s as good as possible, and vote for the best (or least objectionable) of the primary candidates you won’t be voting for in the general? Way I see it, of course you do.

      1. Of course, not everyone sees it quite that way. Many would prefer to vote for the best candidate on the other side, but rather the candidate least likely to beat their candidate. The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but our pluralistic democracy has kept people from thinking in true preferential terms.

        1. Kris, while not everyone taking the approach I do is indeed partially a consequence of the hog-fellating electoral system that is first-past-the-post voting, I think it also reflects a variation in basic outlook: do you prefer to reduce the set of possible positive outcomes in order to limit the set of possible negative outcomes or do you to prefer to increase the set of possible negative outcomes in order to expand the set of possible positive outcomes. As an example, it’s the whole “risk/reward” acceptance level that’s part of how people are generally advised to choose their financial investments. I think it’s pertinent to dating as well.

          Speaking for myself, I tend to focus on minimizing possible negatives rather than maximizing possible positives. I generally care less about how much better things could be than I care about making sure I’ve limited how much worse they can become. So, for me, voting for the best candidate on the other side in order to limit the harm done by my side losing is far more important than boosting my side’s chances of winning.

  3. I saw her speak in Louisville last year at the NRA convention. She is a fairly boring speaker (or at least she was then) but she’s a classy gal and has the right position on most issues. She was instrumental in getting the DC gun ban overturned, so if i lived in Texas that would be reason enough to give her my vote.

  4. […] natural beauty all stop at the state house. Texas’ reputation as a forge for statesmen (and women) is rightly deserved, but the current state government fails to reflect it. I was struck, then, to […]

  5. […] know that the Republican primary is, essentially, a clash between a respected stateswoman, and an embarrassing incumbent with “tea party” sympathies. What you may not know — I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t — is that […]

  6. There is obviously a lot for me to learn outside of my books. Thanks for the fantastic read,

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