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Texas style elections

By Paul M. Weyrich
web posted May 16, 2005

How times have changed. Not long ago Texas was a Democratic State in which the winner of a Democratic Primary for the U.S. Senate, Governor or Lt. Governor was assured of a general election victory. Texas Democrats felt entitled to redistrict so that Republicans would be five to seven seats short in the U.S. House of Representatives given the shift in voter registration. Recently Republicans did the redistricting, causing a loss of at least four Democratic seats in the 2004 General Election plus the seat of Rep. Ralph M. Hall, who had switched parties before the election. Hall came to Congress in1980 with a reputation of having been a moderate-to-liberal Senator in the Texas State Legislature. When he became a Republican in 2004 he was more conservative than most of his new GOP colleagues. For years Hall said he was born a Democrat and would die a Democrat, having occupied former Democratic House Speaker Samuel T. Rayburn's congressional seat. Rayburn was Hall's mentor. But the Democratic Party, even in Texas, became so liberal that Hall felt he no longer had a home. He had won comfortably as a Democrat. In 2004 he won even more comfortably as a Republican.

Rick Perry

It appears we may witness a highly contested Republican Primary for Governor, the winner of which could be the victor in the 2006 General Election. Republican Governor Rick Perry is the incumbent. He was George W. Bush's gubernatorial running mate when Bush defeated Democratic Governor Ann Richards in 1994 and was re-elected with Bush in 1998. When Governor Bush became President Bush, Lt. Governor Rick Perry became Governor Rick Perry. Two years later Perry was elected in his own right. Now he is running for a second full term.

Apparently gearing up to challenge Governor Perry in the Republican Primary is the Senior Senator from Texas, Kay Bailey Hutchison. It was unusual for U.S. Senators to run for Governor, although former Governor, then three-term Senator Ed Johnson (D-CO), did run and was re-elected Governor in the 1950s. It is much more commonplace now to do so.

Senator Hutchison said she would make up her mind about running against Governor Perry or running for another term in the Senate. She would have no trouble getting re-elected. The Democrats most likely would endorse a sacrificial candidate to run against her. Senator Hutchison is more liberal than her colleague, Fellow Republican Senator John Cornyn, and almost all other Republicans in the Texas Congressional Delegation. In fact, one motivation for Senator Hutchison, we are told, is her frustration over continually having to take more conservative stands than she would like but she tries to be loyal to President Bush and the more conservative GOP leadership in the Senate. When she served one term as Chairman of the Senate Steering Committee she would cringe when advised of positions she should take with the Senate's conservative leadership. Most Senators serve multiple terms as chairman of this caucus of conservative Senators. She did not.

The incumbent Governor may be tough to beat. While not having the engaging personality of a George W. Bush or even an Ann Richards Governor Perry nevertheless is a solid conservative who vowed he would run on his record. He adamantly opposes tax increases. He was victorious over the budget crisis, (which nearly every Governor has experienced). Texas had a $10 billion deficit. Perry is the only Governor to have balanced the budget without raising taxes. In fact, in this session of the Texas State Legislature Governor Perry is tangling with some fellow Republicans, a few of whom want to raise taxes and revenues. The Governor's answer has been consistently "no."

Perry has the support of social conservatives who have become a very important part of the Texas GOP. Indeed the expanded party base has developed at the expense of pro-life and pro-family Democrats who left their party after it was dominated by Planned Parenthood, the ACLU and other leftwing groups. In the last session of the Texas Legislature, Governor Perry led the passage of the Defense of Marriage Act. He led the passage of a unique "women's right-to-know" law, which requires that prior to seeking abortions women receive information about the possible consequences of such a procedure. It is an informed-consent law which other states are reviewing as a possible model for regulating abortion. Perry also led and passed the "Pre-Natal Protection Act," which is really the Lacy and Connor Peterson Law for Texas. This session the Governor supports enactment of a parental-consent abortion law and wants a Constitutional amendment on marriage approved at the federal level.

Already the Governor and Senator Hutchison have clashed over embryonic stem cell research. Senator Hutchison favors expanding the available lines for stem cell research. Governor Perry takes President Bush's position that one does not destroy potential human life in the name of scientific research. It is not clear what Senator Hutchison's position is on pro-family issues that Governor Perry has advocated but she came to the Senate as a supporter of abortion rights. She has voted for most pro-life issues in the intervening years, however, because most abortion votes have involved funding and other marginal issues rather than abortion itself.

If polling shows that Senator Hutchison has a fighting chance it is likely she will toss her purse in the race. (Many women don't wear hats often and I have never seen the Senator wearing one.) She has served many years in public office and believes this would be her chance to get elected Governor and later to be picked as a Vice Presidential running mate by the 2008 GOP Presidential Nominee.

But if polling shows that Perry is favored in the GOP Primary, the Senator might not run. She would not want to end her long public service career as a loser. It is interesting that a Republican Primary winner could be the general election victor as were the Democratic Primary winners less than a generation ago. (Does anyone remember Bentsen vs. Yarborough?) Times have changed.

Paul M. Weyrich is the Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.

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