The first woman elected to represent Texas in the U.S. Senate, Kay Bailey Hutchison addressed a wide range of issues, from transportation to healthcare, during her two decades in Congress. In 2000, Senator Hutchison’s GOP colleagues elected her Vice Chair of the Senate Republican Conference—making her the fifth-ranking member of the party leadership—and the first woman to hold a Republican leadership role in the Senate since 1973.1 She eventually rose to the fourth-ranking position in the conference as the Policy Committee Chairwoman.2 “One of my obstacles has been attempts to trivialize me or underestimate me,” Hutchison said in 2000, stereotyped as a “quintessential, perennial cheerleader.” “Being in the leadership is not easy. You have to learn how to deal with the issues that come to you in a professional way. And it can be done.”3
Kathryn “Kay” Ann Bailey was born in Galveston, Texas, on July 22, 1943, to Allan and Kathryn Bailey. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 1962, and in 1967, earned an L.L.B. from the University of Texas School of Law. In 1969, unable to find employment because law firms hired few women, she began a career as a Houston television reporter covering state politics.4 After 20 years of marriage to attorney Ray Hutchison, in 2001, the couple adopted two children: Bailey and Houston.5
While a journalist, Hutchison was inspired after an interview with Anne Armstrong—co-chair of the Republican National Committee—to enter politics, first working as Armstrong’s press secretary. In 1972, Hutchison was elected to the Texas state house of representatives. After two terms, she left the state legislature in 1976 to serve as vice-chair of the National Transportation Safety Board. After four years in that post, Hutchison returned to Texas. In 1982, she made an unsuccessful bid for an open U.S. House seat representing portions of Dallas. She spent eight years in the private sector as a banking executive and as owner of a candy manufacturing company before winning election in 1990 as the Texas State Treasurer. As treasurer, Hutchison increased returns on state investments to $1 billion annually, led a successful campaign against a state income tax, and helped cap Texas’ state debt.6 Two years later, Hutchison co-chaired the Republican National Convention, held in Houston, Texas.7
In January 1993, when Lloyd Bentsen of Texas resigned from the Senate to serve as U.S. Treasury Secretary, Hutchison announced her candidacy for the seat, and topped a crowd of 24 candidates in an open primary. In the special election she faced Democrat Bob Krueger, appointed to fill the vacant Senate seat until the election. Hutchison campaigned against the economic policies of the William Jefferson Clinton administration, and prevailed against Krueger by a 29-percent margin and was sworn into the U.S. Senate on June 14, 1993.8 In 1994, Hutchison was elected to a six-year term with 61 percent of the vote. She won her second full term in 2000 by a similar margin, with more than 4 million votes–more than any Texas statewide official in history.9 Hutchison considered a gubernatorial run in 2006 against incumbent Rick Perry but ultimately decided to seek a third term in the Senate. She won with 61.7 percent of the vote.10
Hutchison’s committee assignments in the Senate included: Armed Services; Appropriations; Commerce, Science, and Transportation; Intelligence; Small Business; Rules and Administration; and Veterans’ Affairs. She chaired four subcommittees: Appropriations’ Military Construction Subcommittee; Appropriations’ District of Columbia Subcommittee; Commerce’s Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Subcommittee; and Commerce’s Science and Space Subcommittee.
Senator Hutchison served her entire career on the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, eventually rising to Ranking Member for the 111th and 112th Congresses (2009–2013). She used her position as the chair of the Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine to pass legislation to even the international playing field for American shippers as well as deregulate and create greater accountability for Amtrak.11 Following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, she drafted portions of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, which increased cargo security on domestic flights, federalized airport screeners, and expanded the air marshal program.12 In accordance with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Hutchison supported opening the U.S. border to Mexican trucks only if they met the same safety standards as those in the United States.13
On Commerce as well as Appropriations, Hutchison tended to two important industries in her state: aviation and space. During the 109th Congress (2005–2007), Hutchison became the chair of Commerce’s Science and Space Subcommittee. She supported funding for NASA and investment in research and education in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and sponsored the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2005.14 In her farewell address to the Senate, Hutchison closed by reminding her colleagues that, “Saving the manned space exploration program and ensuring the long-term future of NASA is an essential generator for our economy.”15
With a strong personal interest in the armed forces and her state’s large number of military bases, Hutchison became a proponent of force preparedness and veterans’ services. As a member of the Armed Service Committee, Hutchison helped secure $75 million in funding for research and treatment of Gulf War Syndrome and lead the opposition to sending ground troops into Bosnia as part of a 1995 peacekeeping mission.16 From her position as both the chairwoman and ranking member of the Appropriations Military Construction Subcommittee, she worked to keep Texas military bases from closing and to establish a federal overseas basing commission to ensure the effectiveness of military installations abroad.17
Senator Hutchison established herself as a fiscal conservative—supporting the presidential line-item veto, a constitutional balanced budget amendment, and cuts to government spending—but worked across the aisle to cosponsor legislation, especially with fellow female Members of the Senate. Teaming with Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, she co-authored the Homemaker IRA, which provided stay-at-home moms the same retirement tax credit as working women.18 Hutchison later highlighted this as one of her proudest accomplishments: “I have provided retirement security opportunities for spouses, for women who were not able to contribute to an IRA when I came into the Senate. . . . It was a challenge we overcame, and I think it’s significant.”19
Hutchison was a major proponent of repealing the so-called “marriage penalty” tax—a provision which Congress incorporated into the 2001 tax overhaul package. That same year Senator Hutchison also wrote several provisions for the No Child Left Behind Act including: helping recruit teachers who were retirees or mid-career professionals; giving parents regular updates on their children’s school performance; and allowing local school districts to more easily offer single-sex education environments.20 Hutchison worked with Senator Dianne Feinstein in the 108th Congress (2003–2005) authoring legislation to create a national “Amber Alert” network to streamline the search for missing children.
In 2010, Hutchison decided to challenge Perry in the Republican primary for Texas governor. Perry defeated Hutchison in the March GOP primary by 21 points. In light of the defeat, Hutchison announced she would serve out the remainder of her term in Congress. As she contemplated a run for another six-year term in 2012, Republican activists in Texas signaled there would be a primary challenger if she sought another term.21 In January 2011, Hutchison announced she would not seek re-nomination to the Senate, saying that the decision would “give the people of Texas ample time to consider who [her] successor will be.”22
Hutchison had no plans to disappear after retirement, saying, “I want to retire from the Senate, but I don’t want to retire from being engaged and doing things.”23 In February 2013 Hutchison joined a prominent law firm as senior counsel.24 That same year she penned Unflinching Courage: Pioneering Women Who Shaped Texas, a book focused on the lives of extraordinary Texas women. The volume served as a follow up to her two earlier works on the lives of American women, American Heroines: The Spirited Women Who Shaped Our Country (2004) and Leading Ladies: American Trailblazers (2007).
Reflecting on her career, Hutchison recognized the uphill battle she often faced. “I’ve had to go to huge lengths to prove that I was conservative,” she noted. “It was always assumed that I would be a squish. But I’m a no-frills conservative—a solid regular mainstream conservative.”25
View Record in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress
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