Today’s daily message from the Hutchison campaign is that Perry’s record in education is woefully weak: stagnant test scores, rising dropout rates, a shortage of math and science teachers that keeps getting worse, inadequate state funding, several hundred million dollars down the drain for an ideologically and politically motivated plan for merit pay for teachers that failed to improve student performance. And she’s right. The Hutchison message goes on to talk about her own efforts for education: co-sponsoring a $21 million increase for math and science education, increasing the amount of Pell grants, and helping move Texas from sixth to third in federal research funding.
But here is what is missing from the release, and in fact has been missing from the Hutchison campaign: What does she intend to do about the situation? This reminds me so much of Ann Richards’ campaign against George W. Bush. It was all about what was wrong with Bush, and what Ann had done in the past. This was so obvious that when I was on the debate panel for the governor’s race, I asked Richards a softball question: “You have told us what you have already accomplished, but what are your three biggest priorities for your next term?” There was an uncomfortable silence, and then she said, “Raise teachers salaries.” Raise teachers salaries? She had had four years to raise them and hadn’t done it.
Here’s what’s missing from the Hutchison battle strategy: She doesn’t hesitate to say that Perry is doing some important things badly, and she doesn’t hesitate to say that she has done good things in the Senate. What she doesn’t say is what she will do when she is elected governor. Voters have no more clue what the top priorities of a Hutchison governorship might be, or how she might carry them out, than they did when she first announced that she was running a year ago. She can’t win just by saying that Perry is no damned good. She has got to make the case for the voters to fire him and replace him with her. What is that case and will we ever see it?