Evan Smith: What everybody wants to know is, Are you going to run for governor in 2006?
Kay Bailey Hutchison: I haven’t made a decision. I’m thinking about it.
ES: What thoughts are going through your mind?
KBH: First, I’ve always been inclined to serve only two terms. That was what I said when I started running. I think that it’s good to give other people a chance—you get new energy and new enthusiasm. Also, the timing makes a difference. I wouldn’t have stepped aside earlier than this, after Phil Gramm decided to leave, and left Texas with two brand-new senators.
ES: That’s all very noble, but I’m wondering about the reasons that relate to your interest in being governor.
KBH: I have to ask myself: Is that a job I want or one I could be effective in? Would it be a good thing for Texas for me to do something like that?
ES: Do you think Texas is being well run?
KBH: Texas is a huge, growing state on a border, so it has a lot of problems that need leadership. We have some very basic issues that need addressing, and I don’t think they’re being addressed right now.
ES: Can you give me an example? You went after the governor publicly a few weeks ago on the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
KBH: Well, I was asked a question about CHIP. I’m not looking for places to be critical, but I was asked about it. In general, the issues that I think are important for Texas to address right now for a solid future are quality public education, a fair tax system to pay for it, transportation, and quality higher education. Higher ed has been a concern of mine for a long time. Our founding fathers set aside public lands to make sure that we would have quality higher education, and we are not in the top tier of public colleges and universities in America. And we should be.
ES: Why do you think we’re not?
KBH: I don’t think we have made it a state priority. I don’t think we’ve kept up with what it takes. If the University of Michigan can become a top-tier public university, why can’t the University of Texas? Why can’t Texas A&M and Texas Tech? Why can’t the University of Houston? The largest city in Texas doesn’t have a premier public institution. We need for U of H to be top-tier.
ES: At whose feet should we lay the blame for that?
KBH: Not at anyone’s feet. You can’t do it in two or three years. You have to build toward it. When I went on the Appropriations Committee and learned that Texas was sixth in the nation in terms of federal dollars going to our research institutions, I said, “There’s something wrong here.” We have some great institutions. We have our share of Nobel laureates and National Academy members. Why aren’t we in the top three? And so for the past five years I’ve brought together the chancellors and presidents of our research institutions, including our medical schools, and I’ve brought in the heads of the federal agencies with the most dollars to talk about their priorities. I’ve encouraged those chancellors and presidents to create niches in which their institutions can be the best, rather than all of them trying to be UT or A&M. And I’ve asked them to collaborate with each other. That has produced phenomenal results: We’ve gone from sixth to fourth in funding. Whether I’m here or someplace else, it’s going to be a mission of mine.
ES: Should the state be doing something to augment your efforts?
KBH: Yes. One of the things we need to do is create funds to attract researchers. The researchers are looking for labs with equipment where they can do their great discoveries. We could have a state fund that would focus on attracting those bigger projects. Also, a bill was passed in the Legislature last session allowing federal money to be kept in those research projects as opposed to having to give the state millions of dollars. I wrote a letter to legislators asking them to pass the bill, and they did, and the governor signed it. Now we need to keep up on salaries. We need to have the capability to recruit faculty and spouses.
ES: None of that seems that controversial. Why isn’t it happening—or why isn’t it happening without your prodding?
KBH: Everyone sets his own priorities. And this would be my priority for Texas.
ES: What’s the problem with transportation? Isn’t the governor already tackling that?
KBH: I think he’s right to prioritize transportation. We have a highway crisis. But we’ve come way too late to the importance of rail in our transit system and our urban areas. I think that rail can be a viable alternative to clogging our highways. Eighty percent of the NAFTA cars and trucks in the U.S. come through Texas. We’re helping at the federal level with the NAFTA corridors, I-69 and I-35. I put a separate fund in the highway bill for border corridors, because this is such a huge issue for us. But I don’t want a cement Texas. We cannot just pave over our urban areas. And I don’t want a toll Texas. I’m opposed to slapping a toll on a highway that’s already built. Now, if people vote a bond issue for a toll road, fine. But to build a highway with taxpayer dollars and then go in and put a toll on it and clog up the rest of the arteries in the city—it’s not right.
ES: You also mentioned school finance as a priority. We’ve already been through one special session in which the needle didn’t move. For purposes of this discussion, you’re Governor Hutchison. What’s the first thing you do to solve this problem?
KBH: This should have been dealt with long before now. When you’re taking money out of one district and sending