IT WAS THE MONDAY MORNING American Airlines flight from DallasFort Worth to Washington, D.C., and the business crowd in the coach section was packed six to a row, everyone reading papers or typing on laptops. Suddenly, out of first class came a toddler wobbling down the aisle, a pink sippy cup in one hand, a little doll in the other. She was cute, really cute, with sandy hair falling in her light blue eyes. She started swaying left, then right. “Oh, hell,” you could see the businesspeople thinking, “she’s going to crash into me and knock the coffee off my tray.” A couple of men on the aisle shifted their bodies toward the center seats, their eyes focused on the intruder, waiting for the inevitable.
Then a nice pair of black pumps came into their field of vision. The men on the plane couldn’t help but notice a nice pair of legs attached to that pair of pumps. Their gazes continued upward, and they saw a dark purple St. John Knits skirt with a matching blazer and silk blouse, very expensive. They saw a pearl necklace and matching pearl earrings. They saw a woman’s face, surrounded by perfectly placed, highlighted blond hair. And right about then is when their mouths dropped wide open.
“Careful, honey,” said 59-year-old U.S. senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, to her 20-month-old daughter, Bailey. She gave the other passengers an apologetic smile as the child recovered her balance and continued her march to the rear of the plane, at which point she turned and headed back to the front. Bailey dropped her sippy cup and then emitted a noise from her bottom that sounded much like a small lawn mower trying to get started. “Oops,” said the distinguished senior senator from Texas.
Kay Bailey Hutchison has now been in the public spotlight for thirty years. In terms of votes received, she is by far the most popular politician in Texas history. No one else—not George W. Bush, not Ann Richards, not Phil Gramm, not Lyndon Johnson—has ever gotten more than four million votes in an election, which she did in winning reelection to the Senate in 2000. She is also the vice chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, comprised of all the GOP senators, which arguably makes her the most influential woman in the new Republican-controlled Senate.
Yet there is one reason, and one reason only, why she is today the source of such enormous curiosity among many Texans. A year and a half ago, she and her husband, Ray, a prominent Dallas bond attorney who is seventy years old, announced that they had adopted a girl, whom they named Kathryn Bailey. A few months later they announced that they were adopting a second child, a baby boy they named Houston, who is three months younger than Bailey.
The Hutchisons had been so secretive about adopting the two children that many of their friends did not know what they had done until published accounts appeared in the newspapers. Even their closest friends, who received telephone calls from the couple just before the news broke, were astonished. Many of these people had grandchildren older than the Hutchisons’ new children. “We joked that Kay and Ray were going to be having their cars taken away from them just as their kids would be getting their drivers’ licenses,” one of her former Pi Phi sorority sisters from the University of Texas told me.
Almost everyone who read or heard about the adoptions was puzzled. “Please tell me—what was Kay thinking?” asked a wealthy Dallas woman I know, whose husband contributes to Kay’s campaign fund every time she runs for office. “I can’t figure it out.” Why, indeed, would a woman who must debate the issues of the day with 99 other senators, sit on various committees, meet with representatives of special-interest groups, and deal with 20 million constituents back home, suddenly decide after more than twenty years of childless marriage that the time had come to raise two young children? A woman, it should be noted, who is going to turn sixty years old in July?
“Oh, no,” Kay lamented when I raised the issue during lunch at the City Cafe in Dallas. She aimed her pretty blue eyes at me as if they were rifles. “Here you go with the psychobabble questions.”
She ought to be used to it by now. Kay has had to deal with what she calls psychobabble ever since she became the first Republican woman to serve in the Texas House, in 1973. Women who enter politics learn quickly that their personality and mannerisms come under far more intense public analysis than those of male politicians. Was anyone, for instance, ever interested in learning about the inner life of the bombastic Phil Gramm during his eighteen years in the Senate? But people have been putting Kay on the Freudian couch for a long time, in large part because she seems to embrace so many contradictory qualities. She cultivates the image of her state’s foremost female stereotype—the blond former University of Texas coed, sorority girl, and cheerleader—yet one does not have to spend much time watching her at work to recognize the intense, driven perfectionist that lies behind the image. Although she does indeed look, as Newsweek once wrote, like Senator Barbie Doll, the impeccably dressed girl next door with the perfect smile and the teased honeyed hair on top of her head, she is also regarded as one of the toughest and most demanding bosses in the Senate. Although she projects a fundamental niceness wherever she goes, she is renowned among her staffers for her fierce stare, which she will level on those who in some way disappoint her—a stare, says her former chief of staff Mark Franz, “that can feel like a sword being driven through you.”
And so her motives, ambitions, personal life, fashion taste, and even her hairstyle have been studied and restudied. Political insiders love to sift through the details of her past—which include great triumphs, great disappointments, and a