On January 2, 2013, the 112th Congress will adjourn and the long political career of Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, the first female senator from Texas, will end. Hutchison has held the office since 1993, when, as state treasurer, she ran in a special election against Bob Krueger, who’d kept the seat warm since Lloyd Bentsen had left it for a cabinet post. Before Bentsen the seat had belonged to Ralph Yarborough, a populist from Henderson County who campaigned with the slogan “Let’s put the jam on the lower shelf so the little people can reach it.” Yarborough succeeded William A. “Dollar Bill” Blakley, a brief occupant after the long tenure of Price Daniel, who managed, in 1956, to do what Hutchison failed to do in 2010: leave the Senate for the governorship. Prior to Daniel, the names sound historical to present generations: Tom Connally, Earle Bradford Mayfield, Charles Allen Culberson, Roger Quarles Mills, Horace Chilton, John Henninger Reagan, Samuel Bell Maxey, James Winwright Flanagan (who is, aside from Hutchison, the only other Republican to have held the seat), Louis Wigfall, Matthias Ward, James Pinckney Henderson, and Thomas Jefferson Rusk, a hero of the Texas Revolution who held the seat for eleven years until, disconsolate over the death of his wife, he shot himself with a rifle at his home in Nacogdoches.
Hutchison’s tenure has lasted longer than that of any of her predecessors save Bentsen, Connally, and Culberson. Barring an upset, her successor will be former solicitor general Ted Cruz. After being filled for a century and a half by Anglo men, the same seat that gave Texas its first woman senator may soon be occupied by its first Hispanic senator, both Republicans. There are a number of ironies to savor here, among them that Ann Richards, the last Democratic governor, opened the door for Hutchison by leaving the treasurer’s office to run for governor. As David Oshinsky notes in his review of Jan Reid’s biography of the platinum-coiffed icon ( “The Last Liberal ”), Richards promised to break down barriers and bring women and minorities into government. Who knew they would be from the other party?
This issue also features interviews with Hutchison and Cruz ( “The Kay Place ,” and “Ted Cruz’s Excellent Adventure ”), the two of whom appear, though they both deny it, to be very different kinds of Republicans. Hutchison, with her skill at routing federal dollars to Texas, her relatively moderate positions on social issues, and her belief in “good government,” is the sort of R that of late gets called a RINO. Cruz, for his part, is a hero of the tea party, a foe of government spending, and, generally speaking, a bomb thrower. It may be, however, that their differences reflect nothing so much as the principle of generational change, an unstoppable process that has brought us, senator by senator, down through the centuries.