Evan Smith: If you ask everybody in Austin right now, they’ll say Kay Bailey Hutchison is definitely running for governor in 2010, and, in fact, she’s been telling people in Austin for six months or more that she’s running and that they shouldn’t commit to anybody else. Can you shed a little light on the subject?
Kay Bailey Hutchison: Well, I have been talking to people quietly about what I hope I can do, what I’d like to be able to do. I haven’t made a commitment in any way because it’s just too early—it’s too early to be gearing up. I don’t want to peak in 2007 for a 2010 race. Would I like to do it? Yes. A lot of things have to happen to make it a reality. You can’t plan that far ahead with certainty.
ES: So as of today, you are not a candidate for governor?
KBH: Oh, no.
ES: Can you tell me some of the things that would have to happen?
KBH: I would have to feel that it was the right time for Texas for me to leave the Senate. I would have to feel like I have an agenda, that I’m ready to go. I do have ideas, but if I run for governor, I’m going to have a vision and a plan, and I’ll want to do big things. That takes time.
ES: When I interviewed you in the fall of 2004, we had a conversation looking ahead to the 2006 governor’s race, and you said very much the same thing you’re saying today. I wonder if anything’s different this time.
KBH: Yes, it is different. I felt that, last time, with everything considered, it was not the right time for Texas, and it was probably not the right time for the Republican party to have that kind of challenge. I feel today that this is the right time frame. My term would be up in 2012. I would not run for reelection—
ES: Regardless of whether you run for governor, you won’t run again?
KBH: Right. So is it better for Texas for me to leave early and give someone else a chance to start building seniority before the class of 2013? I think it probably is. Plus, I’m really humbled by the number of people who believe we need leadership in Texas that I can provide. And there’s not anyone who could really make a case to me that this would be divisive for the Republican party in a way that would make me step back.
ES: Although you may very well have a primary challenge.
KBH: Definitely. I would look forward to having a real race.
ES: Have you talked to Lieutenant Governor [David] Dewhurst about this?
ES: Do you expect he’ll be a candidate?
KBH: You’re doing the Austin-insider, Capitol-press-corps thing. I read the papers too.
ES: You mentioned the possibility of leaving your seat early. The other thing one hears is that you’ve told people you might step down as soon as 2009.
KBH: I think that has to be considered. But there’s been no decision.
ES: I want to ask you about the S-Chip [State Children’s Health Insurance Program] bill. You voted for it, although the four major Republican presidential candidates [Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson, and John McCain] are against it, and we know the president isn’t for it. Explain to Republicans in Texas why you sided with mostly Democrats on this issue.
KBH: There are several reasons. Number one, Texas is a high-growth state, and under the old law it has constantly been in a position of losing the funding it hasn’t used. What the old law said was that if you don’t use your full allocation after two years, the states that are overspending can apply to take your unspent money away. Knowing that we have the largest uninsured children’s population in the country, I negotiated with the [Senate] finance committee to protect Texas so that we would not lose our allocation even if we didn’t use it all. I got that concession because I know there’s going to be a time when we are going to need it. Once I got the concession, I felt honor-bound to support the bill unless I felt it was such bad policy that I couldn’t do it—and it wasn’t. The other thing is, treating children with preventative medicine is so much more cost-efficient than overuse of the emergency room or letting children get gravely ill or have a disease progress because they aren’t getting preventative care.
ES: What about the funding mechanism? It would rely on a per-pack cigarette tax. Some people have criticized relying on people to keep smoking in order to pay for children’s health insurance, and then there are those who say they just aren’t for new taxes.
KBH: That’s legitimate. I don’t like taxing one sector like that, but overall I think anything that we can do to discourage smoking is a good thing. At some point people are going to stop paying $35 for a carton of cigarettes. My husband smokes—it’s an addiction, there’s no question—and I don’t want my children to smoke. I want to keep young people from starting.
ES: You understand the situation this puts you in. It allows, for instance, a lieutenant governor who’s running against you for governor to say you voted to raise taxes.
KBH: A tax on cigarettes dissuades people from doing something that’s very bad for their health and for other people’s health, and it has some fiscal responsibility to it; if you’re going to expand a program that is becoming an entitlement, you should try to pay for it. I would prefer paying for it by cutting spending in other areas, but given the importance to Texas of being fully covered …
ES: I want to ask you about the general perception of your party right now. Is this a good time to be a Republican?