Retiring U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison delivered a gracious valedictory speech on the Senate floor Wednesday.
The senior senator from Texas acknowledged her legacy as the first (and only) female senator from the state. “When I was first running for office I said I wanted to make things better for our sons and open for our daughters,” she said. “I leave the Senate knowing that January will see the greatest number of female senators in our nation’s history. (W. Gardner Selby looked into that assertion at PolitiFact Texas and found it to be true. Twenty women will serve in the Senate when it convenes in January.)
Hutchison, 69, thanked her staff for their hard work and her family for their support over the years. She teared up as she mentioned the impact her parents had on her life. “I would not be here today if it were not for my parents, who gave me the gifts of strong values, unwavering support and education to be whatever I wanted to be,” Hutchison said, her voice halting. “I must say my parents were surprised when they saw what I wanted to be. They would never have thought that their daughter, growing up in LaMarque, Texas, a town of 15,000 good people, would think that she could be a United States Senator.”
Hutchison said that she hoped some of the priorities she championed during her time in the Senate will continue to receive support, including “investments in science, technology, and higher education,” and “saving the manned space exploration program and ensuring the long-term future for NASA.” She touted her most cherished accomplishments during her 19 years in the Senate, including the “Homemaker IRA” bill co-sponsored by Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, and the work she did with then-Sen. Hillary Clinton to support and empower female leaders in emerging economies.
Throughout the speech Hutchison struck a bipartisan tone. “I will leave the Senate knowing I have worked with men and women of great patriotism, intellect and heart from both sides of the aisle,” Hutchison said, praising Democratic Senators, including Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, who she served with on the Commerce Committee, and Dianne Feinstein of California, who she collaborated with to create the Amber Alert system.
She had kind words for the two other Senators from Texas she served alongside, Phil Gramm and John Cornyn. And, after she 29-minute speech, Cornyn took the floor and praised her. “I’m used to being surrounded at home by strong, intelligent women,” he said. “But serving with Kay, I’ve also been a partner with a strong, intelligent Texas woman, and of course Kay has been a role model for so many young women, not just in Texas but throughout the United States.”
“Kay, you leave behind a tremendous legacy … a legacy that will long be celebrated by Texans,” he told her. “So Kay, I join with my colleagues in saying to you, Vaya con Dios .”
Mark Jones, chair of Rice University’s political science department, weighed in on Hutchison’s legacy to KUHF’s David Pitman. Hutchison worked tirelessly behind the scenes to promote Texas’s interests, including “deductions for sales tax … to getting funding for NASA and education in the state” to shielding the state’s military bases from closure, Jones said . “Hutchison ran her political career with a type of statesmanship we’re unlikely to see again anytime soon,” Pitman recounted.
“It’s very difficult to win primaries in the Republican party today in Texas, or in the Democratic party, for that matter, with the effective, pragmatic, moderate approach that Kay Bailey Hutchison has pursued during her 20 years in the Senate, and, previously, here in the state,” Jones said.