It has never been easy to figure out what Kay Bailey Hutchison is thinking about her future, but folks are really scratching their heads after the story that ran last week in the Houston Chronicle. Here’s how it began:

Vice president? Doesn’t want it. A run for governor? Quite possibly. Leaving public service for a new career in the private sector? That’s appealing, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison said Thursday, in the midst of a three-day West Texas bus tour.

This is someone who has been going around the state for almost a year, telling everybody who would listen that she’s running for governor in 2010, no kidding this time, and suddenly she’s giving an interview saying she might go into the private sector. What is she thinking? This can’t be a smart move. If she intends to run for governor, she has undercut herself by being a tease. Again. It has to make contributors think twice before writing their checks. If she doesn’t intend to run for governor, why has she been telling supporters that she does? If she does intend to run for governor, why is she telling the Houston Chronicle that she might not?

This has thrown Republicans into a tizzy. Many have been counting on Hutchison’s popularity to help the GOP recover some of the losses it suffered in 2006. Others have been waiting for her to make up their minds before they decide on their own plans. This won’t win her any popularity contests with the other statewide office holders, but relations between them and Hutchison have been frosty ever since they endorsed Rick Perry’s reelection while she was talking about running.

One of the strangest things in the story is that Hutchison talked about needing financial stability because of her two adopted children. Her husband, Ray Hutchison, has been one of the state’s premier bond lawyers for decades. The couple surely have no financial worries.

She also spoke of wanting to spend more time with her children. Well, if she is looking for a job that allows her time with the kiddos, I don’t think the private sector is the place to go. Governor of Texas, on the other hand, is a pretty cushy job. You let your appointees run the agencies and spend your time cutting ribbons and making speeches. Five months out of twenty four, those pesky legislators are in town, but if you play nice, like George W. Bush did, you can handle them. And the kiddos are just across the street at the Mansion, or even at the office.

One thing she will not do, she told the Chronicle, is run for reelection in 2012. She doesn’t particularly like the Senate. I’ve heard that from her firsthand. It’s a boy’s club. She is closer to the Democratic women than to many of the Republican men. In her early years in the Senate, Phil Gramm was a star, but he did little in the way of delivering goodies to Texas, and the job fell to her. “Most states have two senators,” she told me once. “Texas has one senator and one congressman, and I’m the congressman.” She has done such a good job in that role that it has worked against her ambition to be governor, as prominent Republicans have urged her to stay in the Senate and continue to deliver the goodies. Still, the daily grind of being a legislator–committee hearings, floor debate, evening fundraisers–is not a rewarding existence unless you just live for it, which she clearly does not.

Hutchison told the Chronicle that she doesn’t like Washington. “I don’t like the toughness and meanness of Washington,” she said. “I’d rather do something different.” Uh, Kay, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but Texas politics can be tough and mean too.

But then she changed course and sounded very much like a candidate:

“Who is running will not affect my decision at all,” Hutchison said. “I felt like the party was not ready last time. And I think that now if I decide to do it, it will be based on what I think I can do for Texas.

“I stepped back once,” she said. “I will not step back again.”

What is going on here? In her two previous non-races for governor, Hutchison has gained a reputation of being someone who wanted to be courted, who wanted Texas Republicans to come to her and beg her to run. History is repeating itself. She wants to BE governor. But she doesn’t want to have to RUN for governor. She could be completing her second term as governor now. But her indecision, and the deep-seated reasons for it, have been her undoing.

Don’t get me wrong. I like Kay a lot, personally and politically. I’ve known her for forty years. We both started out at the Capitol working for the same House member, the late Ed J. Harris of Galveston (I succeeded Kay.) I think she has been a very good senator. I think she would have made a terrific governor. Yes, that’s past tense.