Texas' Hutchinson a battler and survivor // Senator-elect has often beaten the odds USA TODAY June 11, 1993, Friday, FINAL EDITION

 

Copyright 1993 Gannett Company, Inc.  

USA TODAY

 

June 11, 1993, Friday, FINAL EDITION

 

SECTION: NEWS; Pg. 6A

 

LENGTH: 1222 words

 

HEADLINE: Texas' Hutchinson a battler and survivor // Senator-elect has often beaten the odds

 

BYLINE: Mark Potok

 

DATELINE: DALLAS

 

BODY:

As a woman, a Republican and a moderate, at least by Texas standards, Kay Bailey Hutchison has withstood a barrage of criticism.

 

Gloria Steinem calls her a "female impersonator." Her latest political opponent complains about her shifting views on abortion, saying she is not "pro-choice but multiple choice." Former state attorney general Jim Mattox describes her as "a cold individual."

 

Through it all, she smiles sweetly.

 

Hutchison, who'll be sworn in as Texas' new senator on Monday - after her landslide win in a June 5 special election - has been attacked before.

 

In a state that is famous for its rough-and-tumble politics and which has only recently begun to favor Republicans, Hutchison, 49, has survived ugly campaigns.

 

"She overcame all the obstacles, and she won a convincing victory," says Texas' senior senator, Phil Gramm.

 

The woman who this week was described by a columnist as a mixture of steel and saccharin began adult life as a University of Texas government major and cheerleader. She switched to pre-law, she later said, "because I didn't find someone to marry while I was in college."

 

She did well - but then, as she sought a job at a Houston law firm in 1968, after a year with a small Galveston firm, ran into problems.

 

"I got every rejection you could get," Hutchison recalled in an interview this week. "A lot of things were said: 'What happens when you get married and leave town? What happens when you get pregnant?' . . . I had had a wonderful college career, and to get out and just hit a stone wall was really my first life experience. But it was a learning experience. I just took it and went forward."

 

She was born to middle-class parents in Galveston and grew up in the small nearby town of LaMarque. By the time she finished law school, she no longer fit Texas stereotypes.

 

She had the blonde good looks, the poise and drawing room charm - but also a phenomenal memory for names and faces, a passionate interest in government and law and a driving ambition.

 

Rejected by law firms, she decided - with no previous training - to apply for a job as a TV reporter. A Houston station hired her and sent her to cover the courthouse, then moved her to Austin to cover the Legislature.

 

In 1971, she interviewed Anne Armstrong, just elected as co-chair of the Republican National Committee. The next day, Armstrong recruited her to become her press secretary in Washington.

 

Six months later, she was back in Austin, running for the Legislature. She won, largely due to her tireless stumping.

 

"She was not regarded as a heavyweight," says Mattox, a Democrat expected to challenge Hutchison next year, when she will have to defend the seat vacated by Lloyd Bentsen when he was appointed Treasury secretary.

 

"She was a former cheerleader and not taken real seriously," Mattox says. "She was not considered one of the more able legislators."

 

But Republicans, nearly powerless in the Legislature then, disagree. Among her accomplishments, they say, was passing a bill that made it harder to bring up a rape victim's sexual history at trial.

 

Aides also tell the penile implant story.

 

Hutchison was trying to get mammograms, to detect breast cancer, covered by legislators' state insurance, but was being blocked by leaders who didn't consider it a pressing issue.

 

Then she discovered that penile implants, to treat sexual impotence, were covered.

 

When she threatened to go public with the revelation - money for men, none for women's health - male legislators relented, and the benefit was quietly added to their plan.

 

"If she wants to get from A to Z, she can be single-minded," says George Christian, a veteran Democratic political consultant who once co-anchored a radio show with Hutchison.

 

Later, Hutchison was appointed vice-chair of the National Transportation Safety Board by President Ford; turned around a failing candy business she bought, and, in 1990, was elected state treasurer, the first GOP woman ever elected to a Texas state office.

 

Hutchison was not expected to win that seat, which was being vacated by another powerful Texas woman: Ann Richards, elected governor that year. But Hutchison worked tirelessly.

 

"We had to have two press aides travel with her, because she'd wear them out," says Karl Rove, who ran her treasurer's campaign and her Senate victory over interim Democratic Sen. Bob Krueger. "We'd put one on the road, bring them home exhausted, and send in the other one."

 

Although most pundits say Hutchison would have won regardless, given Krueger's political ineptness, she ran the same kind of tireless campaign. Her key message - cut spending before raising taxes - found a receptive audience.

 

And her espousal of limited abortion rights - key to her self-portrayal as a moderate Republican - helped with women and swing voters.

 

Krueger attacked her for her earlier, qualified support for a constitutional amendment that would have outlawed most abortions. Organized groups on both sides of the abortion debate also criticized her, but that didn't seem to be a major issue with voters.

 

Similarly, other allegations - that she hit an employee and used state workers for personal business - never stuck.

 

Her best known defeat - in a 1982 Republican House primary, when she ran against Steve Bartlett - was ugly, coming after an anonymous flier suggested she'd wrecked the first marriage of her present husband, long-time politico Ray Hutchison. But she survived, and Bartlett is a friend.

 

"There are some politicians who you look at and know they're going somewhere," says Bartlett, now Dallas mayor. "People would look at her and say, 'Yeah, she's going to be somebody.' She had a star quality."

 

14 staffers subpoenaed

 

Fourteen employees of Texas treasurer and U.S. senator-elect Kay Bailey Hutchison have been subpoenaed.

 

Travis County District Attorney Ronald Earle, a Democrat, issued a statement saying the probe includes a report that the Open Records Act was violated. Also targeted: reports that records and physical evidence may have been tampered with.

 

State GOP Chairman Fred Meyer said the probe is a "Gestapo-style raid" conducted in retaliation for her Senate win.

 

Congressional race highlights

 

Democrats have held three of the four congressional seats that were vacated because of appointments to President Clinton's Cabinet. But they lost a Senate landslide in Texas and their margins of victory in three House contests were often smaller than expected:

 

TEXAS: To fill the Senate seat vacated by Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen - Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison defeated Democratic interim senator Bob Krueger 67% to 33%.

 

1992 state results: Bush 41%, Clinton 37%, Perot 22%.

 

CALIFORNIA: To fill the House seat vacated by budget director Leon Panetta - Democrat Sam Farr defeated Republican Bill McCampbell 52% to 43%.

 

1992 district results: Clinton 53%, Bush 27%, Perot 20%.

 

WISCONSIN: To fill the House seat vacated by Defense Secretary Les Aspin - Democrat Peter Barca edged Republican Mark Neumann 49.9% to 49.3%.

 

1992 district results: Clinton 41%, Bush 36%, Perot 23%.

 

MISSISSIPPI: To fill the House seat vacated by Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy - Democrat Bennie Thompson defeated Hayes Dent 55% to 45%.

 

1992 district results: Clinton 55%, Bush 39%, Perot 6%.

 

GRAPHIC: PHOTO, b/w, Eric Gray, AP; PHOTO, b/w, AP