DALLAS - Former President George W. Bush was not the only prominent Texan who endorsed Mitt Romney this week. The state’s lame-duck senator, Kay Bailey Hutchison, came out for Romney--as expected--as well.
But perhaps her real gift to the GOP was her insistence that the so-called “war on women’’ in politics this year is a non-starter.
“The Democrats and White House are talking a great deal about a Republican ‘war on women,’ Hutchison wrote in a guest column in The Houston Chronicle. “Color me highly skeptical.’’
It’s not that Hutchison is blind to the barriers women once faced, she said, recalling her own struggles as she ascended in politics. “I grew up in a time when many people believed that men and women should not always be treated equally,’’ the Dallas Republican wrote. “It wasn't easy to break through the barriers of discrimination, and I'm glad I didn't have to do it alone. When I became the first woman to represent the state of Texas in the United State Senate, it was with the help of a lot of women - and a large number of men, too.’’
But now, Hutchison said, it is not true that women necessarily have a different view than men on political issues.
“Do the major problems plaguing our nation these last few years have all that much to do with gender?’’ she wrote. “Are women somehow less concerned about unemployment than men? Do our nation's exploding deficits worry some of us less than others, merely because of our sex?’’
Maybe not. But what about the Violence Against Women Act, which she did not mention?
Reauthorization of the act has been bogged down on Capitol Hill this spring, despite strong bipartisan support in the past. Hutchison was the only one of the 17 women in the Senate, five of whom are Republican, who didn’t sign on to support this year’s version.
Not only that, she was the GOP designee to lead the opposition to the proposed bill and come up with a Republican alternative. GOP lawmakers have insisted they support the major tenets of the act, but object to expanded protections for same-sex couples, immigrants and Native Americans. Republicans say members of those minority groups shouldn’t be singled out for special treatment.
Hutchison’s tendency to try to carve out a middle path on complex issues has been evident before. Most notably, abortion rights foes and supporters each view her as being loyal to the other camp. Her position on abortion has frequently made her a target by both sides.
The state’s senior senator has a lifetime rating of 94 percent from the National Right to Life Committee. Meanwhile, her consistent votes in favor of abortion restrictions earned her a score of 0 in NARAL Pro-Choice America’s “Congressional Record on Choice” ratings in over half of her 16 years in the Senate, according to the Texas Tribune.
Yet when she challenged Gov. Rick Perry in a reelection bid two years ago, Perry staff was quick to label her as not conservative enough.
“Not only has Sen. Hutchison waffled on the issue, she’s openly a pro-choice candidate,” said Perry spokeswoman Catherine Frazier.
Perry trounced Hutchison without a runoff.
When she leaves the Senate next year after a 20-year run, she will still be the only woman ever elected to represent Texas in the U.S. Senate. It seems likely that the next female candidate who wants to win statewide office in Texas will have to be more conservative.
Lori Stahl covers politics from Dallas. Follow her on Twitter @LoriStahl.