A brief discussion with Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison
By Robert Frankel
She was the woman to represent Texas in the Senate, which she spent 20 years doing. During that time, she served on four committees and no less than seven subcommittees. She ran against Rick Perry for Governor of Texas in 2010. At present, she serves on two boards linked to medical care, has published three books, and might even receive a position somewhere in the Trump Administration.
But if you ask former Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison what keeps her so involved, you’ll get a very simple — and genuine — answer.
“I’m just helping friends and former constituents,” she said. “I’ve worked hard all my life, and I really love working. And I love the continuing challenge of doing things that I enjoy, and that are important for the community and the nation.”
Born Kathryn Ann Bailey on July 22, 1943, in Galveston, TX, Senator Hutchison’s early aspirations had nothing to do with politics. While growing up in LeMarque, TX, she originally wanted to become a homemaker.
She went on to become a cheerleader at the University of Texas, where she originally pursued a major in government. She ultimately graduated from the University of Texas Law School in 1967, as just one of seven women in a class of 236.
Unable to get a job with any Houston law firms, Senator Hutchison went to work for KPRC-TV, a television station in Houston, where she covered the courthouse and politics beats.
“I only got involved in politics when I was a television news reporter,” Senator Hutchison said.
She was covering the legislature when the Republican County Chairman asked her to consider running for an office. But it wasn’t until she interviewed Anne Armstrong, who had just been elected co-chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, that she got her real start.
“[Armstrong] suggested I be her press secretary,” Senator Hutchison said. “I thought it would be a great time to learn more and be involved with the Republicans.
She still credits that county chairman for piquing her interest in politics, however.
“I would never have thought of it, myself,” Senator Hutchison said. “I’m just glad the Republican County Chairman was thinking about bringing new, young people into the Party.”
In fact, Senator Hutchison has helped bring a number of young people into politics, herself. Many of her interns and young staffers have pursued their own political careers, serving on commissions and boards. One has worked for multiple administrations, and another, Jason Villalba, is currently a member of the Texas House of Representatives.
“I’ve been so proud of the things that they’re doing,” she said. “I think it’s important that when you’re in office, you look for young talent and then try to promote it.”
In addition to the careers she has helped to start, Senator Hutchison has a number of other accomplishments she’s proud of.
She passed the bill to lift the Wright Amendment. This allowed Love Field to grow from its humble origins as a regional airport and expand into a secondary hub of travel outside of the Dallas-Fort Worth airport.
“It was very important to the economy and the whole North Texas region,” she said.
Senator Hutchison also proud of her close work with UT Southwestern research into Gulf War Syndrome (GWS), a multi-symptomatic disorder that some estimates claim affected up to 36% of returning military and civilian workers of the 1990-91 Gulf War.
“The people who got GWS were denied disability benefits in the service,” she said. “I worked to ensure that they were recognized for the disability they did get from the exposure to chemical weapons.”
Perhaps one of Senator Hutchison’s most signature accomplishments, however, was her effort in the Senate to extend full IRA benefits to married women working from home.
As a single woman, she had started an IRA and was contributing to it on a regular basis. But the law at the time only allowed working persons outside of the home to contribute the full amount of $2,500.
“And then, when I got married, I couldn’t contribute to the IRA as I had been,” she said. “You could contribute $50 to the IRA when you were married, which was ridiculous, of course.”
Her efforts succeeded, and the tax code was changed (currently, the maximum contribution limit is $5,000). In 2013, section 219(c) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 was renamed the Kay Bailey Hutchison Spousal IRA in her honor.
To further commemorate her career and accomplishments, her name even adorns the Dallas convention center (it is officially known as the Kay Baily Hutchison Convention Center) and a special interdisciplinary academic program at her alma mater, UT Austin: the Kay Baily Hutchison Center for Energy, Law & Business.
In May of 2017, Senator Hutchison was chosen as the Juliette Fowler Communities’ 2017 Visionary Woman. The organization founded in 1892 and named after Juliette Peak Fowler, known as Dallas’s first female philanthropist, and cares for children, youth, the elderly, and even whole families.
According to the organization’s website, the Visionary Woman label “honors individuals who embody [Fowler’s] compassionate spirit and who use their visionary leadership and remarkable gifts to make a difference in our world.”
In a statement, Sabrina Porter, President and CEO of the Juliette Fowler Communities, said, “We are thrilled to honor Kay Bailey Hutchison as our 2017 Visionary Woman. … Her commitment to the needs of others on all levels shows her dedication to the people and our country. An advocate for women and individuals, she serves as an inspiration to others to stand up and do what you can to make positive changes in our society.”
Senator Hutchison said it was an honor to be named the 2017 Visionary Woman. She also said she was struck by all the opportunities the Juliette Fowler Communities provides. She was especially taken with The Ebby House, a program designed for young women who have aged out of the foster care system.
“I was just blown away by the services that [Juliette Fowler Communities] gives,” she said, and with “the quality of life they give to the people in the community who would have no other way to have that kind of care and concern and nurturing.”
“It’s so impressive and so heartwarming,” she said. “I’m glad we have places like that in our community.”