"We can't afford 14 years of one person appointing every state board, agency and commission.It invites patronage. It tempts cronyism. It has to stop."
By JAY ROOT
The Associated Press
SAN ANTONIO — If there was any doubt that Texans would witness a red-hot Republican race for governor, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison removed it Monday when she kicked off a five-day announcement tour and delivered her harshest attack ever on Gov. Rick Perry.
Returning to her native Gulf Coast to announce her bid for governor, she said Perry had overstayed his welcome with an administration marked by arrogance and "tragic" mistakes.
Using her old high school about 40 miles southeast of Houston as a backdrop, she also proposed limiting governors to two, four-year terms. She called Perry — a fellow Republican — a "dedicated public servant," but otherwise laid into him. Perry, in office since 2000, is the longest serving governor in Texas history.
Perry took over the remainder of former President George W. Bush's second term as governor and has been elected to two, four-year terms since. If he's re-elected in 2010 and completes his term, Perry would have held the job for 14 years.
"We can't afford fourteen years of one person appointing every state board, agency and commission," Hutchison said. "It invites patronage. It tempts cronyism. And it has to stop, now." She also uttered a line that is likely to be repeated
In a gymnasium that drew about 150 supporters and the La Marque High School cheerleading squad — which Hutchison once belonged to — she delivered a broad and harsh critique of the Perry years and warned Republicans would suffer up and down the ballot without a change in leadership.
Hutchison said Texas is awash in government debt, leads the nation in uninsured children and suffers from the highest property taxes in the country. She also described Perry's embrace of a business tax overhaul as a job killer.
"I call it a tragic mistake," she said. Hutchison singled out the Texas Department of Public Transportation, calling it the "most arrogant, unaccountable state agency in the history of Texas."
Under Perry, the department has shunned local input and built too many toll roads, she said.
The state's senior U.S. senator also belittled Perry's decision to turn down $550 million in federal stimulus money to help the state's empty unemployment insurance trust fund. She called the move politically motivated and "irresponsible."
Her highly critical speech underscored the bitter clash that the Republican primary for Texas governor is becoming. Hutchison had flirted with a gubernatorial run in 2005 but ultimately decided to stay in Washington — avoiding a race that GOP honchos feared would leave the party badly divided.
The rancor was evident from the moment Hutchison's vast entourage pulled into the parking lot of La Marque High School, the site of her first event. Perry's aides had already parked a large truck carrying an oversized picture of the senator with a sign emblazoned across the front: "Kay Bailout Express," it read in reference to Hutchison's vote in favor of the 2008 financial rescue package.
Perry spokesman Mark Miner also showed up at the gymnasium where Hutchison was speaking and delivered a response before the senator even began her speech.
"Once again, the senator is coming up with no ideas," Miner said. "It's easy to criticize after being in Washington for 16 years, but the people of Texas want results not rhetoric."
Miner later popped into an event in Houston to distribute copies of a 1993 speech in which Hutchison advocated term limits for members of Congress. Hutchison had said when first elected that she would only serve two terms but later ran — successfully — for a third.
Experts predict the race will touch off an ideological divide in the party, with Perry carrying the torch of social conservatives and Hutchison, who has supported the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, striking a more moderate tone by comparison.
Hutchison has been itching to come home for years. Hutchison has said she will resign her Senate seat this fall to focus on the governor's race. In that case Perry would get to appoint a successor for her unexpired term.
Hutchison planned to continue her five-day announcement tour in Houston, San Antonio and Austin as well as 15 other cities. The primary elections will be held in March. Then voters can choose the Democratic or Republican nominee in November 2010.
© 2009 The Associated Press: www.ap.org
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