Stephen F. Austin State University

Kay Bailey Hutchison


Kay Bailey Hutchison was born on July 22, 1943, in Galveston, Texas. In 1993, she became the first woman to represent Texas in the U.S. Senate. Senator Hutchison is currently the Ranking Republican on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. Additionally, she is a member of the Committee on Rules and Administration and serves as the Ranking Republican Member on the Appropriations Subcommittee for Commerce, Justice, and Science. Senator Hutchison is a member of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly (RNHA) National Advisory Committee. In 2012, Sen. Hutchison was unanimously elected Chairman of the Board of Visitors (BOV) at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. She previously served as Chairman of the Board from 1998 to 2000 and from 2008 to 2009 before being reelected to serve again this year.

Interview Notes

Interviewers' Names: Paul J. P. Sandul, M. Scott Sosebee, and Laura Blackburn.

Interview Date and Location: The interview was conducted on March 15, 2012 at the Senator's offices in Washington, DC.

Context Notes: Interview and transcription completed in conjunction with the Charlie Wilson Oral History Project at Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, Texas.

Tapes and Interview Record: The original recordings of the interview and a full transcript are held by the East Texas Research Center, R. W. Steen Library, Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, Texas.

Transcription Notes: The policy of the Charlie Wilson Oral History Project has been to eliminate false starts and crutch words from transcriptions when determined not to affect the meaning and flow of the spoken word. Obviously, and admittedly, this is a subjective endeavor and all care was taken to maintain the integrity of the interview.

The interviewers M. Scott Sosebee, Paul J. P. Sandul, and Laura Blackburn are identified as SOSEBEE, SANDUL, and BLACKBURN respectively. Kay Bailey Hutchison is identified as HUTCHISON.



SOSEBEE: I'm Scott Sosebee professor at Stephen F. Austin State University. I'm here with Dr. Paul Sandul, also professor at SFA, and Laura Blackburn, our graduate assistant, for the Charlie Wilson Oral History Project. And we are here with our host for this time, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison who was a friend of Charlie's. Welcome.


SOSEBEE: What we want you to do, because we know your time is [limited] . . . just tell us how you first met Charlie, what you, you know, some of your impressions of Charlie at that time and maybe something that you can share about you and he interacting.

HUTCHISON: Mhmm. Well, I first met Charlie, that I can remember, when I was a television news reporter. I worked for KPRC, the NBC affiliate in Houston and I started covering the legislature. And I graduated from law school, so they wanted a, more of a full-time reporter and they liked the law degree. So, they actually put me in Austin for the whole legislative session. Charlie was in the state senate. And the state senate was fascinating back then. It had such a character. And, of course, Charlie was a bigger-than-life character as we all know. But there was Charlie, there was the Bull of the Brazos, Bill Moore, there was Tom Crayton, it was just, Babe Schwartz. I mean, it was the conservative, colorful icons and then the liberal ones. And they were just all an amazing, smart, and colorful group. And Charlie was one of those. And so, I got to know them covering the senate. And I thought Charlie was so fun and funny, kinda laughed at himself all the time. And he just had a great time. But he was so effective. You know, he tried to cover it up, that he was so effective by being [SOSEBEE chuckles] just, you know, out of the mainstream box of a politician. You know, he was just flamboyant and colorful and just prided himself on being colorful, but was very effective. When he was on a mission, he was smart and sharp and effective. And so that's when I got to know him, when I was the news reporter in the state senate. And then, of course, during those next years I was elected to the House in '72 and served in '73 after I left the news reporting. And then he, very shortly thereafter, was elected to the Congress. So we still interacted because I, you know, as a state legislator did things here. So I've just known him through the years and have kept up, had kept up during those times. And then, of course, when I was elected to the Senate, then we really did work together. We did some really important things then. And were just great partners and friends. And he always called me his "favorite Republican" [laughter]. And I always said, "Well that's a pretty low bar to clear" [laughter]. So-

SOSEBEE: What were some of the things y'all worked on together after you came to the Senate?

HUTCHISON: Well the first thing was the [unintelligible] missile, which was the pack 3. And I had just gotten here and Ted Kennedy, which was the home of the original patriot missile, just, he was on the armed services committee, and he just was trying to dictate in the authorization that the patriot missile would be reauthorized. But, of course, then the [unintelligible] missile, the pack 3, which was a much stronger technology, had come on line, it was being developed. And so Charlie was trying to save it in the House. And so he, you know, obviously asked for my help. I was on the armed services committee but I was the most junior of junior members [Sandul laughs]. But the technology was so great. So we got this strategy that all we would ask is that nothing go in the armed services bill that would designate the patriot hat we wanted a competition. And we knew if we had the competition, that was fair and that was what we could ask and we knew we would win if it was on the merits. And so that's what we did. And Ted Kennedy was very powerful. He's another; I just worked very well with him. But he was very powerful and I was very junior. And I had been told that he had called the ambassador to the United States from Israel to ask him to weigh in on the patriot, you know, being designated. And I called him, the ambassador, and I remember it was one of the first times that, I was so junior, I hadn't been reelected by then, it must've been the fall of '93, because I called the ambassador and he called me right back and I said, "What time is it there?", because he was in Israel. And he said, "It's midnight." And I said, "Oh, really." I mean, I was so amazed that the ambassador would call me back at midnight, little freshman that I was. But I got the commitment right then, that he would not weigh in on behalf of the patriot. And I told him that the technology was better and he said, "Senator, I assure you that technology is our most important priority. And if there's a better missile, then I wouldn't consider arguing for the one that wasn't as good." And I said, "All we want's competition. Just, if you just don't do anything, that's all I'm asking." And he said, "I will do nothing." And he didn't and we won. And the armed services committee and, and then the patriot missile, we did have the competition and the…missile won. And so, of course, the manufacturing of it was partially, then, done in, well, Angelina County. I think it started in, well, it's in Lufkin now. And they're still doing it. I mean, they have, they do parts of it. It's a joint effort, there are other states that do it. But it's been an ongoing project that we've been able to do. And that was the first and biggest thing that we did together. Later I did sponsor the bill to name the veteran's clinic…

SOSEBEE: Oh did you?

HUTCHISON: …in Lufkin for Charlie.

SANDUL: Oh. Okay.

SOSEBEE: Course the story of the clinic, of course, is that's, you know, Lufkin's a suburb of Tyler. I don't know if you've ever heard that story, that he crossed out Tyler and wrote "Lufkin" and it convinced everybody on the committee that Lufkin was a suburb of Tyler. That's how that veteran's [Sandul laughs] center got there.

HUTCHISON: You are kidding.

SOSEBEE: No [Sandul laughs]. That's how the veteran's center got there [laughs].

HUTCHISON: Oh, no. I did not know that. That is a Charlie Wilson, I mean, that shows you how effective he is.


HUTCHISON: That's so funny.

SOSEBEE: Well, you know, he had a reputation of working back and forth across the aisle very well.


SOSEBEE: How was he, I mean, sometimes, that seems like it's a lost art these days. It's not, people don't do that as much anymore. How was Charlie so effective at working with everybody?

HUTCHISON: Well, people just loved him. They just loved him. And, you know, he didn't apologize for having pretty women in his office. He applauded it. He, you know, he was proud of it. And he just was what he was and he didn't try to be something different. He didn't try to be a buttoned-down, solid politician. He, just, was what he was. And, of course, they loved it in East Texas, and rightly so. But he got things done. And he, in the defense area, he was very sharp. And he, of course, what he did in Afghanistan, that was not during the time that I was there. But he had the instincts on what had to be done in Afghanistan. And he really moved the Congress to do it. And you just had to respect his real skills and accept the fun part [Sosebee and Sandul laugh] as just the extra.

SANDUL: You made a comment earlier about when you were a journalist and he was in the state senate. And you said he sort of downplayed how sharp and effective he was. Do you think he did that just because he was genuinely that humble or did he do it from sort of a strategy that maybe others would underestimate him?

HUTCHISON: I think it was more that, his persona was to be flamboyant and funny and fun. It wasn't that he was trying to hide his, how smart he was, no. I mean, it's just that he was going to be smart his way. And, in the state senate, and this is probably a lot of what honed him, I mean obviously in East Texas, everyone who has roots in East Texas knows that there are a lot of characters in East Texas [Sosebee and Sandul laugh]. And that's pretty accepted. So he was fun being an East Texas character. But in the state senate, when he was there, now it's changed a lot, too, but when he was there, there were a lot of flamboyant people. And they jousted with each other and they kinda one-upped each other. And he was one of those who could. [Sandul laughs] And so it made watching and covering the state senate, just, so much fun.

SANDUL: Sure. Sure. [Sosebee chuckles.]

HUTCHISON: But also, I mean, he was, he was an equal player in that effort. And, of course, his relationship with [Democratic US Representative from Texas] Barbara Jordan was . . .

SANDUL: Well I was gonna say, they came in together, right? In the State Senate, '66?

HUTCHISON: I don't know when, I can't tell you the dates when they came in. That was a little before I got there. But they were very good friends. And Barbara Jordan was very smart about not coming in and trying to, she, well, let me put it this way. She came in to make friends and alliances. She, too, was very effective, in a different way. She wasn't flamboyant like Charlie or like Bill Moore…

SANDUL: Yeah. Yeah.

HUTCHISON: …or Babe Schwartz.


HUTCHISON: But she was effective in a more quiet, but substantive way. And she made friends with the, her male colleagues and got their trust. And she listened to them. She took their advice. She learned from them. And she became effective because she could get the things that she was there to do because she had made friends and gained respect. But she and Charlie were close. And then of course, when they came up here together, they were sorta the odd couple.


HUTCHISON: And that was also, you know, more interesting for both of them.

SOSEBEE: Well, knowing that you would know how power is exercised in Congress, and stuff, was Charlie a powerful congressman?

HUTCHISON: Mhmm. Oh very. Mhmm.

SOSEBEE: And what was the source of it?

HUTCHISON: It was, he focused on a few key areas. He didn't try to be everything. His area was defense and veterans, obviously. And he focused on those things. He rose in seniority enough to be effective. And he was likeable, which is very important. Sometimes people can be smart and not likeable, but the ones who are smart and likeable certainly have an advantage, and he was.

SOSEBEE: Were you ever surprised that he didn't seem to aspire to a higher office?

HUTCHISON: No. You know, not at, I wasn't. Not at all.

SOSEBEE: You didn't.

HUTCHISON: I don't. I see him in Congress, or as a state senator. I don't know how he would've functioned in a, an executive, I don't see him as an executive, because he wouldn't have, I don't think, I don't think he would've wanted to do so many things that an executive would have to do, varied things. He was focused and he got what he cared about. And I just don't know that…

SOSEBEE: Being a senator is different than being a congressman, a lot different.

HUTCHISON: Yeah. It is.

SOSEBEE: And so maybe he was, you just don't, maybe not temperamentally suited? Is that…?

HUTCHISON: You know, I don't, I guess what I would say is I can't imagine him working hard enough to be in the Senate, or, state-wide. You know, for him to go traipsing around all over Texas and making the sacrifices, I just don't see him doing that [Sosebee laughs].

SANDUL: Yeah. Do you think the good-time Charlie wouldn't be as successful on a state or even a national scale and maybe it would fall under more of a lens, it'd cost him more?

HUTCHISON: You are more, obviously, each time you move up there's more scrutiny, that's for sure. And I do think that would have been a factor, yes.