Texas governors have to be careful what they wish for; sometimes they might get it.
On Tuesday, Gov. Rick Perry was asked how he felt about the possibility of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) challenging his reelection bid in 2010.
"Bring it on," he said, echoing his predecessor.
Well, it's been brought, so to speak. Yesterday, Hutchison announced her filing of paperwork to form an exploratory committee to look at the possibility of a gubernatorial run.
"There's too much bitterness, too much anger, too little trust, too little consensus and too much infighting. And the tone comes from the top. Texans are looking for leadership and results," she said in a statement.
Hutchison had strong words about the Texas governor in that statement, but she doesn't even mention his name. Perry's people, on the other hand, ratcheted it up several notches by maligning Hutchison's moniker in speaking to reporters Thursday:
"Kay Bailout has been talking about running for governor and passing legislation for years and neither has ever happened," said Mark Miner, a spokesman for Perry. "Today she continues her streak of indecision."
The infighting just further displays the mess Republicans have gotten themselves into lately. The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee singled out Texas (along with Montana) as a state legislature they were targeting during this election. In a post-election memo, they counted victories there:
"Democrats in Texas picked up four seats, to cut the GOP margin to 76-74. In fact, we came within 20 votes of winning a fifth race that would have tied the chamber. The new margins present the opportunity for a leadership battle to displace hyper-partisan GOP Speaker Tom Craddick."
But it's important to point out that the battle between Hutchison and Perry is more than mere panicked cannibalism within the Republican party. These two politicians are two different breeds of the same political animal.
Perry, though first elected to state legislature as a Democrat, switched to the Republican Party as the state moved that direction. He seems to have a sophisticated understanding of the true power structure in Texas, using the knowledge for his own political ambitions. An outsider might be surprised to learn that the ladder to power in Texas is via such positions as agriculture commissioner and lieutenant governor, but there's little doubt Perry knew what he was doing when he pursued these positions.
In order to get that first prized job in the Texas department of agriculture in 1990, Perry needed to bring in a smooth operator to take down the populist incumbent, Jim Hightower. Perry hired Karl Rove, who has since been widely accused of colluding with the FBI over an investigation against Hightower's staff that turned out to be trumped up. He also manipulated the media into whipping the public into a frenzy over the false accusations.
Hutchison referenced Perry's ruthless campaign tactics when she told Dallas television station WFAA, "I have seen the races that Gov. Perry has run before and I would not like that kind of race."
After having been lieutenant governor for about three years, Perry took over the governorship when President George W. Bush resigned in 2001. Hutchison briefly considered running against Perry last time around, but took one for party unity and let him be. Having won reelection in 2002 and 2006, Perry is the longest-serving governor in state history.
It's tough to compare the two politicians, since Perry's long experience in the executive makes for a short and distant voting record. For what it's worth, Hutchison is rated a "hard core conservative" by On the Issues, while Perry is described by the nonpartisan group as "moderate."
Therefore, it's hard to say whether this primary battle will play out as a microcosm of the identity crisis in the Republican Party or not. Hey, maybe Perry will just go back to being a Democrat, opportunistic as he is.
Either way, it looks as if Republicans are more interested in spending the next two years building war chests and sniping at each other than in governing. That's good news for Texas Democrats. Though no one has expressed interest in running against Hutchison or Perry for governor, two mentioned for Hutchison's Senate seat are former comptroller John Sharp and Houston Mayor Bill White. Hutchison has indicated she may voluntarily give up her Senate seat soon, setting up a special election as early as 2009 against whomever Perry appoints to fill her spot.
Ah, yes. Yet another example of Rove's indelible mark on American politics: the never-ending campaign season.