Where’s Kay? Senator Absent from Key Senate Hearings

Matt Lewis
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Posted: Aug 06, 2009 5:28 PM
The Dallas Morning News is reporting that Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, who recently announced she will announce her intentions to run against incumbent Republican Governor Rick Perry, has a track record of missing key committee meetings as per her responsibility of being a U.S. Senator:

Legislation to permit law enforcement to jam prisoners' cell phone calls easily cleared a Senate committee on Wednesday, the latest example of how Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison has used her seniority to push Texas-centric issues that translate directly to her run for governor.

Yet Hutchison has been absent from the committee's work on two top priorities of Congress: health care legislation and consumer protection. When she recently announced her departure from the Senate in the fall, she said she'd stay in Washington long enough to participate in the health legislation.

The problem is she isn’t even participating while in Washington. As I noted before, Senator Hutchison is making an issue the length of time Rick Perry has served saying “for him to try to stay on for 15 years is too long" despite he fact she herself has been in the Senate for 16 years. KBH supporters, however, will tell you that Senate Seniority is important, and those in who come in front of her committee agree:

"It's very helpful and in the interest of consumers when the chairman and ranking member are able to be there, because it gives us a perspective on what both sides of the aisle are concerned about," said Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers League, who testified at two of the consumer hearings.

But she isn’t even showing up to her own committee meetings.  More from the Dallas Morning News:

“Hutchison missed all four Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearings that explored problems with health insurers, including one that showed insurers "purge" small-business beneficiaries if their claims exceed underwriters' expectations.”

So why is she missing these meetings?  ... Because apparently she can’t use it to her benefit in the race against Perry.

"When she looks at the health care debate, she just doesn't see how you can really turn that to advantage in a governor's race in Texas," said Cal Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University. "I think she's deciding she has better ways to spend her time."

... Unless it does benefit her:

The committees are integral forums for lawmakers, who use meetings to build legislation, conduct oversight and press a case for pet issues that sometimes never result in legislation.

In April, Hutchison used a Commerce hearing to promote one of the latter – her proposal to let Texas opt out of the federal system that funds highway construction. She called as a witness a Texas transportation commissioner, Ned Holmes, a Perry appointee who broke with the governor's strategy to finance most new highway construction through tolls.
Rick Perry has made DC the forefront of his campaign and most Texans agree with him that it is the problem, and not the solution. This has been a winning strategy thus far, and one can anticipate the Dallas Morning News article will only serve to reinforce his message -- while simultaneously preventing Senator Hutchison from distancing herself from DC.