Karl Rove, the Texas-steeped consultant who guided George W. Bush through nearly two terms as governor and two more as president, recently issued a barbed claim about Democrats paying back Kay Bailey Hutchison.
Rove, whose clients before Bush bid for governor included Hutchison, writes in his autobiography, “Courage and Consequence, My Life as a Conservative in The Fight”: “Kay Bailey Hutchison was elected state treasurer, succeeding Ann Richards. Democrats then abolished the position, which made me wonder if political payback is about the only grounds on which Democrats abolish government posts. Hutchison later became a U.S. senator.” The book was released March 9.
Rove correctly reflects on Hutchison winning election as state treasurer in 1990, succeeding Richards, who won election as governor.
However, we're intrigued by Rove’s statements about what happened next: According to him, Democrats then abolished the treasurer’s position. Later, Hutchison was elected to the U.S. Senate.
Rove told us he stands by his account.
Chronologically speaking, for starters, it's not so: Hutchison won her Senate seat in June 1993 while still serving as state treasurer, and the treasury remained a stand-alone agency after Hutchison left for Washington. Richards appointed an East Texas Democrat, Martha Whitehead, to serve out Hutchison’s term. Whitehead won election in her own right in 1994.
So when -- and how -- was the treasurer's job abolished?
According to legislative records, the Democratic-majority 1995 Legislature proposed a constitutional amendment abolishing the agency and shifting its operations elsewhere.
Contrary to Rove's take, it wasn’t a move backed solely by Democrats. Senate Joint Resolution 1 was authored by Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and sponsored in the House by Reps. Mark Stiles, D-Beaumont, and Bill Siebert, R-San Antonio. The proposed amendment cleared the Senate by 23-7 with five Republicans and two Democrats voting "no" and the House by 107-18 with several Republicans who voted “no” saying afterward they’d intended to vote “yes,” according to Senate and House journals.
Texas voters approved the change by 69 percent to 31 percent in November 1995. And Whitehead--who’d campaigned for election vowing to eliminate the agency—marked her last day in office Aug. 31, 1996 by scraping her name and title off the glass front of the agency’s Austin headquarters. “I am the last treasurer of the State of Texas,” she said.
Another Democrat, State Comptroller John Sharp, had proposed the agency’s abolition in a report issued in 1994, after Hutchison was already in the Senate. His report called the treasury a “bureaucracy with an annual operating budget of more than $11 million whose most important tasks are duplicated elsewhere across state government… Consolidating the bulk of the State Treasury's responsibilities with those of the Comptroller's office would cut costs, improve services and maintain accountability. It would also offer Texans the chance to prove that they're serious about reducing the size of their state government.”
How does Rove’s statement shape up?
As noted, he's correct that Hutchison succeeded Richards as treasurer. But he's wrong about the order of subsequent events, and assigns an unsupported motive—that Democrats abolished the agency because a Republican had its top spot. Some Republicans backed the abolition, too, and it was Hutchison’s Democratic successor whose stint in the office came to a sign-scraping close.
We rate Rove’s poor job of retelling history as False.