Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison represented Texas from 1993 to 2013 as a United States Senator.
HPR: Democrats are trying to turn Texas blue by 2016 or 2020. How do you think Texas’ political identity will change over the next decade or two?
Senator Hutchison: Well I do believe that the demographics of Texas are changing and will continue to change. There will be more Hispanic Texans for sure and there has been a rise in minority participation in Texas, among Asian and African American as well as Hispanic. So I do think that our population demographics are changing and will continue changing in that direction.
HPR: So do you see Texas over the long-term becoming a blue state or a purple state or remaining a red state?
Senator Hutchison: I think it is to be determined. So I put TBD by that, because I think that Texans are basically conservative, and I don’t think that will change. I think how the parties approach the changing demographics will make a difference. Texas has been a leader in bringing minorities into the Republican fold and [we] have been very welcoming to minorities and immigrants and people who are hard working and have the same values that we’re promoting.
HPR: Do you think there are any specific steps Texas Republicans need to take in order to keep Texas red?
Senator Hutchison: I definitely think that the Texas Republican Party has very a strong bent in this direction. I think we have been leaders, and that’s why we have a very strong Hispanic Republican outreach, as well as African American and Asian American. We’re putting forward our principles, I think, in a way that has always been inclusive, and I think we need to continue in that direction.
I think we also need to look at the younger generation in addition to the minority demographic. We need to be looking at the factors where the younger generation is maybe changing in their views and determine that we are keeping the conservative principles that people like about Texas. We’re pro-business; we are a state that has good business climate, and I think that has attracted small business as well as large, and it is a value that we should keep, but I think we also need to be aware of the importance of the younger generation and the issues as they see them.
HPR: Ok. To shift topics a little bit, I wanted to ask about something that’s been on the minds of Republicans since the past election, and that is: as a high-profile female Republican, how do you think the Republican Party can fix its relationship with moderate female voters?
Senator Hutchison: I think that the demographics, again, show that single women are not as Republican as married women, for instance. And I think that in general, Republicans ought to focus on the women who are of our view about the importance of private sector initiative, strong but limited government, the economic issues and the defense issues, national defense and national security, where I think we have an advantage over Democrats. And we should be welcoming to women who prioritize those issues. I think we should not try to wrap our social issue views into a Republican Party litmus test.
HPR: Is there anything else that you think Republicans need to do to reach out and strengthen their electoral coalition after a tough year at the polls?
Senator Hutchison: Well I think that we need to deemphasize differences on social issues and personal issues that are driven by, not political philosophy, but religious views and religious preferences. I think we should welcome people of differing views on social and personal issues if they agree with our approach to government and taxation and strong education. If people are of our view on [running the country] on a fiscally responsible basis that champions free private enterprise and entrepreneurship and creativity, then we should welcome people in the party who may differ on abortion or issues like that.
HPR: Immigration reform is garnering new attention in Congress. What do you think the chances are that serious reform will be enacted?
Senator Hutchison: Well I have always believed that we have to have immigration reform, but the success is going to be incremental. I was in the group that tried to negotiate the comprehensive reform several years ago, and I found that there were so many parts that had to be pieced together like a puzzle that if you got people who were strong in one part, but in disagreement on the other part, you couldn’t build a coalition for the whole thing.
Now I do think the efforts are stronger than I’ve ever seen before, but my view is that you should do it by piece and start earlier with success. I would say the first piece that could be done that could get started earlier is border security coupled with a legalization of opportunity for the children of illegal immigrants, the DREAM Act group. You could give a legal opportunity for those young people who came here before they were, you know, 16 or so. They’ve been educated in American schools, and they should be able to get a legal status, a new card, not a green card, but a new card that would give them the opportunity to work and have the benefits, and then after a certain period of time, get in line, to, if they decided to seek citizenship, be able to do that.
I think that would be the first step that needs to be made because those young people are in a limbo, and they need the status, and they had no decision-making in coming to America illegally. But I think then beyond that, the next step would be H-1B visas for people who have technical training. I think that’s very important for the future of our country, and that should be expanded. And then I think [Congress should make] a process that opens up the legal immigrant opportunities, so that people can come here legally and know what the rules are and abide by the rules. I think you’re going to take away a lot of the pent-up demand that we have that has caused the illegal immigration to become so large. And I think eventually the number of people that would be seeking amnesty, for instance, who are illegal, would be much smaller, and that you could deal with that at the end when people have a total confidence in the immigration system that is put in place.
This interview has been edited and condensed.