Texas Workforce Commission chairman and Dallas resident Tom Pauken has informed the offices of Governor Rick Perry and Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst of his interest in running for U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison's seat.
"I'm taking a look at it, but I'm a long way from making a decision to get in the race," he tells Unfair Park.
Pauken says he'll make his final decision if Hutchison resigns from the senate to focus on her gubernatorial bid as expected. Perry's appointee to replace Hutchison and the date of the special election will also factor into his plans.
"If I got in it, my goal would be to put together the Mike Huckabee-Ron Paul social and economic conservatives, and not just the people who supported them, but try to get that coalition back together," he says.
Dallas County Republican Party chair Jonathan Neerman, who Pauken has criticized in the past, says Pauken is well respected in Republican circles and has name ID throughout the state, but he questions his ability to raise enough money and organize a statewide coalition.
However, Neerman says Pauken will cause others to take notice. "From political IQ and policy standpoints, Tom can go toe-to-toe with anybody running for any office."
Pauken, the state's Republican Party chairman from 1994 to 1997, lost in 1998 to John Cornyn and Barry Williamson for the Republican nomination for Texas attorney general, along with tight races for U.S. Congress in 1978 and 1980. He says there aren't any Republicans in the race for Hutchison's seat that are Goldwater-Reagan conservatives, which he describes as representing the middle class instead of "the big rich."
"I think the country's in worse shape than any time in my lifetime, and we need conservative solutions to the problems," he says.
Pauken also claims to be the only Republican interested in the seat that has voiced opposition to the Henry Paulson-George Bush $700 billion bailout of financial institutions. He describes the current candidates as "Bush Republicans."
"I think the Bush administration did a lot of damage to the conservative movement and the party, and we've got to go in a different direction," he says.
Railroad Commissioners Michael Williams and Elizabeth Ames Jones, state Senator Florence Shapiro and former Secretary of State Roger Williams have already announced their candidacy, but the biggest Republican name out there is Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, who is expected to join the race and could get the appointment from Perry.
"Obviously if he can write a $25 million check for a campaign, it makes it tough," Pauken admits. "I like David, but he's not part of the political Reagan conservative movement."
Announced Democrats include former Comptroller John Sharp and Houston Mayor Bill White, and Pauken could also face opposition in Dallas County from Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert. "Tom's a liberal Republican," Pauken says. "I think he'd compete with David Dewhurst for that vote."
Neerman says he's not sure what a "liberal Republican" is, but says he's heard two common complaints about Leppert from conservatives. "One, the spending on the hotel -- fiscal conservatives weren't happy about it. The second was on the child curfew law."
Pauken notes that he isn't seeking an appointment from Perry, and he's "months away" from a decision.
"I think the mood is sympathetic to the conservative populist views I represent," he says. "The question is: Is it feasible or not to get in that race?"
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