Texas US Sen. Hutchison Plans to Retire Next Year

By Henry C. Jackson | January 13, 2011 | 4:53 PM EST

In this Jan. 19, 2010, file photo Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, addresses the Greater Houston Pachyderm Club in Houston. Hutchison announced Thursday, Jan. 13, 2011, that she will retire after her current term expires next year. (AP Photo/Bob Levey, File)

Washington (AP) - Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Republican who was the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate from Texas and has held the seat for nearly two decades, announced Thursday she will retire next year when her current term ends.

In a letter addressed to her Texas constituents and also sent to members in the media, Hutchison said she would not seek re-election in 2012. She had previously signaled she might retire but changed her mind several times in the last few years. In 2010, she challenged Gov. Rick Perry in the GOP primary for governor, but lost.

In her letter, the state's senior senator said she had intended to leave office sooner but was persuaded to stay on to "avoid disadvantage to our state."

"The last two years have been particularly difficult, especially for my family, but I felt it would be wrong to leave the Senate during such a critical period," Hutchison said. "Instead of putting my seat into a special election, I felt it was my duty to use my experience to fight the massive spending that has increased our national debt; the government takeover of the our health care system; and the growth of the federal bureaucracy, which threatens our economy."

Hutchison said she would "continue that fight" until the end of her term. She is the first senator to announce their retirement ahead of the 2012 election.

First elected to the Senate in 1993, Hutchison won a special election to replace then-Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, who left his seat to serve as President Bill Clinton's treasury secretary. She was elected to a full term in 1994 and comfortably won reelection in 2000 and 2006.

Hutchison has long been viewed as representing moderate Texas Republicans. In her gubernatorial primary she ran as a more moderate alternative to Perry. Unlike her junior colleague, Republican Sen. John Cornyn, Hutchison also supports legalized abortion.

Cornyn said Thursday that Hutchison "serves as an example to us all." He called her a leader in Texas and the Senate.

During the governor's race, which she soundly lost in the primary, Hutchison first told Texas voters she would leave her seat regardless of the outcome of the primary, then announced she would serve out the full term.

Hutchison will have represented Texas for 19 years in the Senate when her term expires. She said Thursday she would "be forever grateful for the privilege" of representing the state.

Her decision is likely to set off a competitive race to replace her.