U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison announced her run for Texas governor Monday with a sharp blast at Gov. Rick Perry, saying he has overstayed his welcome with an administration marked by arrogance and "tragic" mistakes.
Hutchison, using her old high school about 40 miles southeast of Houston as a backdrop, also proposed limiting governors to two, four-year terms. She called Perry -- a fellow Republican -- a "dedicated public servant," but otherwise laid into him. Perry, in office since 2000, is the longest serving governor in Texas history.
Perry took over the remainder of former President George W. Bush's second term as governor and has been elected to two, four-year terms since. If he's re-elected in 2010 and completes his term, Perry would have held the job for 14 years.
"We can't afford fourteen years of one person appointing every state board, agency and commission," Hutchison said. "It invites patronage. It tempts cronyism. And it has to stop, now."
In a gymnasium that drew about 150 supporters and the La Marque High School cheerleading squad -- which Hutchison once belonged to -- she delivered her harshest critique ever of the Perry years.
Hutchison said Texas is awash in government debt, leads the nation in uninsured children and suffers from the highest property taxes in the country. She singled out the Texas Department of Public Transportation, calling it the "most arrogant, unaccountable state agency in the history of Texas."
Under Perry, the department has shunned local input and built too many toll roads, she said.
The state's senior U.S. senator also belittled Perry's decision to turn down $550 million in federal stimulus money to help the state's empty unemployment insurance trust fund. She described the move as politically motivated and "irresponsible."
Her highly critical speech underscored the bitter clash that the Republican primary for Texas governor is becoming.
The rancor was evident from the moment Hutchison's vast entourage pulled into the parking lot of La Marque High School, the site of her first event. Perry's aides had already parked a large truck carrying an oversized picture of the senator with a sign emblazoned across the front: "Kay Bailout Express," it read in reference to Hutchison's vote in favor of the 2008 financial rescue package.
Perry spokesman Mark Miner also showed up at the gymnasium where Hutchison was speaking and delivered a response before the senator even began her speech.
"Once again, the senator is coming up with no ideas," Miner said. "It's easy to criticize after being in Washington for 16 years, but the people of Texas want results not rhetoric."
Miner later popped into an event in Houston to distribute copies of a 1993 speech in which Hutchison advocated term limits for members of Congress. Hutchison had said when first elected that she would only serve two terms but later ran -- successfully -- for a third.
Hutchison has said she will resign her Senate seat this fall to focus on the governor's race.
Only two Texans -- Sam Houston and Price Daniel -- have made the rare leap from U.S. senator to governor, but Hutchison has been itching to come home for years. She flirted with a gubernatorial run in 2005 but ultimately decided to stay in Washington -- avoiding a primary that GOP honchos feared would leave the party badly divided.
Monday's kickoff drew high-profile supporters including former U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey, former Education Secretary Rod Paige and Karen Hughes, the former spokeswoman and diplomat from the last Bush administration.
Hutchison planned to continue her five-day announcement tour in Houston, San Antonio and Austin as well as 15 other cities.