During presidential campaigns,Â accusations are flying around so fast it helps to go back and examine the basis for many of the charges you hear.Â As Mike Huckabee surges in the presidential polls,Â I thought it would beÂ instructive to go back and look at what the people of Arkansas thought of him as governor.
Huckabee\’s biography in the 2006 Almanac of American Politics pretty much says it all.Â In fact, it\’s one of the more negative biographies you\’ll find – with some amazing stuff:
Huckabee started making astonishing mistakes; his job rating plummeted from 70% to 50%. Huckabee had a penchant for granting pardons; one felon he paroled in 1996 committed a murder in Missouri. In July 2001, he commuted the sentence of the stepson of an administrative aide in the governor\’s office whose criminal record went back to 1972. In June 2002, he fired the head of the AASIS (Arkansas Administrative Statewide Information System) project, who promptly told reporters he and other employees had been pressured for campaign contributions and that Huckabee had tried to stifle news of cost overruns–nearly 100%–during the election year. Huckabee also had been in the practice of receiving large gifts; he reported a total of $112,000 in 1999, which included $23,000 in clothes from one state appointee. Huckabee responded–in an election year!–with a lawsuit to allow him to receive more gifts and another lawsuit to stop the state ethics commission from investigating him.
Another self-inflicted wound came in March 2002, when Huckabee\’s wife announced she was running for secretary of state. Janet Huckabee was known for her daredevil antics–bungee jumping, skydiving, jet skiing, kayaking–and for her oversight of the two-year renovation of the Governor\’s Mansion, a time when the Huckabees lived in a triple-wide on the mansion grounds. She insisted on a 24-hour state police detail while campaigning across the state; when that was challenged, she at first said she had no control over it, then promised to pay the cost, then said she would pay only up to $500. Meanwhile, Jimmie Lou Fisher, with teachers\’ union support, called for spending $133 million more for education; she said she would find the money from waste, fraud and abuse, or perhaps from a lottery (though she opposed one). She got more mileage by attacking AASIS and criticizing Huckabee\’s grants of clemency and acceptance of gifts. Mike Huckabee won by only 53%-47%, while Janet Huckabee lost 62%-38%. Huckabee called the campaign \”a kidney stone that takes six months to pass.\”
In January 2004 the state Supreme Court hired two former justices as special masters to redesign school finance if the legislature failed to act; consultants had already proposed an $847 million increase to the $1.7 billion state education budget. In February 2004 the House approved a $377 million sales tax increase, with consolidation of districts with less than 350 pupils; Huckabee let it become law without his signature. Criticized for supporting the largest tax increase in Arkansas history, Huckabee said, \”Pure conservatism means lean and responsible government, not mean and irresponsible government.\”
Huckabee made news in other ways. Diagnosed with Type II diabetes in 2003, he lost some 110 pounds over the next year or so. He quit eating fried foods and sweets and started exercising regularly; he showed his progress by toting a 90-pound girl around a school gym. In May 2004 he started a Healthy Arkansas initiative, to discourage bad eating habits and smoking; no smoking was allowed within 25 feet of state buildings, and the state started paying for nicotine patches. Parents were given children\’s health report cards. He started a Get Five fruits and vegetables a day initiative and eschewed an old favorite, fried Twinkies. Huckabee said he wanted government to \”model healthy behavior,\” but he still opposed a ban on smoking in restaurants.
What?Â His wife ran for statewide office and went negative on her husband to pick up votes?Â This sounds more like an episode of \”The Beverly Hillbillies\” than a presidential campaign.
Which really is too bad – people looking for a viable alternative to the GOP presidential frontrunners thought they had one in the likeable Huckabee.Â Unfortunately, despite his new devotion to physical fitness, he may not be able to outrun his Arkansas past.