Is America ready for another ex-governor of Arkansas in the White House?
Mike Huckabee sure hopes so. On the surface the famously slimmed-down, clean-living, nearly (but not quite) 100% scandal-free Baptist minister might seem like the complete opposite of President Clinton, but there are some odd similarities. Both were born in the town of Hope at the height of the baby boom; both enjoy playing with rock bands in their spare time; and both benefit from a likable affect and wicked intelligence.
Also, while Clinton famously mastered the art of “triangulation,” moving to the right on some issues and thereby confounding more traditional Democrats, religious conservative Huckabee’s unusually populist approach may prove to be a political curveball when pitting him against more traditional conservatives. And, while it might seem a thin qualification for national office, in a nation where obesity and diabetes are increasingly endemic, losing 110 pounds and running in two marathons in the same year makes Huckabee a potential hero to millions of overweight Americans.
Born Michael Dale Huckabee in 1955, Huckabee spent most of his pre-political adulthood as a Southern Baptist minister and later president of the state Baptist Convention. He began his political career in 1992, the year that Bill Clinton became President, nabbing the Republican nomination to run against incumbent Democrat Dale Bumpers. Bumpers kept his seat, but Huckabee had better luck on his next try, breaking a two-decades long Democratic winning streak to become Arkansas’ lieutenant governor.
In 1996, Clinton-successor Governor Jim Guy Tucker was convicted for two felony counts related to the Whitewater scandal. After some brief political theater, Tucker was ultimately forced to resign, making Mike Huckabee the new governor.
It wasn’t long before Huckabee was showing his populist side, signing legislation providing health care benefits for children whose parents did not qualify for Medicaid. Reelected in 1998, the governor became the subject of national attention in 2000 when he and his family moved into a mobile home while the governor’s mansion was being renovated. The move garnered positive coverage for the unpretentious governor as well as a chance to show off his sense of humor on “The Tonight Show.” The governor was reelected a second time in 2002.
In 2003, Huckabee was diagnosed with Type II diabetes and told by his doctor that he was likely to die within a decade. Huckabee took the warning seriously and lost the famed 110 pounds. Since then, he has completed four marathons. As if that weren’t enough human interest, Huckabee’s band, Capitol Offense, has opened both for Willie Nelson and the Charlie Daniels Band. (At the risk of sound biased, it is our considered opinion that Huckabee is a much better bass player than Bill Clinton is a sax player.)
Still, no one gets out of politics without controversy, and Huckabee is no exception. Throughout his decade in office, Huckabee increased state spending by extending health care coverage for lower income children and raising sales and other taxes, earning failing grades from conservative and libertarian groups like the Club for Growth and the Cato Institute. Moreover, he has put himself on notice with the anti-immigration wing of the Republican base, staking out a position on immigration closely tied to President Bush’s. In addition, he has made statements on health care that seem to be endorsing some type of aggressive government action to reform the current system. Indeed, with his frequent appearances in such liberal-to-moderate hotspots as “The Daily Show,” “The Colbert Report,” and “Real Time with Bill Maher,” Huckabee has done an outstanding job of charming people who won’t be able to vote in Republican primaries. His sense of humor has also turned out to be a two-edged sword, causing one or two minor controversies around the campaign trail.
On the other hand, his support of the “FairTax” movement may disarm some of his small-government critics and excite Americans who spend countless hours each year preparing their tax bills. This radical proposal advocates dropping the federal income tax entirely in favor of an increased national sales taxes.
Still, the only serious potential black spot on Huckabee’s record involves his apparent involvement in the sensational case of convicted rapist Mike Dumond. Though convicted, Dumond had become a conservative cause célèbre in Arkansas after radio hosts and “A Current Affair” reporter Steve Dunleavy maintained that the convicted rapist had been railroaded. (The victim in his case was distantly related to Bill Clinton.) Despite having been castrated before his capture in the original case, Dumond was later convicted for raping and killing a second victim after his parole. Governor Huckabee denies being responsible for the release.
The Dumond debacle came back into the spotlight recently when information about it was temporarily altered on Governor Huckabee’s Wikipedia entry. (For more on the allegations of Huckabee’s involvement in the Dumond parole, see this investigative piece from the Arkansas Times.)
Still, in a country tired of scandal and ready for hope, the smiling Huckabee seems like a contender to be reckoned, both for his Republican rivals and for his potential Democratic adversaries.
On the Campaign Trail
Previously considered a distant long-shot at best, Governor Huckabee jumped several paces ahead with a strong second-place showing to Mitt Romney in the Republican Iowa straw-poll, despite spending a fraction per vote of the Romney campaign.
Mike Huckabee on the Web
The official website of Governor Huckabee’s presidential campaign.
Watch Governor Mike celebrate his “Colbert bump.”
Despite the apparent manipulations regarding the Dumond case, this remains an excellent starting place for learning about the governor and a description of his political stances.
“Mike Huckabee Sounding Like a Democrat on Hardball”
The healthcare issue brings out Huckabee’s populist side.
An interesting answer that some will find measured and reasonable, others obfuscatory. Also, Huckabee seem to state clearly that several of his opponents in both parties are actually atheists.
“Want to see the IRS disappear?”
Huckabee on the FairTax during his moment in the YouChoose spotlight.
The governor explains why he thinks the U.S. is an existential struggle against Islamic extremists.
On exporting Democracy
Measured criticism of the Bush administration’s foreign policy. “Sometimes you get what you want; you don’t want what you get.”
With Bill Maher
Discussing that evolution question and more in HBO’s hotbed of heathenism.
The Quotable Mike Huckabee
On the importance of the right-to-life issue:
“I would disagree that protection of innocent life is insignificant. It is what separates us as a civilization from the very jihadists we are fighting.”
On appointing conservative and/or “strict-constructionist” judges:
“My own personal hero on the court is [Antonin] Scalia, not least because I duck-hunted with him.”
On health-care and government involvement (circa 2005):
“One thing governors feel, Democrats and Republicans alike, is that we have a health care system that, if you're on Medicaid, you have unlimited access to health care, at unlimited levels, at no cost. No wonder it's running away.”
On helping Katrina victims:
“I ask people, 'Have you been to New Orleans? ... These are people who drove your carriage down Canal Street. They carried your bags to your hotel room and picked up the dishes when you finished eating. By golly, we're going to be there to take care of them now.”
On today’s campaigns:
“If we faced issues that required little more than a few turns with a Phillips screwdriver, then we perhaps could afford the luxury of political gamesmanship and the personal pleasures of some old-fashioned partisan political towel popping.”
On whether he liked the existentialist comedy, “I Heart Huckabees”
“No! It was horrible! It was as if somebody forgot to give the actors a script…. I saw it in the theater, and I said to my wife, ‘Let's wait until everyone else leaves. I don't want anyone to know I came.’”
Comments, questions and suggestions can be sent to Gerardo Orlando at email@example.com.