Collins to work toward increasing visitation to Arkansas by groups and promoting the state's appeal
If Bill Clinton’s experience is prologue, the media and Mike Huckabee’s opponents will soon give the governor his first measurements for the history books — that is, if he begins to be counted as a serious candidate for president.
For Clinton, the takeouts in the big Eastern newspapers and Republican opposition research characterized his dozen years running the state as a time of modest school reform, lots of new taxation and a drubbing for the environment as Tyson Foods and the rest of the poultry industry poisoned streams and valleys with the tacit blessing of Clinton’s government. And, of course, there was Jeff Gerth’s epochal account in The New York Times on March 8, 1992, of Clinton’s and Jim McDougal’s foolish bargain to borrow money to develop 230 acres of wilderness in Searcy County and call it Whitewater Estates at a moment when interest rates were so stratospheric that only millionaires were looking for a weekend homestead.
Huckabee’s assessment by the media is apt to be just as shallow and just as negative. National reporters do not come to town scavenging for the good news. They will write about all his ethical lapses, secrecy and clever fund-raising schemes. But there is much more than that to the decade in office of this self-described “paradoxical Republican.”
That is why, as part of its encyclopedic services, the Arkansas Times offers for one-stop shopping its own studied impressions of the Huckabee government. (For another and more sublime view, people can go to the governor’s website [http://www.arkansas.gov/governor/newsroom/index.php] and read his own accounts of his manifold accomplishments.)
Nettled by Republican tormentors who kept calling him a big-government liberal, Gov. Huckabee got sore last April and pronounced, “When I walk out this door, there’s never been a more conservative governor of Arkansas.” His unofficial presidential blog started labeling him the most conservative governor in Arkansas history.
Huckabee has always been prone to make rash claims that are easily proven false and that come back to mock him. He did it famously the week before the general election when he boasted repeatedly, erroneously each time, that he had smelled a skunk and vetoed the bill that later turned out to finance the illegal activities of Sen. Nick Wilson and his friends. His veto of a tiny section of the bill would merely have forced funding of the program from a state account other than the one that paid for the operations at the Governor’s Mansion.
The claim of conservative paragon was another such claim. Columnists had a good time contrasting Huckabee’s record with the pantheon of racists, bourbons, demagogues and hidebound scrooges who had occupied the governor’s seat for most of Arkansas’s past. He was further to the right than them?
But it also identified a central truth about the Huckabee administration and the difficulties of a race for the Republican nomination for president. What Republican base can he possibly command?
Unless you restrict conservatism to the single issues of abortion and gay marriage he has not been a traditional Southern Republican. Huckabee is often disingenuous, stubborn, secretive and partisan, but he has not been a dogmatic or even a very reliable conservative.
If liberalism is a belief that government should try to relieve hardships and create a more just and equitable social order, in the Arkansas and Southern contexts Huckabee has been at least a medium-sized liberal. Measured by their progressive impulses, he belongs in the top half of the governors of the past century. The competition is not fast.
Cal Ledbetter Jr., professor emeritus of political science at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and a former state representative, runs an occasional poll about Arkansas governors among political scientists and historians. They are ranked according to what they tried to do and got done for the public good — a measure of their progressiveness.
Ledbetter, a liberal Democrat, figured that Huckabee would rank not among the top five but at least among the top 10 of the 24 governors since 1900. The last poll in 1998 ranked Dale Bumpers as the best and only “great” governor and after him four other liberals: Sid McMath, Bill Clinton, George Donaghey and Winthrop Rockefeller.
“He has not followed the traditional Republican pattern of low taxes and small government,” Ledbetter said. “He has not hesitated sometimes to take on intractable issues like school consolidation, bond issues, taxes and health problems. In that sense, he’s been a trailblazer.”
Even his 110-pound weight loss, marathon running and public nagging for people to change their lifestyles qualify as leadership, Ledbetter said.
Ledbetter would rank Huckabee close to Rockefeller but not quite on his par. Rockefeller, unarguably the most liberal governor in the state’s history, also was not a traditional Republican and he faced more daunting problems — a conservative and hostile legislature that was 95 percent Democratic.
The accomplishments were not always attributable to Huckabee’s leadership. It was also a period of rare legislative energy. The heavily Democratic legislature, under court mandates and with Huckabee’s deference, crafted expansive school reforms, including higher taxes, and Huckabee went along with them and claimed them as his own.
But the legislature would never have tackled school consolidation unbidden. Huckabee did, and with such vehemence that the legislature gave in and abolished some 60 tiny districts. No governor in 75 years had pushed direct consolidation.
In Huckabee’s forays into early primary states, he introduces himself as a conservative who got things done by fighting for small government and low taxes.
Good strategy, hard sell. State government expanded more robustly under Huckabee than under 15 years of Bill Clinton and Jim Guy Tucker, whom he would characterize as big-government liberals, the term that the Club for Growth and the Cato Institute, two conservative detractors, try to pin on him.
Here are a few telling manifestations:
• When Huckabee became governor in July 1996 the state government payroll was 43,380 employees. At the end of this October, it was 53,128, a gain of 22.5 percent. Next to the service sector, government has been the best job producer in the Arkansas economy.
• State tax rates have risen steadily, always with Gov. Huckabee’s backing, although the per capita state and local tax burden in Arkansas is still below the national average. The new taxes helped swell general and special revenues by 75 percent in 10 years, from $3.9 billion in 1996 to more than $6.8 billion in 2006.
• Arkansas’s general-obligation debt, negligible for the previous half-century, has exploded by almost $1 billion on his watch, always with his support and often at his beseeching. Public attitudes about public debt, of course, have changed dramatically since 1934, when Gov. J. Marion Futrell, a real paragon of conservative virtue, persuaded the state to amend the Constitution to erect barriers that he thought would forever prohibit higher taxes and debt. People now routinely bury themselves in debt for cars, appliances and homes so they are no longer troubled when the government wants to borrow, too. Huckabee asked the voters last month to let the state borrow another $150 million for the universities, and the voters obliged. The state colleges and universities already had spent some $1.25 billion on capital improvements the past 10 years.
The Cato Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington that believes in nothing but small government, took some of that into consideration in October when it pronounced Huckabee one of the worst governors in the country. It ranked the 50 governors on several small-government variables, mainly taxes. The authors of the study gave Huckabee an F for his second term and a D overall, but it placed him dead last on taxes because it said he had raised sales taxes by 20 percent (37 percent actually), motor fuel taxes by 16 percent and cigarette taxes by 103 percent.
It did not mention the big bed tax charged nursing homes and their private patients to expand Medicaid reimbursements, a hike in the beer tax, broader sales taxes on personal services, a 3 percent income surtax that was collected for two years or a variety of small imposts like driver’s license fees, all enacted with Huckabee’s support.
But neither did Cato’s miserly scholars say what the taxes were for, probably because it was immaterial to them: The Cato Institute considers any new tax undeserving.
It would particularly disapprove taxes for public education and medical assistance for the poor, which were what all the major taxes except the motor-fuel levies and an eighth of a penny of sales tax supported. The bulk of the Huckabee taxes were to meet court-ordered goals for supplying children a suitable and equal education and to preserve government medical coverage for the poor. (The fuel taxes were to rebuild interstate highways, and the eighth-of-a-penny sales tax — ratified by voters after a barnstorming campaign by Huckabee — was for state parks and fish and wildlife improvements.)
Worse for Huckabee’s presidential aspirations are the dire assessments of his work by the right-wing Club for Growth, a coterie of millionaire businessmen based in Washington, D.C., and Grover Norquist, who runs Americans for Tax Reform. Norquist organized the conservative coalition of fiscal and religious conservatives that has driven the national Republican agenda the past 10 years. Norquist has ridiculed Huckabee, calling him “a serial tax increaser.”
They have had some sharp exchanges. Huckabee champions giving states the power to collect taxes on sales over the Internet, which Norquist opposes.
In Huckabee’s website account of his fiscal achievements, he emphasizes tax cuts (90 of them, compared with only 21 tax increases, he says).
Actually, there were only two real tax cuts — a reduction in personal income taxes in 1997 and a law excluding 30 percent of a person’s capital gains from taxation in 1999. The 88 others were the scores of bills granting small exemptions and meshing the state tax code with changes in the federal code, which the legislature passes every two years.
The centerpiece of his first legislative program, Huckabee said, was a $90 million tax cut, “the first broad-based tax cut in Arkansas history.” His bold leadership on cutting taxes, he boasted, dramatically turned attitudes around in the six months after he took office and before his first legislative session. Instead of raising taxes, he said, he had legislators talking about how to lower them, which he described as a historic turnaround.
But his predecessor, Jim Guy Tucker, was proposing a tax cut before he resigned. He outlined income tax revisions to provide relief primarily to the neediest taxpayers, young working families. Like today, a surplus was building in the state treasury in 1996.
It was Tucker’s tax plan, introduced in the 1997 session by House Speaker Bobby Hogue of Jonesboro, that became law. It doubled the standard deduction, eliminated taxes on families earning under the poverty line, indexed tax brackets to inflation, provided a credit for some Social Security taxes and increased the child-care tax credit and the homestead tax refund for the elderly.
Huckabee’s plan was a rebate every fall of $25 or $50 a person to offset part of the taxes they paid on groceries. Huckabee had called publicly for eliminating the sales tax on groceries before the session, but big retailers who find the tax profitable let his office know that they opposed repeal. Supermarket chains invest the sales tax collections until they are remitted to the state the next month, and they keep 2 percent of the tax receipts to cover their costs. So Huckabee proposed the rebates instead of repeal of the tax.
When his proposal went nowhere, he said he would be happy with whatever tax cut the Democrats sent him and they sent him Tucker’s.
It was a leadership pattern that would be repeated the next 10 years. Huckabee talked broadly about programs and solutions to crises but left the details and specific legislation to lawmakers. Veteran legislators accustomed to fierce pressure from governors like Clinton and Bumpers, who produced rafts of their own bills and prodded legislators relentlessly, scoffed at Huckabee’s laissez-faire approach but often found it liberating. Republican legislators as well as Democrats said they rarely heard directly from Huckabee on legislation but gleaned his views from the press.
After the Supreme Court declared the school system unconstitutional, legislative committees usually crafted the multiple education reforms, including taxes, expansive preschool programs and a school-construction plan. Huckabee announced that he would accept almost any tax package that the legislature could pass.
But school consolidation was peculiarly his issue, and it was the one instance in which he took an uncompromising stand on a matter of deep principle and where he had nothing to gain politically and much to lose. He insisted on consolidating districts smaller than 1,500 students, a full two-thirds of Arkansas’s 308 districts.
For 75 years, administrative consolidation was considered the highest order of business for education but no sitting governor was willing to take it on because of the fire it was sure to ignite in rural areas.
The legislature in 2003 finally passed a bill eliminating 59 school districts, those with enrollments smaller than 350. That was a small miracle. Huckabee let it become law without his signature.
“If this is what they want to put their signature on and their stamp on, then I should let them do it,” Huckabee told reporters. “Even though I think that’s pathetically less than what we ought to be shooting for, it will let the public see that that’s the best they could offer.”
At the outset, Huckabee was a foe of consolidation but he came to believe that the tiny rural schools were inefficient and that without significant consolidation the state could not afford the ample secondary school offerings that the Constitution seemed to require the state to make available to every child in the poorest and farthest outpost.
He continued to the end to insist that none of the standards for schools be rolled back in the minutest way to accommodate a rural school, or an urban one. Many of his detractors, including legislators who found it too risky to go with him, thought it was his finest hour.
Huckabee also seemed to moderate his whole philosophy once the burdens of office settled on him. He sneered at layabouts on welfare, who he said slept until 10 every morning and watched Oprah all afternoon. A few days after taking office from the disgraced Tucker in 1996, he told the Arkansas Farm Bureau that people should not expect him to correct social injustices or have the government feed, raise and care for children born to irresponsible women. The policy of taking money from taxpayers to take care of a child born out of wedlock is a proven failure, he said.
By the fall of 2006 the flinthearted talk had vanished and he was saying things like this to people in New Hampshire: “There’s a real misconception from people who’ve never been poor that poor people really like being poor and want to stay that way.”
The cost of Medicaid, the federal-state government health program for the poor, was rising 6 percent a year in the late 1990s and the new governor said he was going to cut the increase in half in the 1997 budgeting. He said he did not want children of mothers who didn’t work getting a free ride while other parents had to make hard choices about insuring their children. So he formed a task force to tell him how to do that. One member was Amy Rossi, director of the Arkansas Advocates for Women and Children.
Rossi told Huckabee that his goal could not be met without terrible hardship to thousands of children. She said the state should expand, not shrink, Medicaid and insure children in families earning up to 200 percent of the poverty level. It would guarantee medical attention to most Arkansas children who were not privately insured and would in the long run save future catastrophic health costs. Federal law permitted states that option but few had taken it. Arkansas had covered elderly patients up to 300 percent of the poverty line and Rossi said the state should demonstrate the same compassion for children.
Huckabee was converted. He made the Medicaid expansion bill, sponsored by state Sen. Mike Beebe and other Democrats, the centerpiece of his legislative program. It passed and became ARKids First, Huckabee’s proudest accomplishment. Bill Clinton had not tried to expand Medicaid for children as governor but as president he persuaded Congress to mandate it for the states just as Arkansas was exercising the option.
Huckabee never used the old welfare rhetoric again. And he fought to protect Medicaid when a recession forced spending cuts in 2001-03. Ordinarily, the state had pruned Medicaid during economic downturns by reducing the number of prescriptions available to recipients each month or suspending some medical services.
In the end, two fiscal wizards of the legislative staff figured out some accounting legerdemain to move funds from one fiscal year to another in a way that would avoid large spending reductions or a tax increase. Beebe and Rep. Shane Broadway of Bryant announced the remedy. Huckabee ridiculed it as a “check-kiting scheme” but came around in a few days and called a special legislative session to implement it. Medicaid did not have to be cut.
When the Bush administration unveiled a plan this year to curb Medicaid spending by halving the amount of the bed tax that states were allowed to impose as a way of doubling up on their federal shares for nursing home reimbursement, Huckabee was outraged. Bush hoped to save the government more than $3 billion over five years. The Arkansas tax, which Huckabee supported, is a scheme that allows the state to match much more federal money and raise the reimbursement rate to nursing homes for Medicaid patients.
“There seems to be complete tone deafness in Washington to policies that are having a dramatic effect on the lives of the most vulnerable people we’ve got,” Huckabee said, using “Washington” as a code word for the Bush administration. “It never ceases to amaze me.”
That was more fodder for the Club for Growth’s relentlessly savage attacks on him as a big-government, pro-tax ideologue. Huckabee’s unofficial presidential campaign blog said it might prove that Huckabee was a “paradoxical Republican” (Huckabee’s phrase) but that there was an even better label for him: “Christian.”
His ardor for the government health program was not the only evidence of his conversion to activism. In 2000, he announced the new goal of his administration: health insurance for every person in Arkansas. It would not be just a big government-run program but he expected to get everyone covered in some way. He and his health director, Dr. Fay Boozman, said they wanted to get a federal grant that would help them study steps to get there.
Public office had been a catharsis for both men. Boozman said he had studied and practiced medicine much of his life and he had been in the legislature but that he had never before realized the depth of the problem — how so many people could not get medical assistance because they did not have insurance.
Huckabee had been consumed by the health issues while working on the settlement of the lawsuits by the states against tobacco companies. The Arkansas plan for spending the money, which Huckabee embraced and fought for, permanently directed all the money into health services, including smoking-cessation projects.
No major initiative ever came from that buoyant day, although the administration this year obtained a waiver from the Department of Health and Human Services to use employer contributions as state matching so that Medicaid could be expanded to low-income working families. Many were dubious that businesses could be persuaded to enter the program. To insure their lower-paid workers through Medicaid they would have to insure higher-paid employees through a private program.
But there was enough such activism to disillusion conservative ideologues, including some old followers. They thought he had become an apostle of the nanny state.
His administration adopted rules to force much of the high-calorie junk food from public school vending machines, and this year the legislature approved his plan to outlaw smoking in the workplace, save places that kept out all under 21.
Also at his bidding this year the legislature raised the minimum wage, although he did not call the special session so much on principle as from political expediency. A constitutional amendment to raise the minimum wage and index it annually to inflation seemed certain of passage, and business leaders wanted the legislature to enact a wage floor by statute so that they would not face automatic increases.
Huckabee’s big weight loss, his publicized participation in marathon events and his health and lifestyle evangelism have raised his profile and given his presidential aspirations some national attention. But it is hard to imagine that taking him very far in the ideologically driven Republican primaries.
Ledbetter wondered how the governor could compete in the Republican primaries now on a record of moderate activism. “Does he say, ‘I’m an Eisenhower Republican’ or ‘I’m an Arlen Specter Republican’?” It did not sound compelling.
He could perhaps say that he was not the faux “compassionate conservative” that George W. Bush turned out to be but the real thing. But that would have to come not in the primaries but in the general election to woo independents and Democrats.
That leaves conservative evangelicals, the legendary base that Karl Rove manipulated so deftly for Bush and the party. Huckabee has been a popular and compelling speaker at evangelical assemblies. His Arkansas record on the central issues — abortion and gay marriage — is almost unassailable. He has backed every piece of legislation to erect barriers to women obtaining abortions and showed up ritually at parades and rallies.
Days after he became governor he directed the Medicaid office to deny payment for an abortion for a 15-year-old teenager who had been raped by her stepfather on the ground that Amendment 68 to the Arkansas Constitution permitted public funds to pay for abortions only when the mother’s life was in danger. The amendment conflicted with federal law and Huckabee’s action threatened the whole Medicaid program. He worked out an agreement with the Clinton White House for private arrangements to fund such abortions and keep Medicaid flowing.
But while he backed an Arkansas amendment barring gay marriages and made fun of gay activists in South Carolina and other conservative precincts, he has shown a softer side in other venues. In a meeting with a newspaper board in New Hampshire recently he said he was “open” to states enacting laws recognizing civil unions of gay couples as long as they were not called marriages. He said he had no problem with anyone’s private lifestyles. “If people want to live a certain way, that’s their business,” he said.
That would not be endearing language at an evangelical assembly. Last month, Huckabee went further and told such a gathering, after hitting all the popular buttons, that being pro-life should not end with opposing abortions but that they should care just as passionately about the wellbeing of children after they were born, to see that they were clothed, fed, given good health care and a good education.
His lavishly expressed sympathy for immigrants does not enamor the base either. Last year, he resisted efforts to deny government-subsidized services to the children of undocumented workers and challenged the Christian values of the Republican legislators behind the measures, Senators Jim Holt of Springdale and Denny Altes of Fort Smith. He called it race baiting and demagoguery. He tried to pass legislation to make those children eligible for merit- and need-based state scholarships to Arkansas colleges and universities.
Two weeks ago, he said God had given Americans a second chance to do the right thing in race relations by treating Hispanic immigrants better than they treated blacks for so long. He had been asked whether racial justice in Arkansas had advanced during his tenure. His amazing answer:
“One of our greatest challenges is making sure we don’t commit the same mistakes with our growing Hispanic population that we did with African-Americans 150 years ago and beyond. We’re still paying the price [for] the way this country, particularly the South, handled that issue. I think we’ve got a second chance. I feel the Lord, frankly, has given us a second chance to do better than we did before. I hope we will do that.”
Historically, governors have brought one advantage to presidential campaigns over senators. They can claim to have managed a government efficiently and openly and made it friendlier to the public. For Huckabee, it has been a mixed bag, although his own recollections are that he transformed government.
He did try hard to digitalize state government, mainly through the big automated accounting system known by its acronym, AASIS, but it proved enormously costly and troublesome in the implementation.
But once a year every motorist in the state has a moment of warmth for the governor. He converted vehicle registration for most people to a five-minute exercise at home using telephone, mail or the Internet instead of waiting in the long queues at the county revenue office with a fistful of records.
On his website, Huckabee boasts that his pay plan for state workers, the Career Ladder Incentive Program (CLIP), ended a system where employees were paid simply according to their tenure. It created an evaluation system that allowed agency heads to give bonuses based on above-average work.
Before long nearly everyone got the bonuses. “It’s like those tests where everyone is above average,” one official said last week. “They learn how to take advantage of the system.” Huckabee’s Office of Personnel Management suggested to the Legislative Council last month that CLIP be scrapped and something better found.
Huckabee proposed a wholesale reorganization of state government similar to the reorganization by Gov. Bumpers in 1971, but the legislature rejected it. It did adopt some consolidation, notably of the departments of health and human services. Although the incentive was to bring some order to the Department of Health, which became a shambles under the earnest but fumbling direction of the Dr. Boozman, the merger brought about some small savings.
The Department of Human Services was beset by one scandal after another, particularly in the administration of services for neglected and wayward children, but that was not exclusive to the Huckabee administration. It has always been the most unmanageable of bureaucracies. Huckabee tried contracting the troublesome services to private business, but privatization proved ineffectual and even deadly.
What will be most nettlesome for the governor are not ideology or his statecraft but the things that troubled his administration persistently: his liberal clemency policies, his relentless search for personal rewards, the crafty fund-raising schemes and the secrecy and aversion to the Freedom of Information Act. Anything in the repositories of government that might prove embarrassing he would corral as “working papers of the governor” and keep from public inspection.
The Arkansas Times and its editor were the governor’s chief gadflies and the frequent objects of his retaliation, but he did not escape the attention of the mainstream media.
Owing perhaps to his pastoral commitment to redemption, Huckabee granted clemency, both pardons and commutations, more often than his immediate predecessors, and widespread criticism when the beneficiaries of his grace turned bad did not deter him.
If Willie Horton submarined Gov. Michael Dukakis’ campaign for president in 1988, what will Huckabee’s efforts to free Wayne Dumond, the rapist and murderer, do for his campaign? While Huckabee often acted out of compassion, maybe even in the Dumond case, other commutations and pardons seemed to be the products of influence and connections.
He was not a lock-‘em-up-at-all-costs advocate. He said during his first term that the state needed to radically change its sentencing laws so that drug users and many non-violent offenders were not sent to prison for long terms but were channeled into less costly and more productive alternatives. As with so many other issues, he never vigorously pursued it.
Huckabee’s presidential candidacy is often dismissed on the premise that he has shown no capacity to raise the kind of money that is needed to wage a national campaign. It was the early secret to Bill Clinton’s success.
That is ironic because Huckabee, from his first race, for the United States Senate in 1992, until his final leave-taking from the governor’s office, has hustled money, both for political and private ends, doggedly and often craftily.
His creative fund-raising and cadging for personal rewards have taken him to the edge of the law and beyond and gotten him reprimanded and fined by a state Ethics Commission.
The commission investigated 14 formal complaints against Huckabee, two filed by Times editor Max Brantley, and ruled against him on five, for not reporting gifts of a $500 canoe, a $200 stadium blanket and cash that he or his wife took in campaigns. He paid himself $43,150 from his campaign for lieutenant governor for using his own airplane, his Senate campaign in 1992 paid his wife $14,000, and in 1994 he took $23,500 from Action America, a tax-exempt organization that he incorporated with others purportedly to coordinate his private speaking schedule. The commission fined him $250 for the stadium-blanket infraction but a judge tossed the fine on appeal.
Those were the most niggling problems. He was sued in 1999 over abuse of the state funds that operate the Governor’s Mansion. His former administrator at the mansion accused him of using the fund for personal items like biking clothes, a dog house, panty hose, barbecue, dry cleaning, boat fuel and alterations to his suits. The lawsuit was eventually settled by Huckabee’s agreeing that legal doubts existed about use of the fund and that it would be used only for expenses incurred in the operation of the mansion.
The governor and his wife commandeered State Police aircraft for personal and political trips. State pilots flew the governor or his family on scores of trips each year beginning when he was lieutenant governor, and the records never reflected the official errand the governor or his wife was on. Huckabee said it was not extraordinary because the State Police’s mission was to protect him and his family.
The first couple’s acceptance and sometimes solicitation of gifts was a continuous embarrassment although Huckabee insisted there was nothing unethical about accepting gifts. He fought a rule by the Ethics Commission to prohibit public officials from accepting gifts or outside compensation based on their status as public officials.
His annual haul reached a peak in 1999 when he reported receiving gifts valued at more than $112,000, more than half from Jennings Osborne, a Little Rock businessman and philanthropist who settled weekly pastries and flowers, $23,032 of clothing and other goods on the family. Huckabee appointed Osborne to the War Memorial Stadium Commission.
Huckabee claimed as his own home furnishings worth $70,000 that were donated to the mansion in 1998 by a Leachville businessman. When the businessman said he intended them to be permanent gifts to the official residence and not to the Huckabees personally, Huckabee said they would remain with the mansion. But a state audit of mansion furnishings recently did not find them. Mrs. Huckabee said they were there.
The couple received national attention last month when they registered with two retail stores for gifts for their new private home in North Little Rock. It might have escaped national attention except for his harsh rebuke of reporters who asked him about it. Additional reporting brought to light a gift of $6,500 worth of china and crystal to the Huckabees from tax-free donations made to the Governor’s Mansion Association, the nonprofit that has worked to make the Mansion a nicer place for the Huckabees to live. The nonprofit is controlled by friends of the Huckabees.