Former Arkansas Gov. and would-be-U.S. President Mike Huckabee is no longer an unknown quantity to the nation the way he was in 2007-08, when as a candidate for the Republican nomination for president he charmed the pants off many in the national press. What a gift of gab! What an affable man of the people! He plays bass and guitar! He seems so genuine! A man of the cloth!
We in Arkansas knew better. We knew he loved loot and Velveeta cheese, got his back up easily, didn't think much of women's rights or environmentalists and denigrated homosexuals with references to "Adam and Steve."
We knew about his "Action America" fund that channeled dollars from R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. to prop him up after his failed Senate race. We knew he prevaricated. We knew about Wayne DuMond.
We knew the former Baptist preacher could be dismissive of the constitutional separation of church and state, recalling that as lieutenant governor he took advantage of Gov. Jim Guy Tucker's out-of-state trip to the doctor to declare "Christian Heritage Week" in 1994. And that he could be silly, when as governor he demanded legislators replace the words "acts of God" from an insurance bill with "natural disasters" so as not to insult the Almighty.
We called him the Huckster, the Huck-a-buck, the Rev.-Bro.-Gov.
Part of Huckabee's appeal for the uninitiated back then was that, while he talked a lot about God, he seemed comparatively moderate. He even claimed to be a personal friend of Bill Clinton's, said he could work with Democrats. He espoused a progressive bent toward foreign policy, suggesting the U.S. should put more "wing tips" on the ground than boots next time we thought about starting a war. That glibness didn't offend; it amused.
Today, he's still glib, but his message is more strident: "We will deal with jihadis just as we deal with deadly snakes" he posted on his Twitter account (a format made in Heaven for the former Baptist preacher) just the other day.
Is this a new Huckabee, or the old Huckabee unfettered, emboldened by the Tea Party, his own political instincts to stand out from the crowd and the rise of a populace that would elect an insect to office if it had an R after its name?
In 2008, Huckabee was mostly known as the former governor of Arkansas, another man from Hope, one who claimed to have grown up in a house with dirt floors. Now he's the man from Santa Rosa Beach, Fla., living in a $3 million, six-bedroom, 8,224-square-foot beach mansion. He's claimed he and his wife, Janet, always wanted to live where they could dip their toes in salt water. Water that laps the shores of a state that does not levy an income tax is especially alluring.
Once the failed presidential candidate Huckabee took a job with Fox News in 2008, he dropped the moderate mantle for the most part. Today he is as far out as he was once thought to be a middle-of-the-road populist, with a little Chuck Norris thrown in for machismo and Ted Nugent for ... well, who knows why. When Huckabee surprised with his win in Iowa in 2008, the Washington Post described him as a "Disneyland Pat Buchanan," a candidate "whose down-home folksiness makes [nomination foe Fred] Thompson look like David Niven." This year, however, after the former talk-show host said the "homosexual agenda" was out to destroy Christianity and shut every church in Christendom, even someone as right wing as the Post's George Will called Huckabee "appalling."
Huckabee really went off the rails recently when he decided to defend Josh Duggar after the news broke about Duggar's teenage fondling of his little sisters and his molestation of an older girl. Duggar acknowledged wrongdoing and resigned from the anti-gay hate group the Family Research Council. Huckabee, who once compared Arkansas Times senior editor Max Brantley to Jeffrey Dahmer, attacked the "bloodthirsty press" for revealing Duggar's history of sexual abuse, because, after all, Josh said he was sorry and look at what a good guy he's become, promoting "family values" and going after heretical queers.
Huckabee's Facebook-posted defense riled up several former supporters, their objections much like this one: "Our family met you and campaigned for you in Iowa in 2008 — we will not be supporting you in 2016 for the sole reason of your support of the Duggars. ... Shame on you, a pastor, for dragging the name of Christ through the mud by focusing on and supporting the offenders rather than the victims." And this one: "So much for God, guns, grits and gravy. Pffffft family values. Sick just sick." And this, by Caleb Rountree of Denver, formerly of North Little Rock: "Mr. Huckabee, do you remember signing a bill into law protecting child victims of sexual and physical abuse? I do. Because I was standing next to you when you signed it, as a victim of sexual and physical abuse in Arkansas. I am disgusted, hurt and personally offended by these comments. I thought you were better than this, but I was wrong."
But, had they been paying attention, would they be surprised that Huckabee was more concerned about Josh Duggar's reputation than the girls he fondled? Where were they when, in 2014, Huckabee spouted off that women who use birth control could not "control their libidos" and were so weak-minded that they could be brainwashed by Democrats into believing "they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription"?
Huckabee's insensitivity to women's issues is of long-standing: No change there.
In December 2006, as Huckabee first made real noise about a run for the Republican presidential nomination, the Times' Brantley and Ernest Dumas wrote a "primer on the Huckabee tenure," which they headlined "Ask us about our governor." It outlined how Huckabee, who came into office declaring he was going to curb Medicaid spending (dollars that were going to irresponsible women who insisted on having children without the means to pay for them), encountered child advocate Amy Rossi on his road to Damascus and expanded Medicaid services to children under ARKids First.
Huckabee once espoused the need for health insurance for all Arkansans. Now he wants to do away with the Medicaid expansion that is the Affordable Care Act.
Though he'd rather folks didn't know it, Huckabee also raised motor-fuel taxes to pay for public education and fended off a bill to cut grocery taxes because there was no corresponding tax increase to make up for lost revenues.
Huckabee has taken flak from the right for his support of tax measures. (In fact, thanks to taxes enacted under Huckabee, the state's revenues grew 75 percent in 10 years, as Brantley and Dumas reported in their primer.) These days, Huckabee paddles mightily to muddy the waters of history, claiming he was the "first governor in the history of my state to ever lower taxes, the first one in 160 years." Nonsense. Or as Dumas once wrote, "Bipolar politics has always been Huckabee's strongest suit. No one is better at saying one thing, doing the opposite and getting credit for both, of talking small government and actually promoting big government."
On some issues, Huckabee seems to have mostly stayed the course. He is still drinking the brand of "Jesus juice" that makes him sympathetic to immigrant children, a position that famously put him at odds with the ultra-right in Northwest Arkansas. He makes up for this today by attacking border security as incompetent at keeping out the bad guys and saying companies that hire undocumented immigrants should be prosecuted.
It makes one wonder. As the Wall Street Journal, which once skewered Arkansans in its editorial pages, might ask, "Who is Mike Huckabee?"
Because some of his Facebook fans seem surprised that the Huck would take up for Josh Duggar and the way his parents handled the affair, we thought we'd, once again, look back at Huckabee's 14-year career in public service in Arkansas.
Here was a man convicted of rape and allegedly involved in murder and another sexual assault. In 1996, then-Gov. Huckabee decided to commute his sentence. Maybe he was reacting to a Republican effort to cast DuMond as unfairly treated by Clinton, a relative of DuMond's victim, and Tucker, both of whom declined to commute the castrated rapist's sentence. Maybe he was fooled by DuMond's purported embrace of Christ. There was backlash from the rape victim, and Huckabee dropped the request for commutation, but still he lobbied the parole board to release him. DuMond was released in 1999, moved to Missouri, and within the year raped and killed at least one woman and maybe two. He died in prison.
Later, as a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, he said he'd fought DuMond's parole, despite the evidence — in writing — that he supported it.
Another Huckabee commutation gone wrong: Maurice Clemmons. Clemmons, sentenced to 108 years in prison for eight felonies he committed as a teenager, also played the Christian card, and though a prosecutor said Clemmons, who'd exhibited violent behavior, was extremely likely to commit more crimes, Huckabee commuted Clemmons sentence in 2000 and he was freed. He went on to rob and steal, but did not do time because the charges weren't brought in a timely manner. He left Arkansas for Oregon in 2004, where he was arrested on child sex abuse charges. He killed four police officers as they sat in a coffee shop a week after he was allowed to make bond.
In 1996, when a retarded 15-year-old child became pregnant after she was raped by her stepfather, Huckabee violated federal law and refused to allow Medicaid to pay the $430 cost of an abortion for her. She did eventually get an abortion, thanks to private funds.
In office, Huckabee was the subject of 16 complaints before the Arkansas Ethics Commission; five violations were found.
But consider the Huck on the stump:
Huckabee, whose first entry into politics was a failed run against Dale Bumpers for the Senate in 1992, paid himself from campaign funds as a media consultant to his campaign and paid his wife and babysitter from those funds as well.
(During the campaign, he accused Bumpers of being a fan of pornography by not voting to defund the National Endowment for the Arts. He also criticized Bumpers for his support of a woman's right to have an abortion, saying many abortions were done for "gender selection.")
The secretive Action America fund he created for his run for lieutenant governor paid Huckabee for the use of his own plane.
In 2008, Huckabee created Huck PAC, ostensibly to support Republican candidates. As in the past, Huck PAC has mainly benefited the Huckabees, with a payout of nearly $400,000 to family members (including daughter-in law Lauren, who also worked for his short-lived Vertical Politics Institute; niece Katherine Harris and daughter Sarah). In 2012, the fund's contributions to candidates totaled $47,000. Which leads us to ...
Where to start? Mike and Janet Huckabee, coming from the parson tradition, believed they were due the many love offerings given them by their political backers. Like the $70,000 in furnishings for the Governor's Mansion from Northeast Arkansas planter Boe Adams that they once claimed was theirs and not the Mansion's. (Their lawyer corrected them on that, so they blamed Mansion Administrator Kamala Williams for the confusion.) Governor's Office furniture from Little Rock businessman Jennings Osborne, which Huckabee took with him. Osborne regularly bought suits for the governor (he spent $23,032 on clothing and other niceties for the family in 1999); the inaugural fund bought the first lady's dresses.
After Huckabee left office, the Mansion Commission had to send someone to the couple's new home in North Little Rock to fetch a painting. Apparently, artwork was not included in the "wedding registry" that Janet Huckabee set up for the couple at Target and Dillard's to help them furnish their new 7,000-square-foot home in North Little Rock. "Have people never heard of a housewarming?" Janet Huckabee huffed.
Advised by the governor's chief of staff that the $60,000 the legislature set aside to run the Mansion was the governor's to use as he pleased, the Huckabees spent the money on personal items, including groceries, panty hose, dry cleaning for their jeans and buckets of Velveeta cheese. He settled a lawsuit arising out of the expenditures.
Huckabee, in total, accepted 314 gifts. He did not have to provide the value for 187 gifts that came in during his first three years; his later gifts were worth more than $150,000, according to an Associated Press report.
These days, Huckabee makes more than half a year's Mansion account dough with one speaking fee. No telling what his infomercials for a quack diabetes treatment have brought in.
One of Huckabee's first moves as governor was to attempt to change the curriculum of Governor's School, which conservatives had criticized for years as being too open-minded and liberal. He miscalculated the support for the school and its curriculum, and backed off.
Huckabee also backed legislation that would have moved tax dollars to private schools and removed a requirement on home schoolers that they be tested as other public school children are. When a senator amended the bill to kill the transfer of tax dollars to private schools, Huckabee lost interest in the bill.
Another one of his first steps: to paint the original quarter-sawn wood paneling in his office at the state Capitol. Georg Anderson, the designer, cited his "European bloodlines" in suggesting the change, and Huckabee went through with the alteration. He thought it would be a good idea, too, to put an escape route in the office so he could leave it unseen. That did not work out.
In 1997, Huckabee and the State Police asked the legislature for $1.4 million to buy a King Air airplane for law enforcement purposes. As it turned out, Huckabee used the plane to make appearances all over Arkansas and beyond far more than the State Police did for law enforcement.
Huckabee didn't always use the State Police plane, however. Ted Suhl, the director of the controversial Lord's Ranch behavioral care facility for teenagers, which did business with the state, and who had been named to the Child Welfare Agency Review Board by Huckabee, loaned a plane to the governor and his wife to travel to the North Carolina Republican Party convention. Last year, the Department of Human Services ended its contracts with Suhl after one of its employees was indicted for taking bribes from Suhl to steer patients to his facility.
As a new governor, Huckabee decided to usher in a new era of morality among teenagers, deciding that what Arkansas needed to do to replace teen pregnancy was not provide condoms and sex education, but promote abstinence, specifically with a program called "Sex Can Wait." Out went the high school health clinics and former Health Department Director Joycelyn Elders' efforts to make birth control available to teens. Fallout: Arkansas has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the nation, along with Mississippi, Arizona and Texas.
Just after he assumed office, then-Gov. Huckabee and aide Rex Nelson announced a trip to D.C. to try to counter the bad press Arkansas was getting from editorial supporters of Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr, who was investigating the Clintons. Four years later, he joked that when it came to politics, Arkansas was a "banana republic."
In 1992, the year he lost to Bumpers, Huckabee felt called upon to say that people suffering from AIDS — "the carriers of this plague" — should be "isolated." Fifteen years later, as a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, he said he did not see how his remark could have been interpreted as calling for a quarantine.
When Don Imus asked him in 2006 about his weight loss, the governor quipped that he'd been in a concentration camp. Ha, ha.
Mike and Janet Huckabee, deciding that their marriage in a Baptist church was sanctified enough, cashed in a fundy movement to create "Covenant Marriages" and remarried in front of thousands in Verizon Arena. It was Valentine's Day 2005; the bride wore red.
Covenant marriage, rather than being something one commits to in church, is a governmental decree: You promise the state of Arkansas that before you divorce you'll get counseling and that you won't get a divorce for certain reasons.
Before Arkansas passed its covenant marriage statute, Huckabee called other ministers to get their support. One of them, an Episcopalian, told Huckabee politely, "Governor, in the Episcopal faith, marriage is a covenant."
Covenant marriage did not catch on. The last year the state Health Department, which keeps the statistics, had a record for, 2010, showed that 149 licenses were issued.
In Fort Smith, it's the Janet Huckabee Nature Center. In Pine Bluff, it's the Gov. Mike Huckabee Delta Rivers Nature Center. In Hope, there's Huckabee Lake. At the Governor's Mansion, there's the Janet M. Huckabee Grand Hall (though it's now referred to on the Mansion webpage as simply the Grand Hall). All were named while Huckabee was still in office — which is pretty tacky.
They were not pretty, Huckabee's final days in office. The governor decided to give money appropriated for another purpose to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences for cancer research and to endow a faculty position named for Dr. Philip Kern, the doctor who guided Huckabee's weight loss program. When Alan Sugg, the president of the UA system, suggested the legislature should first approve the reappropriation, Huckabee got huffy and rescinded the directive to give the money to UAMS. He chided Suggs, writing him that his reluctance "to accept these funds due to a small number of legislative detractors makes it necessary to take this action."
Then Huckabee, using his emergency fund, famously crushed the computer hard drives in the Governor's Office — state property, not the governor's — while an office staffer looked on. It cost the state $335,000 to replace the hard drives. Incoming Gov. Mike Beebe had no emergency money for his first months in office, the last six months of the fiscal year.
It must be said that good things happened during Huckabee's tenure. ARKids First was perhaps his shining moment. He also supported an amendment to make school funding more equitable, and his backing for school consolidation gave the General Assembly the nerve to address the problem of too many little school districts with sparse academic offerings and costly administrative budgets. He traveled the Arkansas River for four days in support of a 1/8-cent tax for Game and Fish and the state's park and tourism agencies (getting the benefit of four days of television coverage in the deal). He fought a Bush administration move that would have cut Medicaid dollars for nursing home patients. Inspired by his own new health awareness (he lost 110 pounds while in office), he outlawed smoking in public workplaces (despite all his Reynolds tobacco donations and restaurateur opposition) and got schools to chuck sodas and vending machine junk food to address growing childhood obesity. He wanted children of undocumented immigrants to be eligible for scholarships to Arkansas colleges and universities.
Yet the governor who proclaimed 1997 as a year in which Arkansans would "begin in each of our own lives to purpose in our hearts that we will not harbor anger, hostility, prejudice, bigotry and racism toward any person" has since put his finger to the neoracist wind. During President Obama's first run for office, Huckabee compared the typical American boyhood of "Boy Scouts" and "Rotary Clubs" to Obama's youth in "madrassas." And the man who once played with Ted Nugent in a performance of "Cat Scratch Fever" ("I make the pussy purr with a stroke of my hand") took Obama and his wife, Michelle, to task for not protecting their daughters from Beyonce's lyrics and "choreography," and suggested Beyonce's husband, Jay Z, was a "pimp."
When Huckabee dropped out of the presidential nominee race in 2008 to become a Fox News talk-show host, his religiosity got crazier, as revealed in his statement in 2011 that "I almost wish that there would be a simultaneous telecast and all Americans would be forced, at gunpoint, to listen to every [evangelist and phony historian] David Barton message." The man who has over the years worked to supply musical instruments to school children, with his "Play It Again, Arkansas" program here and donated instruments to New York City schoolkids, could not bring himself to condemn the nation's gun laws after the slaughter of elementary school kids at Sandy Hook, Conn. Instead, he said once you've taken prayer out of schools, what do you expect? "Carnage," he said, was inevitable.
Who the heck is Mike Huckabee?
They messed with the wrong guy. One with a voice and a law degree.
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