Mike Huckabee on the obligation to govern

THERE’S A PRINCIPLE that I long thought was a given in American politics. As long as it held true, it didn’t matter so much if the “wrong” candidate won an election. No matter what sort of nonsense he had spouted on the stump, this stark truth would take him in its unforgiving grip, set him down and moderate him.
    Mike Huckabee, who is seeking the Republican nomination for president, made reference to this principle when he met with our editorial board Thursday:
    “One of the tough jobs of governing is, you actually have to do it.” That may sound so obvious that it’s foolish, like “One thing about water is, it’s wet.” But it can come as a cold shock.
    Think of the congressional class of 1994. Newt Gingrich’s bomb-throwers were full of radical notions when they gained power. But once they had it, and used it, however briefly, to shut down the government, they quickly realized that was not what they were elected to do.
    Or some of them realized it. More about that in a moment. Back to Mr. Huckabee.
    Mr. Huckabee is a conservative — the old-fashioned kind that believes in traditional values, and wants strong, effective institutions in our society to support and promote those values.
    Many newfangled “conservatives” seem just as likely to want to tear down as build up.
    If Mr. Huckabee was ever that way, being the governor of Arkansas made him less so. “As a governor, I’ve seen a different level of human life, maybe, than the folks who live in the protected bubble of Washington see,” he said. And as a governor who believed he must govern, he was appalled when he saw government fail to do its job. He points to the aftermath of Katrina: “It was one of the more, to me, disgusting moments of American history…. It made my blood boil….
   Perhaps I should pause again now to remind you that Gov. Huckabee is a conservative: “I’m 100 percent pure and orthodox when it comes to the issues that matter to the evangelical or faith voter, if you will,” he says.
    “But as a governor, I spent most of my time improving education, rebuilding the highway system, reforming health care in Arkansas” — things that are not inconsistent with conservatism.
    “And for that I had the right — had earned the right, if you will — to pass some pro-life legislation,Huckabee2
and strong pro-marriage and pro-family legislation. But I didn’t spend 90 percent of my time pushing that….”
    OK, let’s review: As a conservative, he has a certain set of ideals. But he knows that being governor isn’t just about promoting an ideology, whatever it might be. Being governor, if the job is properly understood, is the most pragmatic form of life in our solar system — except for being mayor.
    People expect certain things of you, and you’ve got to do them. Successful governors realize that, whether you’re promoting ideals or paving the roads, “The wrong thing to do is to go and to try to stick your fist in the face of the Legislature that you know is not necessarily with you, and create a fight.” (Gov. Huckabee had to deal with a Democratic assembly.)
    So what’s the right way?
    “You positively share your message, you communicate it… . If you can’t do that, I don’t think you can lead. Just… quite frankly, I don’t think you have a shot at it.”
    I know someone who needs to hear that. Remember the class of ’94? The only lesson Mark Sanford learned from shutting down the federal government was that it was worth trying again. So last year, he vetoed the entire state budget when lawmakers failed to hold spending to the artificial limits he had decreed.
    Of course, they overrode him. And he knew they would. For him, it was about the gesture, not about governing. It’s about ungoverning. It’s about the agenda of the Club for Growth.
    Gov. Huckabee, being conservative fiscally as well as otherwise, has been known to turn down taxes, but that’s an area where pragmatism can outweigh ideals:
“… We had a Supreme Court case where we were forced to deal with both equity and adequacy in education,” said Mr. Huckabee. “There was no way to do that without additional revenue.”
    Still, he refused to sign the tax bill Democrats gave him.
    “I didn’t think we were getting enough reform for the amount of money. It wasn’t that I didn’t support additional revenue, because I did, so I’ll be honest about that. But… we weren’t pushing for enough efficiency out of the system.” What sort of efficiency?
    “I wanted a greater level of school consolidation in order to fund the efficiency, which was a very unpopular thing.”
    Our governor has said he’s for school district consolidation (as am I), but he’s never done anything effective to achieve it. That would require building a constructive relationship with the Legislature.
    Another time, Gov. Huckabee actually opposed a tax cut. Why? That governing thing again: “Well, I supported the elimination of the grocery tax, but not the timing, and the timing would have meant we literally would have closed nursing homes, had to slash Medicaid. I mean, it’s one thing to trim the fat off the bone, it’s another thing, you know, to start going into the bone itself.”
    That wouldn’t worry the Club for Growth, about which Gov. Huckabee says, “They hate me. I call ’em the Club for Greed. That’s part of why they don’t like me… If people don’t have the courage to run for office, they can just give money to them and they’ll do the dirty work for you.”
    “I think it’s a sleazy way to do politics.”
    The Club for Growth loves Mark Sanford.
    I don’t know what sort of president Mike Huckabee would make, but I wonder whether he’d do another stint as governor….

For video, go to http://blogs.thestate.com/bradwarthensblog/.


14 thoughts on “Mike Huckabee on the obligation to govern

  1. Thomas

    Interesting column, Brad.
    There are two types of “leaders” in this world.
    The first joins an organization and that “leader” gains fame and glory by using the organization to promote himself. When the “leader” moves on, the organization is left to pick up the pieces of a single minded “leader” that focused on the one, not the many. Personality protects this “leader” from criticism, but the groups and its mission suffer because of the narcissistic tendencies of its “leader”.
    The second is a “leader” that joins and organization and builds the organization. The organization grows and its mission, and those involved with it are made greater than it was when the leader arrived. Its mission and the people involved are in a superior condition to when the leader arrived. Often times the leader get little credit, as he built consensus and leveraged the talents of many in the group to make his goals possible.
    I think Huckabee is the latter, while unfortunately, our governor Sanford is the former. Huckabee’s problem is that the modern sound bit favors the Sanford style…it is brief and constant, and well disciplined, and well tanned. But in the end, Mark Sanford seems to live the powerful politicians’ life with all of the trappings, and the rest of us are left to repair the damage he has wrought. He benefits, and the rest of us pay.
    Columns like the one you wrote this morning illuminate. I thank you for that.

  2. Doug Ross

    Why should Sanford work with the legislators? They have not proven any capability to address to the social or economic issues that put South Carolina at the bottom of most rankings. You’ve got to earn the right to get your way by proving you know what you’re doing. You don’t compromise with an alcoholic – you wait until he cleans up his act.
    It should be the legislators who attempt to work with Sanford, not the other way around.

  3. Karen McLeod

    This “Club for Growth” sounds like its all for clubbing the poorest in our state. Don’t these people who want “School choice” (as I understand they want to receive as a voucher the money that is the cost per child for public school so that they can use the money to pay for private school)realize that taking the money out of public school system guarantees its failure. Meanwhile the poorest population can’t afford a private school even with a voucher. They have no choice at all. And since ‘private’ schools can take or refuse any child at will, they can refuse to help any who ‘can’t keep up’ or ’cause trouble.’ They won’t have to deal with children with disabilities, or those of different faith, or those with different culture. So our children grow up without ever realizing anyone is different, and without having the opportunity to develop empathy for any one who isn’t identical to themselves. I do believe it’s back to the bad old days. Isn’t that special?

  4. Doug Ross

    Hardly a representative sample, but the straw poll results from Michigan this weekend just may be a sign of the way the race is going:
    Romney 39.1%
    McCain 26.5%
    Paul 10.8%
    Rudy 10.6%
    Fred 7.1%
    Huckabee 2.5%
    Hunter 1.2%
    Brownback 0.3%
    Tancredo 0.0%
    It’s really time for Hunter, Brownback, and Tancredo to exit before they reach the laughingstock stage. Brownback can go work at Planned Parenthood trying to abuse mothers.
    As much as Republicans wish Paul would go away, it isn’t happening. The anti-war wing of the Republican Party apparently has more staying power than the war mongers can suppress.
    And Rudy had a terrible weekend. He apparently took a call from his wife (wife #3) while in the middle of his speech. The crowd was not amused at that bizarre behavior. But why should they be – he chose his third wife over his kids.
    Fred was also a non-starter. Low marks for his low key speech. Don’t think he has the fire in the belly that everyone has been waiting for.

  5. Thomas

    To rant at the general assembly is fashionable, but hardly worthy of serious thinkers.
    Our system needs leadership from the inhabitant of the governor’s mansion. But leadership necessitates sacrifice and determination, and the character to face choices that are messy, and undesirable. True leadership does not allow for one continuous ladder of rising poll numbers or the juvenile desire to triumph in every battle on ones selfish terms, and ones selfish terms alone.
    Leadership is positive momentum toward worthy goals. It is hard and lonely and uncommon. Mark Sanford cannot provide it. I can only hope that the next governor can.

  6. Joe

    Great column, Brad. I think you hit the nail on the head in terms of Huckabee’s leadership in Arkansas.
    Doug, I don’t think that poll is really all that representative. Romney did basically the same thing he did in Iowa for the Ames Straw Poll — Huckabee would have been there accept for a new federal law that went into effect on Monday that prevented him from using the planned means of transportation. If he had spoken, you’d better believe he would have done a heckuva a lot better.

  7. bud

    Someone — actually a regular here (an anonymous regular, of course) — tried to post a comment that called the U.S. commander in Iraq “General ‘Betray Us.'” He did so without irony, and he wasn’t using it as a quotation in condemning the revolting, indefensible use of that bastardization by MoveOn.org.
    It may be that MoveOn.org did not completely place itself outside the realm of acceptable public discourse this week, but there are general indications that it did just that. It has set a new standard for “beyond the pale.”
    Actually Rush Limbaugh coined the phrase “Betrayus” when refering to Vietnam veteran Chuck Hagel. Here’s the quote:
    Summary: Rush Limbaugh has called the MoveOn.org “General Petraeus or General Betray Us?” advertisement “contemptible” and “indecent,” but months earlier, on his radio show, he told his audience that he had a new name for Senator Chuck Hagel: “Senator Betrayus.” Though Limbaugh has taken exception to accusations that he has attacked the patriotism of his political opponents, the “Senator Betrayus” remark is one of several instances in which Limbaugh has done so.
    -Media Matters
    The false indignation by the right, and the contemptible support (of the occupation) from ‘self-described’ “non-partisans” like Brad shows just how biased the media has become in this country. With barely 20% of the public supporting the occupation of Iraq it makes you wonder what the democrats are afraid of. It’s time to fight back.
    By the way, did the editorial board of the State actually ask any issue questions of Governor Huckabee? I’m sure he must have some thoughts about Iraq, health care and energy.

  8. weldon VII

    One president from Arkansas amongst the last two is one more than the United States needed for all of eternity.
    I don’t think South Carolina needs a governor from Arkansas, either, any more than it needs a newspaper that never misses an opportunity to throw a punch at Mark Sanford, no matter how measly the excuse.
    Oh, lookie, a former governor of Arkansas is here. Let’s interview him in just the right way to whack Sanford with another 2×4.
    You’d think The State was McCarthy trying to root out another communist.
    And, oh, Thomas, by the way, if the legislature is chock full of small-timers who think they’ve hit the big time, money-grubbing men so full of themselves they can’t see the common good for the dollar signs dancing before their eyes, leadership from the governor’s mansion won’t make much difference.
    A veto is one thing. An override is something else again.

  9. Karen McLeod

    I’m sure he did, Bud, but we can hash those to death at another time, and probably will. I certainly have no use for the Rush Limbaugh style of debate, and I doubt Brad does either (how ’bout it, Brad?) I just hope we can keep all that trash from either side pretty much off of here. While, I’m not pro-Huckabee, he sounds like he might be better than some of the other choices on that ticket.

  10. Brad Warthen

    Yes, bud, we talked about all those things. And we didn’t have to ask about the domestic issues — health care and education were things he brought up himself. I didn’t hear anything that was particularly interesting.

    Likewise with the governing stuff. It’s something HE kept touching on, not something we brought up. (Except for the Club for Growth, which came out of a question from the reporter in the room, Aaron Sheinin. All he asked was "Who’d you make so angry at the Club for Growth," and Huckabee ran with it.) And yes, I was powerfully struck by the degree to which his approach contrasted with our present governor, which is why I wrote the column. Duh.

    At the time, I made a joke about it, which you can listen to here. But then I got to thinking about how MANY things he had said that spoke to the obligation to govern, and the degree to which that’s missing here, and it turned into the column you see.

    I did have to steer him toward the war. Nothing he said on that front was earth-shattering.

    bud, I don’t know and don’t care what Rush Limbaugh said about a member of Congress. If you’re listening to Rush, that’s your fault, not mine. I’m rolling my eyes here at the standard partisan "argument" you offer, which goes like this: "Oh yeah, well how about what somebody on this OTHER side said, huh? How about THAT?" I don’t care about either side; both are worthless to me. What I do care about is the honor of a military officer, which is something I consider to be above all that political tit-for-tat stuff.

    As for what Karen says about Huckabee — I’m struck by the quality of some of the lesser candidates on both sides of the Dem-Rep divide: Biden, Brownback, Huckabee, Richardson (another governor). Maybe they have the luxury of making sense because they are less caught up in the scandal or accusation of the day than the "front-runners." I don’t know. But I do see a lot of bench-strength there.

  11. bud

    Brad you completely miss my point about Rush. I never, ever, ever, ever listen to Rush. So don’t go making assumptions. It makes you look unprofessional. I only know what he said because I stumbled onto it while reading a somewhat obscure liberal website. What is interesting to me is this obvious double standard in American journalism. This has become increasingly evident since the 2000 election. Al Gore was viciously attacked for petty stuff like what color his suits were. Yet George W. Bush’s DUI arrest was virtually ignored.
    The same with the whole ‘Betrayus’ brouhaha. Limbaugh’s assault on Chuck Hagel was never mentioned anywhere in the MSM, yet Moveon’s nearly identical phraseology was discussed so much that it ended up as a Senate resolution of condemnation! How does one instance get completely ignored while the other rises to the level of a senate resolution? It is crystal clear that American journalism has become very much of a right-wing spin machine. And it’s time that those of us on the pragmatic left fight back a little.
    Brad you’ve inched further and further to the right in your condmnation of left-leaning idiocy while virtually ignoring the same, or worse, from the right. I don’t expect complete balance, but from someone who takes great pride in being non-partisan at least a 70-30 split doesn’t seem too much to ask.

  12. bill

    Strong pro-marriage legislation? That’s a circuitous route around anti-civil rights legislation.A “traditional value” down here.

  13. pat

    It’s possible, if not probable, that leaders can be properly assessed before and after the fact, rather than during current tenures because of the problems that Huckabee identifies.
    Nevertheless, vision counts as much as operations in effectiveness to reduce the tolerance of the inept.
    Anyone can run and win, but whether they can do the job is an entirely different matter. Then there is the desire to find someone who does it well, without having to accept mediocrity as the standard.

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