A Plea from Arkansas: Christian Conservatives Need to Take a Closer Look at Mike Huckabee’s Record as Governor
by David Thompson
As a conservative, evangelical, politically-active father of four in Arkansas I believe it is imperative for like-minded voters to become more familiar with the Mike Huckabee that just completed 10 years as our governor. I realize it’s sometimes hard to know what to believe during a campaign, so I’ve tried to include links to published stories, with most coming from years past when the events noted were taking place.
For those who don’t know much about me, I attend a very conservative evangelical church in Central Arkansas that includes some other politically active members (past/present elected officials, lobbyists, candidates, etc), and our family currently homeschools our young children. Since 1996, I have been heavily involved in numerous Republican campaigns in Arkansas at all levels (even managing a few). I have also served as vice chairman of the Republican committee in Arkansas’ largest county. Yet I don’t know of a single person in these circles who is supporting Huckabee for President – although I do know many that are definitely not supporting him. Of course, this is anecdotal evidence, but consider that Huckabee just finished serving 10 years as our governor (and I am sure there are many Republicans in Arkansas who are supporting him – I just don’t know them). The truth is, most conservatives in Arkansas had written him off long before his Presidential bid.
That said, here are 7 key reasons I cannot in good conscience support Mike Huckabee as the Republican nominee for President. This is based on his record here and is not a personal attack – I cannot speak for his or anybody’s motives. This list is not the result of intense research – it’s based on what I know and have experienced first-hand as a politically-active conservative Arkansan. It’s a list I could have given you 6 months or even 2 years ago. And I am not attempting to echo or give validity to any criticism he is now receiving nationally (and I don’t think ALL of it is fair).This is the Mike Huckabee we know.
1) Governor Huckabee did lasting damage to the Republican Party and conservative movement in Arkansas.
It’s hard to go after Democrats with a conservative message when your Republican Governor is out front releasing violent criminals, providing state benefits to illegals, pushing tax increases, expanding government spending and programs, and constantly walking an ethical tight-rope (more on each of these items to follow). This tied our party’s hands – many conservatives got frustrated, apathy set in, and some quit the fight. In addition:
- Huckabee insisted on having “his people” controlling the Republican Party campaign organizations that are set up in Arkansas each election cycle. He also insisted that his guy remain as state party chairman when party leaders planned to make a change. The mismanagement and ineptness that followed was so great that the Republican Party plunged into debt and the Federal Election Commission levied the the largest fine ever against a state political party following an investigation of the 2000 and 2002 election cycles. Obviously, this set back the Republican Party of Arkansas for years.
- When Huckabee started his first full term in 1998, Arkansas had just elected a Republican Governor, Lt. Governor, U.S. Senator, and 2 Republican Congressmen. Upon his leaving office in 2007, Republicans now hold no statewide offices, have no Republicans in the U.S.Senate, and only one Republican Congressman remains.
- It was often said during Huckabee’s term that Arkansas had 3 parties: Republican Party, Democrat Party, and the Huckabee Party.
“He destroyed the conservative movement in Arkansas, and left the Republican Party in shambles.” – Phyllis Schlafly, president of the national Eagle Forum
“His support for taxes split the Republican Party, and damaged our name brand.” – Former Arkansas State Representative Randy Minton (R)
“I think if they knew [his record] it would totally de-energize them . . . his policies are just wrong.” – Former Arkansas State Senator Jim Holt’s (R) warning for conservatives around the country who think they have found their candidate in Mike Huckabee.
2) Governor Huckabee’s non-stop clemencies continually hindered the work of criminal prosecutors and miffed Republicans.The numbers are staggering – over 1,000 clemencies and commutations of criminals as governor. Most people now are familiar with his push to parole convicted rapist Wayne Dumond, who went on to rape and murder a Missouri woman less than a year after his release. But there are many more troubling facts regarding Huckabee’s pattern of releasing violent criminals. While I cannot speak for Huckabee’s motives, it seems clear that he used poor judgment and was reckless with this executive power.
- Huckabee released more criminals than the combined total of every border state to Arkansas (made up of Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana) – even though the combined population of these states is 16 times higher than Arkansas’. He also issued more than double the clemencies of his three predecessors combined.
- In many cases, Huckabee’s actions set loose savage criminals convicted of grisly murders over the passionate objections of prosecutors and victims’ families. This American Spectator story details some of these violent cases and explains the resulting difficulties they presented prosecutors working with other victims and their families.
- Huckabee and his appointees ignored the laws on the books, including the requirement to notify victims’ families and explain the reasons for those clemencies. He said to fully explain his reasoning would cost millions of dollars and “take money away from education and Medicaid and other things.”
- A 2004 investigative article by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette found that prisoners had a better chance of being granted clemency by Huckabee if they had a mutual acquaintance, labored at the governor’s mansion under a prisoner work program, or a minister intervened on their behalf. Prosecutors say Huckabee was more inclined to release or reduce the sentences of prisoners if he had direct contact with them or was lobbied by those close to him.
- He often refused to learn the facts of the cases (sometimes not even reading the murderer’s own confession), made no attempt to get the police/prosecutor’s case files, or even get input from the victims’ families before making his decision.
- The clemency granted to one multiple DUI offender was likely tied to large political contributions from the offender’s family, including a soft money political organization run by Huckabee’s people.
- Good summary article
“Last January, after Mississippi Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, a Democrat, lost his re-election bid, he issued 16 clemencies, and there was a huge outcry. That’s how many Huckabee averages per month.” – Arkansas Leader, (August 11, 2004)
“He seems to believe that granting clemency to murderers, rapists, drunk drivers and other convicted criminals is a part of the everyday affairs of the governor’s office rather than something that he should approach cautiously and selectively.” – Robert Herzfeld, Saline County Prosecuting Attorney during Huckabee’s tenure
“I know some of the people that Huckabee let loose have reoffended. Some of them we’ve caught and some of them we haven’t caught……I used to be able to tell the families of victims, in all good faith and candor, that it was a rare event when a governor commuted a sentence and let a murderer back out, or a rapist back out or a child molester back out. But I can’t do that anymore.” – Larry Jegley, longtime Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney
“I felt like Huckabee had more compassion for the murderers than he ever did for the victims.” – Elaine Colclasure, co-leader of the Central Arkansas chapter of Parents of Murdered Children.
3) Governor Huckabee’s pattern was to ignore immigration laws, often in the name of Christianity.
Huckabee opposed immigration enforcement as governor on a number of fronts. Immigration enforcement groups call Huckabee’s record on immigration “a disaster” and reference him as they guy who “scares the heck” out of them.
- In 2001, Huckabee’s human services liaison Robert Trevino pushed for legislation to provide driver’s licenses for illegals. It was understood by legislators that he acted with Huckabee’s blessing.
- In 2001, Huckabee opposed a measure to require proof of citizenship to vote.
- In 2005, Huckabee supported a bill that offered illegal immigrants in-state tuition rates and made them eligible for the same merit-based scholarships to Arkansas state colleges and universities as legal citizens. The bill would have violated federal law and was not enacted by the legislature.
- In 2005, he opposed a bill that denied some state benefits to illegals and required proof of citizenship to vote (patterned after Arizona’s Prop 200 that has been successful in curtailing illegal immigration in that state). In this story, Huckabee called the measure “un-American….inflammatory….race-baiting and demagoguery.” He added that the bill “inflames those who are racist and bigots and makes them think there’s a real problem. But there’s not.” He then singled out State Senator Jim Holt, also an openly professing Christian, saying, “I drink a different kind of Jesus juice.”
- In 2005, Huckabee criticized federal agents for a recent crackdown on illegals, saying that it wasn’t fair to the innocent family members of those targeted in the operation. (No word on whether he also opposes raids on other law-breakers who might also have innocent family members affected by the fruits of their illegal activity.)
- In 2005, Huckabee promoted an “open door” policy on immigration as he addressed the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) national convention in Little Rock. LULAC is a left-leaning group that opposes virtually all measures of immigration enforcement.
“He was an absolute disaster on immigration as governor. Every time there was any enforcement in his state, he took the side of the illegal aliens.” – Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA, a group that played a major role in rallying the phone calls that helped defeat this year’s Senate immigration bill.
“I would hope he could be trusted to secure the borders, but given his track record in Arkansas, I don’t see the conservative he has portrayed himself to be in Iowa.” – Jake Files, a former Arkansas state representative and current chairman of the Sebastian County Republican Party
4) Governor Huckabee was no friend to fiscal conservatives in Arkansas.
Huckabee’s record on taxes, government spending, and growing government programs was miserable. Basically, when the economy got tough, Huckabee expected families like mine to tighten our budgets in order to help state government meet its spending whims.
- In 2003, Huckabee called a special session of the legislature to push for a tax increase to make up for spending shortfalls. This led to his signing HB1039, an across the board income tax and tobacco tax increase. Huckabee even refused to consider a Republican proposal to cut spending and use general improvement funds (i.e., legislative pork) to make up for the budget shortfall. Ironically, the same day Huckabee was practically begging the Arkansas legislature to raise taxes (here’s the video), President Bush was also in Little Rock to push for his tax cut plan. (Note: When asked about this video recently, Huckabee gave a misleading response to Fox News, blaming his tax increase plea on a court order. This prompted State Representative Johnny Key, the current Republican Leader in the Arkansas House, to send out a letter correcting the accuracy of Huckabee’s statement.)
- If that weren’t enough, Huckabee called a 2nd special legislative session in 2003 to pass a nearly one-cent state sales tax increase. The measure also expanded the sales tax to include previously exempted services (for more information and context, see reason #6 below).
- During Huckabee’s term, Arkansas showed a net tax increase of $505 million, and the average Arkansan’s tax burden grew from $1,969 to $2,902. Governor Huckabee raised more taxes in 10 years in office than Bill Clinton did in his 12 years.
- During Huckabee’s 10 years as governor, state spending more than doubled (from $6.6 billion to $16.1 billion), higher education and public schools got big increases, as did social services. Meanwhile, the state added about 8,000 full-time workers to its payroll during that period, a 19% increase (according to the Bureau of Legislative Research).
- The conservative Cato Institute gave Huckabee an “F” for his final term as governor on its Fiscal Policy Report Card, saying, “Huckabee’s leadership has left taxpayers in Arkansas much worse off.” His grade was lower than 15 of the 21 Democrat Governors. His overall grade as governor was a D.
“The main reason for the drop was his insistence on raising taxes at almost every turn throughout his final term.” – Cato Institute explaining why Huckabee had dropped from a “D” to an “F” on their Fiscal Policy Report Card.
“[Huckabee] says he’s pro-family. If you’re raising taxes on the families of Arkansas, causing wives to go out and get jobs to make ends meet, that’s not pro-family.” – Former Arkansas State Representative Randy Minton (R)
“In the past, he blamed Democrats for raising taxes…We voted for them, but he proposed them.” – Arkansas State Senator John Paul Capps, a Democrat
5) Huckabee left a long trail of ethics questions while Governor of Arkansas
This is an area where I think Huckabee does receive some unfair criticism. Some of the ethics charges against him were frivolous and politically motivated. However, it has been concerning for some time just how much the governor accepted in gifts and how he was seemingly always pushing ethical limits.
- During his tenure, Huckabee accepted 314 gifts valued overall at more than $150,000, according to documents filed with the Arkansas’ Secretary of State office.
- The Huckabees set up wedding registries at local department stores as Mike was leaving office – even though they had been married for 30 years. State ethics laws prohibited Huckabee from receiving gifts of more than $100……but there was an exception for wedding gifts.
- Judicial Watch, a non-partisan group dedicted to fighting government corruption, listed Huckabee among their Ten Most Wanted Corrupt Politicians of 2007. Huckabee was one of only three Republican politicians to make the list.
6) Huckabee’s education record shows him to be an advocate of the “status quo”
The New Hampshire chapter of the National Education Association (NEA) has endorsed Hillary Clinton and Mike Huckabee for the upcoming Primary elections. This is the first time in memory that they have recommended a Republican (in 2004 they endorsed Howard Dean). They likely chose Huckabee because:
- Huckabee has consistently opposed virtually all proposals for education reform, including school choice vouchers.
- The former president of Eagle Forum of Arkansas said Huckabee “continued the Hillary Clinton education plan” as our governor.
- When the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that Arkansas’ public school funding was “inequitable,” Huckabee took the ruling as a mandate to raise taxes in order to once again increase school funding…which he did. (To his credit, however, he also used the opportunity to consolidate some of the school districts in the state – although rural legislators severely watered down the proposal.)
7) Huckabee has very little support for his Presidential bid here in Arkansas
For the most part those in his party who know him best are not supporting him.
- In October, a University of Arkansas poll showed that, among all Presidential candidates in both parties, only 8% of Arkansans said they were supporting Mike Huckabee.
- That same week, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported that only one-third of Republicans in the Arkansas Legislature said they were supporting their former governor’s Presidential bid.
- After this story, the Huckabee campaign published a list of supporters in his home state. The Arkansas News Bureau then reported that as some of the names on Huckabee’s Arkansas endorsement list were used without permission and had to be removed.
- This is purely anecdotal, but despite my involvement in Republican politics, I am unaware of any of my Republican friends who are supporting Huckabee. I have seen maybe 3 Huckabee for President bumper stickers – and I live in Republican west Little Rock and work 2 miles from the state capitol where Huckabee just completed over 10 years as Governor (my wife says she saw her first sticker today…..guess he’s picking up steam here!).
“…if Huckabee didn’t have things sewn up with Republicans back home, what kind of message did that send?….The truth is that Huckabee hasn’t had that much support from former and current Republican legislators.” – David Sanders, conservative columnist for Arkansas News Bureau (November 11, 2007)
I realize the Republican Presidential field does not leave true conservatives with much to get excited about. However, it is unlikely I will support Huckabee over any of the Republican frontrunners because of his liberal record, his questionable judgment, and his reckless use of power while Governor. Now is not the time for Republicans to compromise on core conservative values. More importantly, we need a leader with a history of using strong judgment as our nation continues to lead the world in the War on Terror.
Two final questions:
1) Given the many vulnerabilities in his record, what is the likelihood that Huckabee would win in a general election? Democrat National Committee officials have already been quoted as saying that they see Huckabee as “easy kill” and refer to him as “the glass jaw — and they’re just waiting to break it.” The DNC has issued over 200 attack press releases on Republican candidates – only 4 on Huckabee, the last one coming 10 months ago.
2) Does his record as governor represent someone who should be given greater power and responsibility? Is he Commander and Chief material? Leader of the free world? National Review recently expressed concern, and Huckabee raised eyebrows with recent comments critical of U.S. Foreign policy and our role in the world – he was essentially repeating the Democrat talking points!
Feel free to pass this letter on or contact me if you have any questions about anything stated here. I have tried very carefully to be fair, accurate, and to stick to facts from Huckabee’s record. But it’s certainly possible I made a mistake somewhere or worded something poorly. I would be more than happy to further dialogue on any of these issues.
Little Rock, Arkansas