At last night’s CNN/YouTube Republican Debate, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee finally came into his own on the national stage. He looked relaxed, in command, and spoke well and forcefully on his issues.
This was a far cry from Huckabee’s first debate where he was seen as an asterisk in the polls and a non-entity on stage. He looked a like deer caught in Romney’s headlights, so lost and forlorn that he appeared to be leaning on Tommy Thompson’s lectern for support.
But last night, the candidate fairly oozed confidence. He was unctuous to the point of oiliness, having developed a rhythm and cadence in his speaking style that demonstrated an attractive bleeding heart compassion with the earnestness of an Eagle Scout combined with the passion of a preacher.
Flash polls afterwards in Iowa and New Hampshire confirmed that Huckabee won in both states handily. The latest Rasmussen Iowa Poll has him surging ahead of Mitt Romney into first place while the latest Florida numbers have him second behind Giuliani. This indicates that not only has the media sat up and begun to notice Huckabee, but the GOP conservatives, casting desperately about for an alternative to Romney/Giuliani may have found their champion after all.
But Mike Huckabee is not a conservative – at least not any kind of conservative that I would recognize as such. His tenure as Arkansas governor was marked by a corn pone populism – part Huey Long and part Jimmy Carter along with a massive increase in the tax burden on the individual taxpayer in his state as well as a sharp rise in spending.
Huckabee channeled the ghost of Huey Long in his funding of state road improvements – largely through a hefty gas tax increase and a controversial bond issue. He also put a $5.25 premium on nursing home patients and raised the sales tax in the state. The Club for Growth detailed his “conservative” tax policy and ideas:
* Immediately upon taking office, Governor Huckabee signed a sales tax hike in 1996 to fund the Games and Fishing Commission and the Department of Parks and Tourism (Cato Policy Analysis No. 315, 09/03/98).
- He supported an internet sales tax in 2001 (Americans for Tax Reform 01/07/07).
- He publicly opposed the repeal of a sales tax on groceries and medicine in 2002 (Arkansas News Bureau 08/30/02).
- He signed bills raising taxes on gasoline (1999), cigarettes (2003) (Americans for Tax Reform 01/07/07), and a $5.25 per day bed-tax on private nursing home patients in 2001 (Arkansas New Bureau 03/01/01).
- He proposed another sales take hike in 2002 to fund education improvements (Arkansas News Bureau 12/05/02).
- He opposed a congressional measure to ban internet taxes in 2003 (Arkansas News Bureau 11/21/03).
- In 2004, he allowed a 17% sales tax increase to become law (The Gurdon Times 03/02/04).
With conservatives like this, who needs Democrats?
In fact, Huckabee actually joined the Democratic chorus against Bush’s tax cuts, saying (he now says he supports the cuts and making them permanent) that the cuts are geared “toward the people at the top end of the economic scale.”
With populists like this, who needs John Edwards?
But it is his record on spending that should give conservatives pause.
Under Governor Huckabee’s watch, state spending increased a whopping 65.3% from 1996 to 2004, three times the rate of inflation (Americans for Tax Reform 01/07/07). The number of state government workers rose 20% during his tenure (Arkansas Leader 04/15/06), and the state’s general obligation debt shot up by almost $1 billion, according to Americans for Tax Reform. The massive increase in government spending is due in part to the number of new programs and expansion of already existing programs initiated by Governor Huckabee, including ARKids First, a multimillion-dollar government program to provide health coverage for thousands of Arkansas’ children (Arkansas News Bureau 04/13/06).
The Club for Growth isn’t the only fiscally conservative group that has looked in askance at Huckabee’s record. The Cato Institute was also unimpressed by Huckabee’s tenure as governor. They gave him an “F” in fiscal policy for 2006.
Hucksterites will point to his $80 million tax cut package he pushed through the legislature that eliminated capital gains taxes on home sales and indexed taxes to the inflation rate.
But that’s just a drop in the bucket. While Huckabee claims to have cut taxes 90 times totaling $378 million, the state’s Department of Finance and Administration says he also raised taxes 21 times that brought in a whopping $883 million. Under his “conservative” governance, the “average Arkansanâ€™s tax burden” went “from $1,969 in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 1997, to $2,902 in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2005, including local taxes.”
A liberal couldn’t be prouder of such a record.
Huckabee has now embraced the so-called “Fair Tax” proposal that most experts see as a highly regressive tax that would hit middle income taxpayers with a monstrous increase in the cost of living. Imagine paying 30% more on the price of a new house or on medical care. Those currently paying 17% of their income to the government will find them shelling out 30% extra for every purchase they make.
I find many aspects of the Fair Tax proposal intriguing but am extremely doubtful that it could be made “revenue neutral” in that there is almost a dead certainty from everything I’ve read that there would be either massive cuts in government spending (guess where, my pro-military spending friends) and/or a larger sales tax to offset unanticipated shortfalls. I also believe that it would unfairly increase the tax burden on the lower middle class.
The Fair Taxers say they will offset this by sending a check to each taxpayer every month to even out the burden. Here’s Bruce Bartlett in the Wall Street Journal:
Since sales taxes are regressive—taking more in percentage terms from the incomes of the poor and middle class than the rich—some provision is needed to prevent a vast increase in taxation on the nonwealthy. The FairTax does this by sending monthly checks to every household based on income.
Aside from the incredible complexity and intrusiveness of tracking every American’s monthly income—and creating a de facto national welfare program—the FairTax does not include the cost of this rebate in the tax rate. As noted earlier, the FairTax is designed only to match current revenues and does not cover any increased spending that it may require. Since the rebate will cost at least $600 billion the first year, either federal discretionary spending would have to be cut by 60% or the rate would have to be five percentage points higher than advertised.
Beyond the argument of whether the Fair Tax is truly a conservative notion, there is the reason Huckabee might be supporting the idea; the fact that supporters of the Fair Tax give the Paulbots a run for their money in exhibiting passion for their cause. Huckabee is the only presidential candidate pushing the scheme and he may be riding the wave of Fair Tax supporters endorsements, especially in Iowa. They apparently made an impact for Huckabee at the Ames straw poll last summer and their support in Iowa is no doubt vital to his campaign.
Certainly no one doubts Huckabee’s conservative credentials on social issues. But when it comes to meat and potatoes fiscal issues, Huckabee is a conservative vegan, a “liberal in disguise” according to the Club for Growth.
Couple this with his total lack of military and foreign policy experience and the right might want to ask itself: “Is this the best we can do?”
Fred Thompson is head and shoulders above Mike Huckabee when it comes to having a record of votes on fiscal policy that consistently prove his conservative beliefs. He has also fleshed out his positions on a number of issues with a tax plan and social security white paper that have been praised by conservatives across the country. Get past the charm, the unctuousness, and the corn pone manner and what you have in Huckabee is a big government conservative who looks suspiciously like George Bush did in 1999.
We don’t need another George Bush. We don’t need Mike Huckabee. What we need is someone who will fight for conservative principles in government and wear out a veto pen in nixing excessive spending and any increase in taxes proposed by a Democratic Congress.
Is that man Fred Thompson? I just don’t know about Fred. But I’m sure that if the GOP goes ahead and annoints Huckabee, the conservative movement in America will be set back as our once proud heritage of fiscal responsibility and support for smaller government will be trashed by another wolf in conservative raiment.
Just got this email update from the Romney campaign (who I do not support).
It seems that Arkansas conservatives aren’t convinced of the Hucksters conservative credentials either.
Betsy Hagan, Arkansas Director Of The Eagle Forum: “He Was Pro-Life And Pro-Gun, But Otherwise A Liberal” “Nor am I alone. Betsy Hagan, Arkansas director of the conservative Eagle Forum and a key backer of his early runs for office, was once ‘his No. 1 fan.’ She was bitterly disappointed with his record. ‘He was pro-life and pro-gun, but otherwise a liberal,’ she says. ‘Just like Bill Clinton he will charm you, but don’t be surprised if he takes a completely different turn in office.’” (John Fund, “Another Man From Hope,” The Wall Street Journal, 10/26/07)
Former Republican State Rep. Randy Minton Said That Gov. Huckabee’s Record Will Turn Away Economic Conservatives. “Also that year, the state grappled with an economic downturn and a resulting budget shortfall. ‘Republicans that believe in limited government and lower taxes and fees, they’ll look at his record, and they won’t be satisfied with it,’ said former Republican state Rep. Randy Minton of Ward.” (Daniel Nasaw, “Home Turf Not Rock Solid For Huckabee,” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 10/4/07)