Leader Blues

Friday, April 14, 2006

SATURDAY EDITORIAL >>Huckabee's no liberal

For a relatively obscure Southern governor who wants the Republican nomination for president, a heated debate with a right-wing group over whether you are a liberal is not the dialogue that you want to be having with Republican voters. But there was Gov. Huckabee this week arguing with the Club for Growth and its Arkansas agent, former state Sen. Peggy Jeffries, over whether he was a big liberal.

Liberal is a dirty word in contemporary Republican politics, although the Republicans were the original liberal party from its founding until well after Lincoln’s assassination.

The most liberal governor in Arkansas history by any stretch was Winthrop Rockefeller (1967-71), a Republican, who wanted to raise taxes by 50 percent, including a 12-percent marginal income tax rate, got the first Arkansas minimum wage, cleansed the prisons, toughened business regulation and fought for racial and economic justice. But Rockefeller also disavowed the liberal label, at least publicly, and the media indulged him.

Critics began to apply the liberal label to Huckabee last week when he called the legislature into session to raise the minimum wage, outlaw smoking in business and government offices and sharply increase aid to schools.

The Club for Growth, a big-business organization that wants to free business from government restraints, privatize Social Security, curb government services for the needy and slash taxes on big business and the rich, said Huckabee’s nine years as governor greatly expanded government and taxes.

Huckabee really can’t deny that. Taxes have risen considerably, the state government payroll has swelled by a whopping 20 percent, and vast new public health services have been put in place. That is the Republican definition of liberal, although liberals would object to how he went about it.

The taxes were regressive levies on working people, not those a liberal would support.

A liberal tax program was Sid McMath’s in 1949, which sought to shift taxes to higher incomes and corporations. He failed in the conservative legislature. Huckabee’s expansions of government medical services for the poor would make any liberal heart bleed.

He also fought for wholesale school consolidation, a progressive step that only one other modern governor, the liberal McMath, had championed. And he has vastly expanded government debt to build highways and water impoundments, and tried unsuccessfully to expand it even more until the voters rebelled in December.

Huckabee a liberal? By low Southern standards, maybe. He will need to find a way to turn it to his advantage. What about “compassionate conservative”? Wait, that’s been used.

The governor claimed this week that rather than being a liberal he was the “most conservative governor in Arkansas history.”
He shouldn’t go there. He wants to be known as more right wing than old Marion Futrell, who opposed having high schools for Arkansas kids?

Or the race baiters, the Klansman Tom Terral, or the family that corrupted politics and government and held back the state for a good part of a century?

Just tell them you’re a tepid Southern liberal, governor, except when it comes to gays and abortion.