Leader Blues

Monday, August 20, 2007

EDITORIALS>>Huck must review record

One of our encyclopedic services is political advice to Arkansas sons and daughters, an obligation that we take especially seriously when they gambol upon the national stage. On the chance that Mike Huckabee’s second-place showing in the Iowa Straw Poll last week has catapulted him into the ranks of serious candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, we offer some earnest counsel.

He needs to straighten out some untruths about his record as Arkansas governor before the press scavengers and the opposition researchers for Mitt Romney and Sam Brownback start combing the archives.

Recall what happened to Al Gore in 2000. Republican op teams, led by our own Tim Griffin, combed through stories and records looking for conflicts in Gore’s public statements and leaked them to the media. One actually was an untruth, that he had personally attended a disaster program in Texas, but the rest were distortions of what Gore had actually said.

Nevertheless, the hammering developed an image of Gore as a serial liar and exaggerator that he could not shake. We don’t want that to happen to our former governor, and the best way to avoid it is to come forward now, voluntarily, to correct his public misstatements. Many are about his record on taxing and spending in his 10 ˝ years as governor.

This one, for instance: The Iowa papers are full of claims by Huckabee that he never raised motor fuel taxes in Arkansas. “Eighty percent of the people of my state voted to do it,” he was quoted in one newspaper as saying last week. A letter to all the television station managers in Iowa made the same claim, that voters at a statewide referendum, not he, raised diesel and gasoline taxes and that defying the voters’ will would have violated his oath of office.

But that never happened. The legislature passed Huckabee’s highway program, which included hikes in gasoline and diesel taxes, and he signed it into law. Voters never got a chance to vote on those taxes. They were allowed to vote whether to apply those taxes on a pay-as-you-go program or to borrow $575 million and build roads sooner. Anyone can look up the law, the Arkansas Highway Financing Act of 1999, Act 1027, and see that the taxes were never subjected to a vote and that they were collected regardless of what happened on the bond election.

He implies that a one-eighth of 1 percent sales tax for the Game and Fish Commission and state parks was imposed by the people and that he had nothing to do with it. Anyone with a computer can check the newspaper archives in October 1996 and read about the governor’s four-day journey in his bass boat down the Arkansas River from Fort Smith to Dumas to urge voters to go vote for his conservation tax, which was imposed by a constitutional amendment. If ever a tax belonged to a single individual, it was the conservation sales tax of 1996. He touted it as one of his greatest accomplishments.

He ought to correct the record also about the governor being responsible for only a small part of the appropriation of general and special revenues. (He had nothing to do with the 65 percent increase in state spending on his watch, he said.) In truth, the governor submits a budget for every single state agency and has the veto power if the legislature raises his budgets heedlessly. He never did it. And he needs to explain that he did not force 94 tax cuts through the legislature, and that the big one that he has bragged about, the omnibus income tax law of 1997, was the proposal of his predecessor, Gov. Jim Guy Tucker, and it was the Democratic tax bill, not his. That record is nothing to be ashamed of. We commiserate with the governor’s dilemma. Iowa Republicans are supposed to be especially hostile to taxes. The real shame will be to be proved to have been lying. Already, the rich boys at the Club for Growth are pestering him about it, but there is time to come clean honorably before Mitt Romney or Sam Brownback or The New York Times begin brandishing the record. He won’t be able to live it down with a thousand homespun jokes.

While he’s at it, he might want to correct the misstatements in TV interviews about not wanting Wayne Dumond released from prison so that he could kill.

Truth and candor, he will discover, are mighty political weapons if he chooses to wield them. They would separate him from the rest of the crowd in this campaign.