Leader Blues

Monday, September 10, 2007

EDITORIALS>>Hillary vs. Huckabee?

Fantasizing about a race for president against Sen. Hillary Clinton, Mike Huckabee said on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” that he would be the Republicans’ best candidate because his record contrasted the most sharply with hers.
Half of his equation could be right.

Our former governor might be the GOP’s best candidate against Sen. Clinton, at least among the present and forthcoming challengers, but his strength would be that he is closest to, not farthest from, Sen. Clinton on the issues and their records. Better than the others, he might carve into the middle ground of independent voters who would otherwise tilt toward the Democrat.

We noticed that he was not very specific on their contrasts. It was strange that he vaguely mentioned two comparisons: education and health care. It would be hard to separate the former Arkansas governor and the former Arkansas first lady on those issues, based on their Arkansas records. It was on education and health care that as Arkansas first lady she made a lasting imprint.

She was the author of the higher school standards that were approved in 1983 over her husband’s imprimatur, and she worked to expand children’s health-care initiatives, founding the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families. Huckabee claims education and children’s health care as his best innovations.

So what is the contrast? You will remember that ArKids First, the great expansion of government-paid health insurance for children, was Arkansas Advocates’ suggestion to the newly sworn in Gov. Huckabee in 1996. He eagerly embraced it and calls it even today his proudest achievement. Sen. Clinton’s husband, as president, brought it about on the national level a few months afterward.

We presume that Huckabee, alone among the GOP presidential candidates, favors expanding the national children’s health initiative, which Sen. Clinton and all the Democratic members of the congressional delegation favor.

As governor, Huckabee sought and won a federal waiver for a plan to have the federal government — that’s you — subsidize health insurance for poor adult workers. Other Republicans, including President Bush, are opposing that remedy as creeping socialism.

Education affords the best comparison. Huckabee likes to lump the Clintons together as a unit, which is fair. So how do they stack up? Hillary’s tough school standards in 1983 forced some gradual school consolidation as school districts failed to measure up to the standards over five years.

Huckabee demanded wholesale and immediate school consolidation and abolished more than 50 of them in one swoop. He wanted more than 100 other school districts consolidated but the legislature balked. Does he dare boast about that?
Taxes? Huckabee raised them considerably more in 10 years than Clinton did in 12. Clinton vetoed a 4-cent-a-gallon gasoline tax, and it passed over his veto.

Huckabee fathered a 4-cent increase in gasoline and diesel taxes. He claims before conservative audiences that the voters, not he, approved those taxes, but that is not true. Debt? The Clinton regime produced a small increase in general state indebtedness, to fund water projects and college construction.

Huckabee accounted for bigger increase in general state debt — the kind that taxpayers are obliged to service — than all previous Arkansas governors combined. Sen. Clinton is nailing down union endorsements in the Democratic primary. Huckabee is the only Republican candidate to seek them.

One dramatic contrast occurs to us. Gov. Clinton — we don’t know how his wife felt about it — was wary of granting pardons and commutations to convicts after his return to office in 1983.

Huckabee was unusually liberal with them, helping the famous rapist Wayne Dumond gain his freedom. Huckabee will have to decide how much attention to call to that difference. In the unlikely scenario that Huckabee and Clinton do square off in the 2008 general election, their records will be compared minutely, but Huckabee will not get to characterize or mischaracterize them with impunity.

The records will be there for all to see and voters will want to see them. We think the governor’s moderate-to-liberal record would not hurt him, but he does not want Republican voters in Iowa, South Carolina and New Hampshire to get wind of it now.