TOP STORY >>Lawmakers are split on Huckabee's tax record
By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, suddenly a serious candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, is “the biggest RINO I know,” according to former state Rep. Randy Minton.
A RINO is a “Republican In Name Only,” says Minton, who has announced his own candidacy to succeed state Rep. Susan Schulte, a Cabot Republican retiring because of term limits.
According to the latest polls, Huckabee has pulled ahead of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney or else is in a dead heat to win the Iowa Republican caucus Jan. 3, essentially the first primary to determine candidates for the November 2008 presidential election.
Both are well ahead of former New York Mayor Rudi Giuliani and Arizona Sen. John McCain in Iowa.
Romney has outspent Huckabee 21 to 1.
Illinois Sen. Barack Obama has gained great support in recent weeks, showing a slight polling edge over New York Sen. Hillary Clinton and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina in a statistical deadheat to win Iowa’s Democratic caucus.
“I call (Huckabee) a pro-life, pro-gun liberal,” says Minton, who says he himself belongs to “the Re-publican wing of the Republican Party.”
Minton says he is philosophically aligned with the anti-tax Club for Growth, which has begun running political ads attacking Huckabee as “Tax Hike Mike.”
Minton said he supports actor and former Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee for the nomination.
While several Dem-ocratic Arkansas lawmakers say Huckabee didn’t propose a lot of taxes, neither did he work against them, veto them or even threaten to veto them.
The largest of the tax increases was $400 million, mandated by the state Supreme Court in the Lake View decision, which held that the state was responsible for making public-school facilities equal and adequate.
But Minton is not mollified.
“He supported the gas and diesel tax in 1999, when redoing the interstate highways. We could have worked the highways without a tax increase if he had committed part of the General Improvement Funds,” said Minton, who was in the Arkansas House at the time.
Minton said that during Huckabee’s 10-year term as governor, net taxes increased $505 million and state spending increased 7.4 percent, about triple the consumer-price index.
He said Huckabee added about 10,000 state jobs, even as the number of federal jobs was decreasing.
Huckabee’s policy concerning the tobacco tax was not fiscally conservative, according to Minton.
“He 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,” Minton said.
Huckabee was steadfastly against taking the sales tax off groceries, Minton said, which was a top priority of new Gov. Mike Beebe.
Not surprisingly, Democratic lawmakers, who helped pass those taxes, have a kinder assessment than Minton, saying tax increases were needed to fund adequate education and repair state roads.
Arkansans, with the grudging support of nursing home owners, approved a $5.25-per-day per bed tax on nursing-home beds because otherwise the state would not have its share of matching money to qualify for Medicare funds, according to state Sen. Bobby Glover, D-Carlisle. Glover, who owns a nursing home, voted for the measure.
Glover, with 20 years as a state representative and eight years as a state senator, had been a legislator during Huckabee’s entire 10-year tenure as governor.
Of the tax increase to fund educational adequacy after the Lake View decision, Glover said, “The truth of the matter is that he didn’t offer a lot of leadership during the time we had to come up with $400 million (because of the Lake View court decision). (The General Assembly) took responsibility for that on our own. He didn’t oppose it or veto it.”
Glover, who described himself as fiscally conservative, said he would vote for the eventual Democratic nominees, although they are likely to be liberal. “Time has come for a change,” he said.
Among Huckabee’s assets in his unlikely run for the presidency is his experience as governor of a state.
“A lot of our presidents were previously governors,” he said.
“I have a 90 percent voting record with him,” said Glover, “but I did disagree with him on his liberal policy on the clemencies he granted.
“He signed off on more clemencies than all surrounding states together,” Glover said, noting that Huckabee pardoned convicted rapist Wayne DuMond, who raped and killed a Missouri woman a short time later.
Glover and The Leader provided leadership in forcing the governor to revise his freewheeling policy of commuting sentences and granting clemencies to killers and others, particularly those undergoing jailhouse conversions to Jesus.
“As (Huckabee’s) poll numbers increase and he becomes a rival candidate, they are beginning to really look at his record,” said state Sen. John Paul Capps, D-Searcy.
“He outshines (other Republican hopefuls) with his glibness and ability to speak,” Capps said.
“He’s quick with answers and leaves a good impression. In the past, he blamed Democrats for raising taxes,” Capps said.
“We voted for them, but he proposed them,” he added.
He said as Huckabee’s record gets closer scrutiny, he’s going to lose some strength in some segments of the electorate.
State Sen. Sandra Prater, D-Jacksonville, said the governor and the legislature raised sales taxes for prisons, Medicaid and for the schools, things she believed in. State Rep. Will Bond, D-Jacksonville, who served in the legislature from 2003, said Huckabee “never embraced a fiscal policy,” that his policy was “a little up and down.”
He said the governor’s approach could be pragmatic, as evidenced by tax hikes for education.
Bond, who will vote for the Democratic nominee, said Huckabee had been faced by stagnant growth of the economy and drastic budget cuts.
“I thought he was correct in thinking he needed additional revenues.”
Until the General Assembly, under the leadership of Beebe and Glover, rolled back half of the grocery tax, Arkansas’ sales tax was among the 10 highest in the nation, at the very bottom in real estate taxes and in the middle with income taxes.
What kind of governor was Huckabee?
Bond said Huckabee didn’t have a mastery of the budget. “He’s good at communicating with people, good at setting few goals, but he didn’t get bogged down in details.
“He’s not a real policy wonk,” said Bond. He praised Huckabee for running his national campaign headquartered in Arkansas.