Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee says he’ll have an announcement on Fox News’ Special Report on Friday evening about whether and when he will run for president in 2016. Meanwhile, he’s taking aim at the chattering classes on both sides in Washington.
At a roundtable with reporters from several right-of-center—some establishment, some conservative—outlets in downtown D.C. on Friday, Huckabee explained his time in Arkansas politics, and his aim for pragmatic conservative governing, makes him perfectly suited to run the country in 2017 after eight years of President Barack Obama.
“Obviously, the process for many of us continues in looking at the prospects of a final decision in running for president in 2016—I’m in New Hampshire tomorrow,” Huckabee said at the roundtable at the J.W. Marriott near the White House, which was attended by Breitbart News. “A lot of things have gone very well in preparing for that inevitable decision.”
Huckabee says “coming up through the ranks of Arkansas politics was a terrific preparation not only for a campaign but also for the idea of governing in part because every race I ever ran was essentially run against the Clinton political machine.”
The Clintons—Hillary, Bill, and more—and the Democrats dominated Arkansas politics for generations before Huckabee began winning elections there. Bill Clinton was governor from early 1983 to late 1992, when he was elected to the White House.
“The extraordinary depth of his organization, his field, his control, his dominance of the state and its politics—all of those apparatuses—and running in that environment people have no idea, because they would think if you ask what’s the most Democratic, bluest state in America in the 1990s, people would tend to gravitate to thinking maybe Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine maybe California,” Huckabee said.
It was actually Arkansas, more than any other state. To quantify that, when I got elected Lieutenant Governor, I was only the fourth Republican in a hundred and fifty years to be elected to a state office. The others had lasted anywhere from two to at most four years—that was Win Rockefeller back in the 60s. After that there weren’t any Republicans. It was a real struggle to get elected to anything as a Republican with the except of the extreme northwest corner of the state where John Paul Hammerschmidt had been in Congress since the 60s when the Rockefeller election happened.
Huckabee recounted the story of how the Clinton machine physically nailed his office door shut—and removed all the furniture from it—because they didn’t want to work with Republicans.
“They were so excited to have a Republican in office that when I got to the Capitol, my door was nailed shut from the inside,” Huckabee said.
I know a lot of people think that is an exaggerated or apocryphal story—and in fact they did at the time—and John Fund who was at the Wall Street Journal at the time was flown by the Journal down to Little Rock to see if that was a true story and reported back that yes there were physical nails in the door and the door had been nailed shut by the Secretary of State from the Democrat machine and they basically said okay, you got elected but good luck having it work for you.
The door remained nailed shut for 59 days—59 days—and finally the nails came out, but all the furniture had been removed from the office and the budget zeroed. I couldn’t get letterhead printed because the state agency that was supposed to do that just kept losing the order. That was sort of my brutal welcome to the way things worked in the Arkansas political system—it was a brutal environment.
In a way that turned out to be a good thing for me because the just vicious way I was treated in those early days by that political machine resulted in a real turn and the next year when I ran for re-election, and the reason it was the next year was because it was a special election when Clinton was elected president and Jim Guy Tucker moved up to governor opening up the lieutenant governor’s slot and governors and lieutenant governors don’t run as a team in Arkansas, they run independently. So that’s why I was elected in 1993, and re-elected in 1994, by the largest margin a Republican had ever received in the state.
Huckabee went on to become governor in 1996, after Tucker—Clinton’s replacement—was “convicted of Whitewater related felonies.”
Huckabee said he inherited “the most lopsided legislature” in favor of Democrats nationwide at the time.
“The House was 89 Democrats to 11 Republicans,” he said. “The senate was 31 Democrats, four Republicans—and about half those Republicans were suspect, we weren’t really sure about them because they had been there long enough that they had become part of the good-ole-boys system. It was tough sledding and it was a very difficult environment to go into and govern.”
Huckabee said that for the first couple years he was governor, while finishing out Tucker’s term, the legislature “referred to me as the ‘accidental governor’—until I reminded them whose accident it was that made me the governor and they quit using that term.”
Huckabee ended up serving as Arkansas’ governor for a more than a decade—from July 1996 until January 2007. Now, the once-solidly Democrat state when he rose to power is a solidly Republican state. “Today the entire state is absolutely bright red,” Huckabee said. “All seven Constitutional offices are Republican. The entire congressional delegation is Republican, with super-majorities in both the House and Senate—a dramatic turn, but it wasn’t that way 25 years ago.”
Huckabee said that that challenging environment “taught me how to govern.”
“It gave me the challenge of learning how to govern in an otherwise very hostile atmosphere, and never getting less in 10 and a half years of 90 or 90 plus percent of my legislative package passed in the legislature,” he said.
When asked by Breitbart News whether Republicans on Capitol Hill–led right now by House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell—are effective enough in ensuring they get enough from negotiations with Democrats, Huckabee said they are not, and he called the current leadership team on Capitol Hill ineffective.
“My perspective is the Republicans have not been able to have strong leadership that they can rally around and they can trust,” Huckabee said.
You have a different leadership structure in the House than you do in the Senate. There is no one national leader. No one is setting the agenda, the message. One of the things that a president does, just like what a governor does, is you may not get everything you propose but you at least have something on the table and it’s the starting point. You’re the one who proposes and then the legislature disposes. But you have to have that yin and yang in order for it to work. If you don’t have anyone who has a clear vision and sets forth specific targets, then it’s going to be very difficult to be much happening and to hope for.
Back in 2008, then a complete outside, he shocked the political world by winning Iowa in the Republican primary but didn’t get much further than that. If he goes forward with a campaign again, this time he says he’s got a much better shot.
“I think things will be different for me than they were last time,” Huckabee said. “Some good, some not. The good things are that I think there will be a lot more financial support than we had in 2008. I’m a much more known quantity than I was eight years ago when I was entering into the race as a total unknown.”
“The downside is there will be a big field of very qualified and capable issue—none of them will be as qualified as me, but that’s a whole other issue that I’ll let you guys tell to your readers and listeners,” Huckabee added, joking with the reporters in the room.
During the roundtable, Huckabee also fired away New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for wanting to do entitlement reform that raises the retirement age—and at House Ways and Means Committee chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) for budgets that harm people under 55 years old and their future access to Medicare.
“I don’t know why Republicans want to insult Americans by pretending they don’t understand what their Social Security program is and what their Medicare program is,” Huckabee said when asked by a Daily Caller reporter about his thoughts on Christie’s entitlement reform push this week.
My entire life, as it is with every American, it was never an option for me to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes. That’s been taken out of my pay before I ever got the money. It wasn’t like I said, ‘you know what? I want to contribute to that fund because when I get older I want there to be a Social Security program and I want there to be a Medicare program.’ I didn’t get the option. It was taken out of my check before I ever saw the money—it’s not something I got a choice in.
But here is the caveat, we’re going to take that away from you and we’re going to set it aside and when you get to be 62 or 65—your choice—here’s the benefits and here’s what it’s going to be, and every year I get this little thing from the Social Security Administration telling me what I’m going to get from this contribution that I have made, that I paid in. Suddenly, now you’re going to tell me, ‘we screwed up. We didn’t build this thing like we should have, and so our fault but you’re going to have to suck it up and pay the penalty.’ I would say it’s not just no, it’s you-know-what no, that we’re going to rip this rug out from under people who have dutifully paid in their entire lives into a system.
I’m not being just specifically critical of Christie, but that’s not a reform. That’s not some kind of proposal that Republicans need to embrace, because what we’re really embracing at that point is we’re embracing a government that lied to its people—that took money from its people under one pretense and then took it away from them at the time they wanted to start actually getting what they paid for all these years.
When asked by another reporter if as president he would sign Ryan’s budget that curtails Medicare into law, Huckabee said that he wouldn’t.
“Not right off the bat, because I think for the same reason—you have people who are 55. I started work and starting paying in when I was 14,” Huckabee said.
For me, that’d be 51 years I was paying in and now you’re suddenly going to tell me ‘well we changed the rules for you here.’ Or let’s say I was just one year under that, but if somebody wanted to make a proposal that started with ‘you’re just now going into the workforce and we’re going to give you some options but we’re going to guarantee everybody in the system right now—if you started in the system, we’re not going to change the rules on you.’ But I think most of these proposals are proposals that sound good, but the practical nature of trying to implement them would be disastrous not only politically but I think they’d be disastrous in terms of further breaking the trust between the government and the people.