What th’ Huck?
Griffin Smith, one of Texas Monthly’s first staff writers, forwarded me this story from the American Spectator about Mike Huckabee. It’s a killer. Smith, whose signature piece was “Empires of Paper” about the big Houston law firms (November 1973), is editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The author of the piece, Quin Hillyer, is a former editorial writer at the Democrat-Gazette.
With Sen. Sam Brownback now out of the presidential race, only two
candidates in the Republican presidential field — California’s
longtime U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee — can lay claim both to a high degree of purity on the hot-button
issues for social conservatives and to a personal life that seems in
keeping with those traditional values.
But only one, Huckabee, seems to be gaining major traction… even
though the record in Arkansas suggests that he might be the wrong one
to rally around.
Ask lots of folks in Arkansas, including Republicans, and a fair number
will probably tell you that Huck is for Huck is for Huck. National
media folks like David Brooks, dealing in surface appearances only,
rave about what a nice guy Huckabee is, and a moral exemplar to boot.
If they only did a little homework, they would discover a guy with a
thin skin, a nasty vindictive streak, and a long history of imbroglios
about questionable ethics.
Once, Gov. Huckabee even had the gall to file suit against the state
ethics commission. He lost.
Fourteen times, the ethics commission — a respected body, not a
partisan witch-hunt group — investigated claims against Huckabee. Five
of those times, it officially reprimanded him. And, as only MSNBC among
the big national media has reported at any real length, there were lots
of other mini-scandals and embarrassments along the way.
He used public money for family restaurant meals, boat expenses, and
other personal uses. He tried to claim as his own some $70,000 of
furniture donated to the governor’s mansion. He repeatedly, and
obstinately, against the pleadings even from conservative columnists
and editorials, refused to divulge the names of donors to a
“charitable” organization he set up while lieutenant governor — an
outfit whose main charitable purpose seemed to be to pay Huckabee to
make speeches. Then, as a kicker, he misreported the income itself from
the suspicious “charity.”
Huckabee has been criticized, reasonably so, for misusing the state
airplane for personal reasons. And he and his wife, Janet, actually set
up a “wedding gift registry” (they had already been married for years)
to which people could donate as the Huckabees left the governorship, in
order to furnish their new $525,000 home.
According to the Arkansas News Bureau (Feb. 1, 2003), “Huckabee’s
personal lawyer, Kevin Crass of Little Rock, has said Huckabee believes
there should be no limit on gifts short of a bribe.” After all, said
Janet Huckabee, public officials like her husband should be
automatically trusted: “Until you absolutely positively know that the
man has outright lied to you, it should be enough that the man’s word
is that everything was done appropriately, legally, to the best of his
knowledge to the letter of the law.”
Of course, her reasoning refutes itself: If one is precluded from even
questioning “the man’s word,” how can one possibly find out in the
first place whether the official “has outright lied to you”?
It must be said that a fair-minded journalist ought to tread lightly in
scrutinizing a candidate’s spouse; but in Janet Huckabee’s case, she is
a politician in her own right, having run unsuccessfully for Arkansas
Secretary of State. Voters overwhelmingly rejected her, perhaps because
they remembered her propensity for other outrageous statements — such
as the time when she defended secrecy about the donors to her husband’s
“charity” by saying that a donor’s name “wouldn’t be enough. [Then]
you’d want to know who he was married to, and then his wife would be
German descent, and you’d have Mike, you’d have him responsible for
600,000 killings of Jews.”
Of course, nobody accused Huckabee of genocide. But his skin is so thin
that when various underlings in his administration, even for bureaus as
small as the state film office, crossed ethical lines (some of them,
admittedly, rather minor), the governor consistently and angrily
attacked the media for reporting the transgressions rather than
demanding that the transgressors make things right.
Finally, Gov. Huckabee had a propensity to be almost as prodigal with
pardons as was his famous predecessor by the name of Clinton. Indeed,
Hillary Clinton’s campaign team is probably licking their chops at the
prospect of Huck as the nominee, because one of his pardons, in
particular, was so outlandish as to make Willie Horton’s case in
Massachusetts seem almost child’s play by comparison. After Huckabee
helped secure the release of already-well-known rapist Wayne Dumond,
the released convict sexually assaulted and murdered a woman in
All of which leads one to ask two questions: First, how can voters
whose primary concerns are moral look beyond so many of a candidate’s
problems with ethics? And, second, if Republicans in general have
concluded, as most of them have, that repeated scandals among
Washington GOPers played a huge role in Republican defeats in 2006, how
could they possibly nominate somebody who seems to have such big
ethical blind spots?
Give this to Huckabee: The man gives a good speech. But so does Duncan
Hunter, with the biggest difference being that Hunter’s speeches appeal
more to the intellect than the heartstrings — and that Hunter can
boast 25 years of leadership for conservative causes, including on
taxing and spending issues where Huckabee is notoriously
For that matter, if the question is public ethics, all the other major
Republican candidates have rather solid records. With so little
scandalous material to look into, why hasn’t the usually
scandal-ravenous national media delved into the record of the one GOP
candidate whose ethics have been repeatedly questioned in his home
Has even the cynical big media been fooled by a Huckster?