Former AR governor Mike Huckabee

Former Arkansas governor and author of A Simple Government explains why the best government is local and limited and addresses whether there’s another presidential run in his future.

After serving as Arkansas' lieutenant governor, Mike Huckabee became one of the state's longest-serving governors. He was also a GOP presidential candidate during the '08 primary cycle and, for a while, rumored to be on McCain's VP short list. An ordained Baptist minister, he's a staunch healthcare advocate who lost more than 110 pounds after being diagnosed with diabetes. Huckabee has written several books and hosts his own show on the Fox News Channel. He recently announced that he's seriously considering another presidential run in '12.


Tavis: Mike Huckabee is, of course, the former governor of Arkansas who mounted a bid for the White House back in 2008. He is now the host of his own weekly show on the Fox News Channel and author of the new text “A Simple Government: 12 Things We Really Need from Washington.” He joins us tonight from New York. Governor Huckabee, good to have you back on this program, sir.
Mike Huckabee: It’s always a pleasure to be with you, Tavis, thank you very much.
Tavis: I’m delighted to have you on. Let me start with the obvious. What is a “simple government,” and is there a way these days to even have simple government, given all that government has involved itself in, given the crisis that we’re enduring?
Huckabee: Well, clearly, the issues that we face in this country are very complex, but the concept of a simple government is that we need to step back and take a macro look, rather than the micro look, which we tend to do, and ask ourselves, is there a big picture principle, something that is applicable to that issue, and if so, what is it, and does that give us a beginning point to unraveling this ball of string.
I think there is a big picture to each of the big issues we face, and that’s what I try to do in the book. I tell people I wrote it – it’s so simple, Tavis, that even members of Congress can understand it. (Laughter) That’s what I wanted to accomplish with the book.
Tavis: There’s a great debate, as you well know, in this country. It happens on “Fox News” every day and all the other networks, for that matter. This debate about what the proper role of government is. Let me just start by asking – you do believe, having been a former governor, that there is a role for government to play? You’re not suggesting, like some persons are these days, that government ought to be out of our lives completely? That’s impossible, yes?
Huckabee: It is impossible. No, I tell people I’m a Republican, I’m not a Libertarian. Libertarians sometimes go to the extent of thinking that we don’t really need any government at all. I think we do, but I think, as I point out very clearly in the book, I think the best government is the most local government, and it’s limited government.
That’s what our founders had in mind. They never envisioned that we would have a federal government so large with states so small. One of the things that has become frightening, in the last year alone states now get more of their revenue from the federal government than they do from any other source.
Our founders would be aghast at the thought that states have become minimal to the dominance of the federal government, because they saw it quite opposite. Really, one of the things I try to make clear is that let’s start with the most basic unit of government, and it’s not Washington and it’s not the state capitol. The most basic unit of government is actually the family.
That’s the most fundamental way in which we are governed, and it’s the first form of government that we ever experience. We need to get that right if we’re going to get the rest of it right.
Tavis: I promise I’ll come back to the family, Governor, but you’ve raised two issues now I want to get you to unpack for me a little bit more as you see them. First of all, this notion of local government being best, state government being better than federal government. I note, and you certainly well know this, while there are a couple of them who made some news turning down some of the money, even Republican governors, given this recession, have been accepting money from Washington.
So clearly it’s one thing to say that we want smaller government. Show me a governor, Republican or Democrat, who’s turning down Washington money.
Huckabee: It’s hard to do, because in many cases Washington money is critical to being able to, let’s say, to fund a highway or to cover the costs of Medicaid. But in a perfect world, and we don’t have one, but in the perfect world what we would try to do is to return a lot of those decisions back to the local governments.
For example, yeah, we have a Medicaid program funded – which, by the way, is larger than Medicare. Many people don’t know that, but it is. It is really in many ways a great program that helps a lot of low income people afford healthcare they couldn’t otherwise. I’m not against Medicaid. It was a godsend to many people in my state.
The question is, who ought to make the important decisions of administering it, and many times governors have their hands tied. They’re unable to tailor that program to meet the needs of their citizens –
Tavis: But why –
Huckabee: – because all the mandates are created at the federal level.
Tavis: But why should governors or mayors or anybody else, for that matter, take money from Washington but then tell Washington we’re going to do it our way?
Huckabee: Well, let’s remember where that money came from in the first place. It wasn’t like Washington just created it out of a hat. They took it from the people who lived in those very states. So it’s really a matter of that’s money that started in the states, it went to Washington, Washington took a nice, big old cut out of it, and then they sent some back to the states.
So if that money stayed there in the beginning there might be an opportunity to do things even more efficiently.
Tavis: The other push I want to offer on your notion of local or state government, and you know this well, having been governor of a Southern state like Arkansas. You and I have been friends for a long time. As you know, I’m an African American and I’ve got a whole different view on local government and on state government. You know where I’m going with this.
This whole era of states’ rights, here we are, people celebrating – respectfully, you and others celebrating Ronald Reagan’s centennial. To my mind, people are making him a demigod, making him messiah-like, and the truth of the matter is Ronald Reagan himself started his campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney were murdered.
He built his campaign on day one on the notion of states’ rights. States’ rights may mean one thing to you. They mean something different to a whole lot of other folks. So this notion that states know best and always do best doesn’t always resonate with me and others in this country.
Huckabee: Well, Tavis, I certainly understand that in the era of Bull Connor states’ rights – or Lester Maddox, for example – states’ rights were used as something they were never intended to be. They were used as a way to circumvent the higher law. Let me go – when I say “higher law,” I’m not just talking about federal law; I’m talking about the natural law.
There is a law that is even higher than the laws that men create. Martin Luther King talked about that in the “Letters from the Birmingham Jail,” when he said that there are some laws that supersede any law that man can do. When people violate those laws, then it is incumbent upon the citizens to unshackle themselves from them.
So what I would say is that if we go back to James Madison’s understanding of limited government, as he defined it in the Federalist Papers, talking about the Tenth Amendment, it never was that states could get away with bludgeoning people and fire-hosing them in the streets – God forbid. That’s the polar opposite.
It was that the federal government had some limited functions for which it was supposed to be responsible – securing borders, protecting commerce. But the day-to-day minutia would be managed at the local level.
Part of the reason that we ended up with a whole lot of federal government is because of the states’ failure to understand their responsibility to protect people under the Constitution.
Now, let me just quickly go to this point, Tavis. I think one of the big mistakes in the sanctity of life debate, something I’m very passionate about, is that we’ve tried to make that geographical. We’ve said that well, what we need to do is overturn Roe vs. Wade. All in the world that would do is to turn the issue of sanctity of life over to each individual state.
I think that this is a great example where the same principle applies – something that is morally right is not geographical. The issue of slavery was not geographical. We could never justify that some person could own another human being, and that had to be fought and we battled that issue in this country. We decided that no, slavery is wrong, and it’s not just wrong in Michigan, it’s wrong in Mississippi as well.
I think that sometimes, we need to apply that basic principle, and that goes back to what I said about the natural law, higher than all other law, that really is a common sense perspective. That’s really the essence of even what I try to say in the book “A Simple Government.” It really does get simple when we take it to that level.
Tavis: I want to get back to the book in just a second, but since you went there, let me follow you in, since it’s all in the news. We know that your Republican brethren and sistren, for that matter, over the last couple of days have taken a stab at PBS, public television. They’ve also taken a stab at Planned Parenthood, and since you raised that particular issue of this right to life debate, are Republicans right to cut funding for Planned Parenthood?
Huckabee: I think they are, because Planned Parenthood has really missed its mission. Its mission is not helping women to have health; it’s essentially to push abortion. Pro-choice is one thing – that means you really give equal weight to all the choices. Planned Parenthood does not give equal weight to all choices. They are essentially an abortion provider.
For those of us whose conscience says that it’s wrong to take the life of a human being for the purposes of either economic security or for the purposes of personal convenience, then it’s an affront. It’s because it is as if we have said it is okay for a person to own another person. In this case, for a biological mother to literally own her child to the point of life and death.
I find that offensive, and I certainly don’t want my tax dollars paying for the destruction of a completely innocent human life.
Tavis: You mentioned earlier in this conversation that the number one on your list of 12 things that we need from Washington is a return to family values. You and I both believe in families. I always believe in family first, and you and I both believe in values.
I think where people start to split in this country, when you put those two things together, family values, because family values mean one thing to the Huckabee household, they mean something else to the Smiley household, and families are not nuclear in the way that they were, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
So how does a country return to this notion of family values when families and values are more different now than they ever were?
Huckabee: Well, I think how we would probably agree – at least I think so, Tavis – is that we would agree that there is a value in a family. There is a value in a child being raised in an environment where he has both a mother and a father, because that gives him both of the parental roles, the examples, the models, which is the ideal.
I understand we don’t live in an ideal world. I’m the first to concede. My wife was raised by a single mom who raised five kids. They had a tough time coming up. It was not easy. I was raised by a more traditional mother and father. We barely made a living. My father worked two jobs and my mother worked, and we barely paid the rent on the little rent house we lived in when I was a kid, but we at least had the model that many families don’t have.
But here’s what we know. Studies have clearly indicated that poverty in this country is largely the result of the brokenness of the family. Two-thirds of the children in America who are in poverty wouldn’t be in poverty if their mother was married to the father of those kids.
There is currently in America, Tavis, a $300 billion a year dad deficit. That’s the economic reality that we have from dads who disappear from responsibility for their children, leaving it to a single mom to struggle, and maybe with government assistance, to try to help those kids.
Now, I’m not for taking programs like WIC and food stamps away, because God knows that’s the only way that some kids either eat or have any kind of medicine. So I am very sympathetic to the fact that we have a problem. We have to address it.
But the ideal way to address it would be that those fathers would be present in their children’s lives and provide some kind of sustenance and security for them, rather than saying, “Hey, I’m out of here. I’m just walking away.” That’s a $300 billion a year decision that a lot of dads have made in this country.
Tavis: Well, I’m not walking away, but my time is just about up. Let me squeeze in two other questions right quick, if I can. Number one, without coloring it too much, because the story keeps changing every day, but clearly, folk around the world are craving democracy, they’re craving a different way of life. Your top line on what we are witnessing around the world as we speak.
Huckabee: Well, I certainly recognize that a lot of people are going to get what they want, which is being unshackled from totalitarian governments in the Middle East. I just hope they end up wanting what they get, because what I fear is that in some cases the most organized entity within these countries is a radical form of jihadism, a radical form of Islam, and that radicalization could lead to something far worse than what they’ve currently been under.
Tavis: Last question here – I’m sure your answer will be much longer than my three-word question – are you running?
Huckabee: (Laughs) I knew you were going to ask me that, Tavis. You had to. (Laughter) You just had to do it.
Tavis: Yeah, I had to. Yeah, I had to.
Huckabee: The honest answer is I’m very much considering it. I read these things every day that says, “Huckabee is not running.” Well, they may know something I don’t know, because I’ve not made that decision. I’ve not ruled it out. I’m very much considering doing this all over again, but I’m going to do it on my own timetable. I’m not going to let myself get prodded by the press schedule.
One thing I’m looking for is this book is, in essence, my message. This is what I stand for, what I believe, and how I think we could address many of the issues of the country.
If people read this book and say, “That guy’s got some great ideas,” that certainly is going to be an encouragement. If they read it and say, “Oh, that guy has nothing to offer,” well, then maybe that’s an answer, too.
So we’ll see how people respond. At least they’ll know what I stand for, who I am. I’m pretty plain-spoken. I don’t mince a lot of words and I don’t give it a lot of political correctness couching. I just pretty well tell it like I see it, and I hope people will respond to that.
Tavis: What I assume, if and when you make the decision to run, you’ll be back on this program so we can talk about it, right?
Huckabee: Absolutely, because seriously, one of the things I always love is visiting with you, because you’re one of the most fair-minded and engaging people. I’m not saying that just to butter you up, although I’m certainly hoping I’m buttering you up, but I truly enjoy being with you every time I get the chance to do it.
Tavis: I’m always honored to have you on. His name, of course, Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas, now a host of his own show on the Fox News Channel, but for tonight’s purposes, more importantly, the author of a new book called “A Simple Government: 12 Things We Really Need from Washington and a Trillion That We Don’t.” Governor, good to have you on. All the best to you.
Huckabee: Thank you very much, Tavis.
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Last modified: April 26, 2011 at 12:29 pm