Is Huckabee a Republican But?

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My friend Gwen Freeman has a name for Republican politicians who seem to spend more time and energy promoting policies that run contrary to the party's grassroots platform, rather than initiatives that advance the platform. She calls them "Republican Buts," as in "I'm a Republican, but I believe this tax increase should be seen as an investment, not a tax increase."

I thought of this as I read Joe Carter's fisking of the Club for Growth's critique of Mike Huckabee's fiscal record as Governor of Arkansas.

Now before I go further, I want to say that I'm an admirer of Joe's work at Evangelical Outpost. He covers a broad range of subject matter and does it all very well, from his thoughtful essays on the state of evangelicalism to regular features like Yak-Shaving Razor, his roundup of useful tips and tricks.

There are also things I like about Mike Huckabee. He is without a doubt a solid social conservative. He has a great deal of warmth and charisma, and he can light up a room better than his predecessor and fellow Hope-ian, because he lacks the evasive vibe that makes Slick Willie such an apt nickname. Huckabee could be a formidable nominee for the Republican Party, and I'm certain I could support him in a general election. I'm supporting Fred Thompson, but I haven't yet ruled out voting for Huckabee, depending on who is still in the race by the time the Oklahoma primary rolls around and who stands a chance of finishing first in Oklahoma's delegates.

But as I read Mr. Carter's very forceful point-by-point defense of Huckabee's record, it seemed as if he conceded many of CfG's factual assertions, but disagreed that they reflected badly on Huckabee. (The material in bold is his quoting of the CfG report.) A few examples:

He publicly opposed the repeal of a sales tax on groceries and medicine in 2002 (Arkansas News Bureau 08/30/02).

What the CFG fails to note is that Arkansas law prohibits deficits and requires that the state budget be balanced. Because 89ยข of every general revenue tax dollar in Arkansas is spent on education, health, and human services, repealing that sales tax without instituting another tax would have required cutting needed services.

He signed bills raising taxes on gasoline (1999), cigarettes (2003) (Americans for Tax Reform 01/07/07), and a $5.25 per day bed-tax on private nursing home patients in 2001 (Arkansas New Bureau 03/01/01).

Again it should be noted that 90% of the state budget is spent on education, health, and human services. While the CFG are tax radicals that believe that such entitlements as education and highways should be done away with, most residents of Arkansas understand that taxes on gas are the way that revenue for road repair is generated....

He proposed another sales take hike in 2002 to fund education improvements (Arkansas News Bureau 12/05/02).

He wanted to raise funds to improve education? What is he, a Democrat?

In Arkansas, 49% of the tax revenue comes from Sales/Use taxes. Such increases were required to meet the legal requirement to balance the budget. Now I'm sure the CFG believes that balanced budgets are a bad idea. But that is something they should blame on the citizens of Arkansas rather than on the Governor.

To those of us who have battled Republican-sponsored tax hikes at the local level, the snark that Carter directs at Club for Growth will sound familiar. Of course, CfG doesn't want to do away with education or highways, nor do they believe that balanced budgets are a bad thing, and Carter knows that.

By using a balanced budget requirement to defend Huckabee's support for tax increases, Carter raises an uncomfortable question. How did spending in Arkansas under Huckabee get to the point that a tax increase was the only way to balance the budget?

Fiscally conservative Republicans believe in balanced budgets, but we expect Republican officials to get to a balanced budget by controlling spending, rather than balancing the budget on the backs of the taxpayers. Surely Joe Carter understands that there is no causal relationship between spending more money on education and seeing an improvement in results. Surely he understands that even within the budget of an essential state government function like education there can be fraud, waste, and abuse.

Carter says that nearly 90% of the Arkansas state budget is entitlements. Is this a fact a true fiscal conservative would shrug off? Shouldn't there be some effort to find and eliminate wasteful programs and to eliminate waste within useful programs?

Back in the '80s, Newt Gingrich had a description of Sen. Bob Dole. It captured the attitude that kept Republicans in the minority in Congress for many years, a defeatist attitude that Ronald Reagan upended. Gingrich called Bob Dole a "tax collector for the welfare state." Dole's approach put Republicans in the unpopular position of calling for tax increases to pay for government goodies that the Democrats enacted and take credit for.

A good example of the right way to do meet crucial governmental needs is former Oklahoma State Rep. Mark Liotta's successful effort to increase dramatically the amount of money available for state roads and bridges. He did it without raising taxes, but instead by reprioritizing spending to free up money that could go to roads and bridges.

Here's one more quote that really irked me:

By the end of his ten-year tenure, Governor Huckabee was responsible for a 37% higher sales tax in Arkansas, 16% higher motor fuel taxes, and 103% higher cigarette taxes according to Americans for Tax Reform (01/07/07),...

A 37% increase annualized over 10 years is close to, if not less than, the annual rate of inflation. Why does the CFG not point that out. Are they intentionally being misleading? As Chris L. points out in the comments, this is a sales tax and thus not adjusted for inflation. I apologize for that error. I thought the CFG was using the percentages to be misleading, it didn't occur to me just how misleading they were willing to be. The CFG doesn't provide the baseline tax rate so let's go with the current rate of 6%. If Huckabee increased the rate by 36%, then he raised the sales tax .0384 cents during his ten years in office. By using the percentage rather than the actual total increase, they are able to make it sound much more nefarious.

While he acknowledges his error, Carter makes the mistake of minimizing the sales tax increase. Raising the sales tax rate by 37% means that government took a 37% larger bite with every purchase. If you were spending $1000 a year on state sales tax at the beginning of Huckabee's tenure, you'd be spending $1370 per year in constant (adjusted for inflation) dollars. (In real dollars, that $1000 in annual state sales taxes in 1996 becomes $1760 in state sales taxes in 2006.)

Regarding spending, Carter defends the 65.3% increase in the cost of Arkansas government over Huckabee's decade in office as necessary to accommodate the increase in population (13.7% from 1990 to 2000). According to the BLS, the consumer price index increased by 28.4% from 1996 to 2006. If the budget had grown by the combined increase in population and inflation, the budget would have increased by only 46.0%.

Taking a bigger share of the taxpayer's money to fund government is something that a fiscal conservative would only do as a last resort, after all other options for meeting the need have been exhausted. The only defense for Huckabee's support for tax increases in Arkansas is if he can show that he was out of options. But that isn't a case that he or his apologists are making, and that lends credence to the claim of Huckabee's critics that he is not a fiscal conservative.

Carter finishes by calling the Club for Growth's white paper deceptive and the CfG unworthy of our trust. I don't think he proved his case. Instead of showing that CfG's facts were wrong, he argued that they didn't matter. What he demonstrated instead is that he and his chosen candidate don't share the belief that the right way, the fiscally conservative way, to balance a budget is to control spending, not to raise taxes to keep pace with spending increases.

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mad okie Author Profile Page said:

all we have on the republican side is Republicans but.

Thompson lobbied for an abortion rights group
McCain lax enforcement against illegal immigration
Guliani... too numerous to mention, but he admits hes not a real republican
Romney like Guliani, too many to mention, and one of his big problems is his flip flopping.

Is Huckabee perfect? nope. does he have my vote? yup!

Dan Paden said:

Nice analysis--and I think you're right: much as I respect Mr. Carter, I can't help but think that much of his response amounted to "Cut spending? Oh **** no!"

It annoys the mess out of me when I hear people talk about entitlement programs as "essential government services." Not only have generations of Americans done just find without them, they have played an active role in almost completely destroying the black family and have made considerable progress in destroying white families. They do not relieve poverty; they exacerbate it.

And I don't even want to talk about government education!

But as annoying as I find Mr. Huckabee's historical tax issues, they're not my main issue with the man, as he has come out unequivocally for the Fair Tax, and that makes him "my man" on tax issues. No, my big beef with Mr. Huckabee at this point is his reputation for being soft on illegal immigration. But I'll even put up with some of that if we can at least get a strong commitment to enforce the borders first out of him.

To Tim Morgan: Thanks for reading and for your comment, but it's off-topic. Because of what I've seen happen on other blogs, I'm going to be very careful to keep comment threads about the presidential race strictly on topic. Feel free to comment about the topic at hand, which is Mike Huckabee's fiscal record and the back and forth between Club for Growth and Joe Carter.

I appreciate your enthusiasm for your preferred candidate and will likely write about him in a future entry.

Tim Morgan said:

In a more recent "Memo to the Media", Club for Growth rips into Huckabee again by going after his "94 tax cuts" spin:

"And while we give Huckabee some credit for his modest tax cuts, his tax increases far outpaced his tax cuts, with the average tax burden increasing 47% over his tenure, as documented by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette."

Forty. Seven. Percent.

Sounds like I can't have my cake and icing, too; where is the candidate that is both socially conservative *and* fiscally conservative?

sbtulsa Author Profile Page said:

"Taking a bigger share of the taxpayer's money to fund government is something that a fiscal conservative would only do as a last resort, after all other options for meeting the need have been exhausted. The only defense for Huckabee's support for tax increases in Arkansas is if he can show that he was out of options. But that isn't a case that he or his apologists are making, and that lends credence to the claim of Huckabee's critics that he is not a fiscal conservative.". michael bates

The above leaves out one slaient point. How inadequate was the state governments spending (services) before Huckabee took office?

An example in one area. I have driven through Arkansas for 13 years on family vacations in Georgia. In the beginning the highways in that state were the worst of the trip by far. The last time we made the journey, summer 2007, they certainly better than Oklahoma and maybe the best of the trip. The point is, it could be that some of the overage between the actual spending increase and normal population and cost of living was catch up spending that previous governors failed to face.

in the end, I am willing to take a modicum of gwen's "republican buts" if we get a committed christian in the white house and someone with common sense.

XonOFF said:

I caught Mrs. Huckabee's interview this morning on FOX. Nice lady. She made the comment somewhere in there about how her husband had taken Arkansas roads from the worst in the nation to the best during his term. the time, I couldn't help but think someone over here should perhaps ask someone over there how they did that!

IAC, as it relates to the topic, it probably took some tax funds to do that, that is, if it's actually true.

I will say, however, that 1760/1000 = 76% increase. As with savings accounts, taxes shouldn't double in a decade, or even increase 76%, 65% or 46%/47% during that term.

Murphy Commissioner said:

I served on the Murphy Commission for 2 years. The Murphy Commission was a two year (1996-98) citizen initiative enabled (via proclamation) by Mike Huckabee that looked at ways to improve State Government and save money in Arkansas. Mike Huckabee followed few if any of its recommendations. The most egregious was the failure to reform the Highway Dept. and save the taxpayer some $40 million annually-enough to allieviate the need for a tax increase, which by the way, Huckabee campaigned all over the state in favor of.

The 2002 State vote to remove the sales tax on food and medicine allowed for a 7 month period to raise alternative taxes or cut spending BEFORE the tax decrease went into effect. Apparently, Huckabee had no faith in the Bush tax cuts to stimulate the economy (which of course happened and swelled the Ar. state government coffers) and would not fade the heat to follow the tax saving recommendations of the Murphy Commission. The campiagn against the 2002 measure by Huckabee and others goes down as one of the most dishonest in Arkansas history.

K-12 education in Arkansas takes 50% of the State budget and higher Education 20%. The Murphy Commission documented $millions of waste and opportunities for savings. This 70% of state budget is not "entitlements" but rather services that the people demand and pay too much for what they receive.

A brief perusal of the Murphy Commission recomendations (99% not even proposed by Huckabee) will enlighten all of those interested in whether Huckabee was a good steward of the peoples money here in Arkansas where the people have never been undertaxed but have always been overspent.

Thanks for that comment. To put your story in Tulsa terms, Huckabee sounds like our former mayor Bill LaFortune, who also convened a commission to make recommendations for improving government efficiency, but never had the gumption to follow through on them. I'd still prefer Huckabee to Hillary if it comes down to it, just as I preferred LaFortune over our left-wing mayor, Kathy Taylor, but I'd prefer someone different get the nomination.

If Huckabee gets the GOP nomination, despite his record on government spending and taxes, or if Giuliani gets the nomination, despite his views on 2nd Amendment rights, abortion, and social issues, it would send a signal to Republican governors and senators with ambition to rise higher that these issues are no longer core issues. They could safely deviate from the party's conservative principles without wrecking their prospects for higher office. While that wouldn't affect a true believer like Coburn or Inhofe, Republican officials without deeply held conservative beliefs would have less political force pulling them toward a conservative voting record.

Murphy Commissioner said:

I should have clarified that Huckabee signed a sales tax hike on fuel for highways in 1999 that did not go to a statewide vote. What did go to a vote was a pledge of this tax hike to a bond issue (this idebtedness required a statewide vote) and that is what he campaigned for. When Huckabee says 80% of the people voted for this tax hike, he's not telling the truth-they voted for the bond issue. The tax hike remained whether the bond issue passed or failed to improve roads.

The Murphy Commission Highway work group's recommended savings would have alleviated the reason for the Huckabee fuel sales tax hike, but not the vote on the bond issue.

Kevin said:

Or as Laura Ingraham would say He's a "but monkey". Or "butt monkey" if you want to be mean.

Adam C said:

Thanks for the fisking of the fisking. As an economist-at-heart and a budding political strategist, nominating Huckabee seems like a big disaster for Rs.

More than Giuliani or McCain, he would split the party. Rs who care more about fiscal conservatism and small government have felt almost entirely abandoned in the past 6-10 years. They see a R party increasingly liking to drop everything to get involved in a Schiavo incident but unwilling to do anything serious to stop the pork-barrel corruption, increased size of government, and general welfare-state mentality in Washington.

Nominating a candidate who has no small government tendencies and sees government as the solution to many big problems (health care, slimming down, etc), the Rs would solidify themselves as a social conservative party who is indifferent to small government conservatism. This is likely to relegate the party to a Southern base that is out-of-step with the rest of the country on priorities. It could totally finish off the chances of Rs to win the "swing region" of the upper midwest and decimate the party in the Northeast.

Finally, Huckabee seems the most likely R to be pinned with the term "Bush III." His animating issues are social, not fiscal. President Bush at least understood the importance of tax rate cuts, but didn't seem to care about the actual growth or scope of government. After the 1990s, it is entirely plausible that a D could claim that the Democrats have been more fiscally responsible during the entire political lifetime of anyone under 35 years old. And Ds are already winning that cohort pretty badly.

Your fisking just reminded me that Huckabee would be a disaster for Rs nationally and he should be running against Sen. Pryor (D-AR) instead. He would be a good titular head for the Religious Right after Brownback retires in 2010. He could do that from the Senate like Santorum and Brownback did, except unlike Santorum he would be in tune with his state.

Reuel said:

After all that is said above to discredit Huckabee, the fact that cannot be ignored is Huckabee won in Arkansas over all the other Rep. candidates including McCain.

They are even some who said he will win over the DEM Senate set if he chose to run (he won't).

Huckabee is a true model republican.

McCain should step aside.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on November 1, 2007 12:24 AM.

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