Election 2008: November 2007 Archives

Todd Seavey sends a couple of witty darts in the direction of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's popularity bubble and in the process introduces a useful phrase into the political lexicon (which I've highlighted in bold):

A vote for Huckabee might as well be -- well, a vote for some other Arkansas governor. Just enough centrism to govern, not enough principle to make a difference. Huckabee is the sort of politician that makes one fear that mass democracy, after enough decades of refinement, will almost always produce de facto committees in the form of individuals....

Regarding Huckabee's philosophy of "verticalism":

But Huckabee does not -- because he cannot -- explain exactly what it is that he wants us to move vertically toward. "Upward to freedom" makes sense. "Upward to totalitarianism" even makes sense, bad idea though it may be. "Upward to a grab bag of focus-grouped ideas, some left, some right, none daring, that might play well in a Midwestern state like Iowa and get me on the ticket later as a southerner" is hollow. Don't fall for this Rorschach approach to politics, America. We already have one Clinton in the race.

Meanwhile, Greg Kaza, the head of the Arkansas Policy Foundation, that state's free market think-tank, writes at National Review Online that Arkansas has just had its biggest tax cut in history: a 50% cut in sales taxes on groceries. That cut didn't come under former Governors Bill Clinton or Mike Huckabee. How, Kaza asks, "did the tax survive two decades that included Clinton's "Bridge to the 21st Century" and Huckabee-style 'compassionate conservatism'?"

The long answer, however, was a failure to cross the fiscal T's, as in taxes, and dot the visionary I's, as in imagination. This is where freshman Democratic governor Mike Beebe comes in.

Beebe, raised by his working mother, a waitress, had the imagination to make a phase-out of the grocery tax his main issue in the 2006 election. And this year he turned that idea into reality. The governor skillfully navigated the grocery-tax cut around legislative critics who preferred an earned-income tax credit that excluded the middle class. He would also base the tax cut on a budget surplus of nearly $1 billion that Mike Huckabee did not use to reduce taxes.

The story also notes that it was a Democrat in the Arkansas legislature that led the charge to eliminate the state grocery sales tax.

It's not good for the GOP if a Democratic governor is better at cutting taxes than a Republican governor.

There's been a lot of arguing back and forth about former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's record on taxes and spending. The Club for Growth argues that Huckabee is not a fiscal conservative. Huckabee's allies accuse the Club for Growth of being deliberately misleading about Huckabee's record, although when they get down to specifics, what they are really arguing is that the facts that have been documented by the Club for Growth aren't important.

One of the factual points on which Huckabee has directly contradicted the Club for Growth is on the matter of the fuel tax increase he signed into law in 1999. Here's what the Club for Growth said in their analysis of Huckabee's fiscal record:

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).

In response, Huckabee claims that while the fuel taxes went up, the increase was approved by 80% of the voters in a referendum. Club for Growth has a new video showing Huckabee saying something of that sort on five different occasions in recent interviews and debates.

The end of the video has the following response:

On April 1, 1999, Huckabee signed the gas and fuel tax hikes into law. The tax hikes began taking effect that day. -- Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 04/25/99

On June 15, 1999, 80% of Arkansas voters approved a bond issue, which DID NOT include the gas tax increases. -- Arkansas Democrat- Gazette, 06/29/99

I don't have access to that newspaper's archives, but I was able to find records of the 1999 legislative session on the Arkansas Legislature's website. This link lists all the acts of 1999 -- bills that were enacted into law -- with links to PDFs of the legislation. This link provides summaries of all the acts of the 1999 session.

The two relevant acts were Act 1027 and Act 1028. Here are the summaries from that Legislature's website:


Act 1027 (HB1500) - The act authorizes the Arkansas State Highway Commission to issue revenue bonds not to exceed $575,000,000 for the purpose of constructing and renovating roads and highways. The act authorizes that the repayment of the bonds shall be guaranteed by the full faith and credit of the state and prescribes the terms and conditions of the issuance of such bonds. The act describes the sources of repayment of the bonds and provides for a statewide election on the question of issuing such bonds.


Act 1028 (HB1548) - The act levies an additional excise tax on motor fuel in the amount of 1¢ per gallon per year for 3 years. The act also levies an additional excise tax on distillate special fuel in the amount of 2¢ per gallon on the effective date of the act and provides that the tax on distillate special fuel will increase to 4¢ per gallon effective one year after the effective date of the act. The act also provides that the additional taxes collected pursuant to the act shall be special revenues and shall be distributed as set forth in the Arkansas Highway Revenue Distribution Law. The act also eliminates the current limitation on the transfer of funds to the State Aid Road Fund.

These two bills were passed by the Arkansas Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Huckabee. Note that the only reference to an election is in Act 1027, which is about the issuance of revenue bonds. There is no election mentioned in Act 1028; unlike Oklahoma, politicians in Arkansas can enact a tax without a vote of the people.

Just to be sure, let's drill down into the actual text of the bills:

Here's Act 1027, the Arkansas Highway Financing Act of 1999. The bill calls for the issuance of bonds, to be guaranteed by the full faith and credit of the state, to be repaid by anticipated federal highway funds and the increased excise tax on "distillate special fuels" (e.g. diesel):

Revenues derived from the increase in taxes levied on distillate special fuels pursuant to Section 2 of the "Arkansas Distillate Special Fuel Excise Tax Act of 1999" and the "Motor Fuel Excise Tax Act of 1999" and transferred to the State Highway and Transportation Department Fund pursuant to Arkansas Code 27-70-207(c) in accordance with Section 4(a) of the "Arkansas Distillate Special Fuel Excise Tax Act of 1999" and the "Motor Fuel Excise Tax Act of 1999".

Section 5 of the Act calls for an election:

No bonds shall be issued under this Act unless the issuance of bonds has been approved by a majority of the qualified electors of the state voting on the question at a state-wide election called by proclamation of the Governor.

So Act 1027 called for an election to ask the voters of Arkansas whether or not to issue revenue bonds for highway projects.

Now let's look at Act 1028, which is given two names in Section 1:

This Act may be referred to and cited as the "Arkansas Distillate Special Fuel Excise Tax Act of 1999" and the "Motor Fuel Excise Tax Act of 1999".

Here are the key paragraphs, sections 2(a) and 3(a):

On and after the effective date of this act, in addition to the taxes levied on distillate special fuels in this section and Arkansas Code 26-56-502 and Arkansas Code 26-56-601, there is hereby levied an excise tax of two cents (2¢) per gallon upon all distillate special fuels subject to the taxes levied in those code sections. Effective one (1) year after the effective date of this act, the additional tax levied by this subsection shall be increased by an additional two cents (2¢) per gallon....

On and after July 1, 1999, in addition to the taxes levied on motor fuel in 26-55-205, 26-55-1002 and 26-55-1201, there is hereby levied an additional excise tax of one cent (1¢) per gallon upon all motor fuels subject to the taxes levied in those code sections. On and after July 1, 2000, the additional tax levied by this subsection shall be increased to two cents (2¢) per gallon. On and after July 1, 2001, the additional tax levied by this subsection shall be increased to three cents (3¢) per gallon.

Note that the tax isn't contingent on voter approval. The act, approved by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Mike Huckabee, directly increases the taxes at the pump on diesel and gasoline. Here is the only mention of voter approval in Act 1028. It's at the beginning of section 4:

(a) The additional taxes collected pursuant to this act shall be considered special revenues and shall be distributed as set forth in the Arkansas Highway Revenue Distribution Law, beginning at Arkansas Code § 27-70-201.

(b) However, if the bond issue provided in the Arkansas Highway Financing Act of 1999 is approved by the voters, the distillate special fuel taxes collected pursuant to Section 2 of this act shall be distributed as provided in the Arkansas Highway Financing Act of 1999.

The only thing voter approval changed is how the additional tax revenues would be allocated. The tax increase would go into effect either way.

Bottom line: Club for Growth is telling the truth about Huckabee's gasoline and diesel tax hike. Huckabee's recent statements about the tax increase are at least misleading -- when he mentions the tax increase and then says that Arkansas voters approved "a road program," giving the impression that the tax increase and the "road program" (meaning the bond issue) were one and the same thing -- and at worst a flat-out lie -- when he says that Arkansas voters approved the tax increase.

BONUS VIDEO: Here's Huckabee, at the opening of the 2003 special legislative session, telling legislators he'd be fine with any tax increase they'd choose to pass:

There's more interesting stuff about Huckabee's fiscal record and lack of support from Arkansas Republican legislators on the Arkansas Journal blog.

AND MORE: The latest counteroffensive from Huckabee's blogpals is on Evangelical Outpost, where Joe Carter accuses Club for Growth of hypocrisy for not including a 2005 earmark that benefitted a company owned by Club for Growth.net donor and chairman Jackson Stephens Jr. in one of the CfG's congressional RePORK Cards. I replied in the comments:

Joe, the Club for Growth issued its first RePORK card in 2006, based on 19 anti-pork amendments offered by Rep. Jeff Flake; the earmark to which you refer was in 2005. And even if they'd had a RePORK card in 2005, the earmark wouldn't have been on the RePORK card unless someone like Jeff Flake or Tom Coburn had proposed an amendment to bar funding for it, unlikely considering that it was for a "Surgical Wound Disinfection and Biological Agents Decontamination Project" for the DOD.

WRDA veto overridden

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The U. S. Senate voted 79-14 this morning to override President Bush's veto of the Water Resources Development Act of 2007 (HR 1495). The bill becomes law; the House voted Tuesday to override, 361-54.

The fourteen brave souls who voted against the override comprise 12 Republicans and 2 Democrats, including our own Tom Coburn: Allard (R-CO), Brownback (R-KS), Burr (R-NC), Coburn (R-OK), DeMint (R-SC), Ensign (R-NV), Enzi (R-WY), Feingold (D-WI), Gregg (R-NH), Kyl (R-AZ), McCaskill (D-MO), McConnell (R-KY), Sessions (R-AL), Sununu (R-NH).

Of the seven Senators not voting, five are presidential candidates: Democrats Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Chris Dodd, and Joe Biden, and Republican John McCain. (Republicans John Cornyn of Texas and Jim Bunning of Kentucky were the other two.)

The bill includes a $50 million authorization for Arkansas River corridor projects related to the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan:


(a) In General- The Secretary is authorized to participate in the ecosystem restoration, recreation, and flood damage reduction components of the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan dated October 2005. The Secretary shall coordinate with appropriate representatives in the vicinity of Tulsa, Oklahoma, including representatives of Tulsa County and surrounding communities and the Indian Nations Council of Governments.

(b) Authorization of Appropriations- There is authorized to be appropriated $50,000,000 to carry out this section.

Club for Growth wanted to see the veto sustained and will make this vote part of its congressional scorecard. The bill came out of conference committee 60% bigger than either of the original House or Senate versions, and the Heritage Foundation called the bill "a prime example of legislation run amok."

RELATED: Andrew Roth of the Club for Growth, writing at National Review Online, debunks the top lame congressional excuses for pork barrel spending:

  • "I know my district better than some unelected bureaucrat!"
  • "Earmarks don't increase spending."
  • "It's for the children!"
  • "I'm fighting to get our fair share!"

And they're off!

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Jay Cost, whose Horse Race Blog provided detailed day-to-day analysis of the 2004 presidential election at the level where it mattered -- on a state-by-state basis -- is back and blogging at Real Clear Politics. (Actually, he's been back for a while, but I just now noticed.)

Cost's writing was a refreshing surprise, emerging as it did in the homestretch, the last month the '04 race. This time he began a year and a half before election day.

As I skim through the archives of the new blog, I'm remembering how much I enjoyed Cost's thinking and the clear way he expresses it. Here are a few bits by way of introduction.

About his approach and style:

This blog will probably be unlike most other blogs you read. I do not really think of myself as a blogger so much as a prolific essayist. As the election draws nearer, I think this space will start to resemble a blog more, as there will be more news to analyze. But, for the time being, I do not intend for this place to be my running tally of who is "up" and who is "down." It is just too soon for that.

Instead, I will try to make this site a forum for questions and answers about our electoral politics. I am at my best when I am trying to answer an exact question. So, what you will read here will be my answers to questions that I have asked myself. When formulating these questions and answers, I prize theoretical clarity and analytical precision. That is, I like to develop clearly-stated, intuitively sensible theories about what is going on, and then analyze those theories as precisely as I can. It is a goal of mine that this space be full of clear and precise thoughts.

About himself:

I don't understand politics as a pitched battle between the forces of Good and the forces of Evil. I understand it as the competition between divergent interests in the venue that Americans have set up to manage such conflict, namely our Madisonian system....

I like math, and I think it is useful for studying politics. Yes - math and politics in the same sentence - you read that right!...

I am not really interested in the "should" of American politics; I am interested in the "is."... This is not to say that my own preferences for the "should" won't creep into my analysis of the "is," but I am going to keep them as separate as possible.

Because I will not be able to keep the "is" and the "should" entirely separate, you should know a little about my worldview. I'll put it in two different ways, the hoity-toity philosophical and the meat-and-potatoes. Hoity-toity: my political philosophy lies at the nexus of Karl Popper, St. Bonaventure, and Edmund Burke....

By and large, I do not get frothy-mouthed over the "should."... It is hard to be frothy-mouthed about what should happen when you learn the dirty little secret of the Madisonian system: it is set up specifically to prevent much from really changing. So, why get all frothy-mouthed over my idea of the way things should be when our forefathers set it up so that my idea of "should" will almost always lose?

His rules for e-mail are worthy of widespread adoption. The last one sums them all up.

Emails should be polite and respectful. They should implicitly convey your understanding that a fellow human being you (probably) have never met shall be reading what you have written, and that - as you have never met him - you have no business being anything but nice.

On the flaw in asking for first preferences only in primary polls:

Primary voting is staggered. Some of us vote after others. This is important because candidates drop out. In reality, Iowans are the only people who make a selection for the presidential nomination the way respondents answer polls. The rest of us have to choose from a smaller field. So, this format of polling does not capture the reality of the primary election....

So, the poll I would like to see is a query of primary voters that asks them to rank the candidates from worst to first, and let us view the raw data. Maybe then we could get a sense of what will happen.

On the way conventional wisdom develops:

Nevertheless, this is how the Washington chattering classes work. They put together disparate pieces of data into an over-simple narrative (the only kind that works in sound bite format) - and they repeat it, and they repeat it, and they repeat it. Eventually, it takes upon a life of its own, as the conclusion of the chatterers becomes a fact that all and sundry have "observed."

Finally, a couple of quotes from a brilliant recent essay, The Awful Task of Governance:

There is a strange tension in the American political party. It strives to achieve a governing majority. That is its goal. But a governing majority is nothing but a hassle. It cannot accomplish much more than half measures, watered-down versions of what it promised, or symbolic gestures that change nothing at all. Eventually, its supporters catch on to this impotence, and they come to loathe it, decrying its members as dime-a-dozen politicians who squandered the public trust. So, I can't help but ask: why bother?

Of course, like a salmon swimming upstream, the party does bother. It works tirelessly to acquire 218 Reps or 51 Senators, even though it knows (or it should know) what awaits it upon "victory." And what awaits the party is one of the inevitable features of our system: it thwarts, stymies, and frustrates governing majorities. It was designed to do exactly that....

The function of the political party is to concentrate power just enough so that the government can actually work.... What was needed was some kind of centripetal force in our system to collect at least some of the power that the Constitution disperses. Without such a force, our system would do little more than enforce the status quo. Thus, the party caucus was born. This remains the job of the political party to this day: to concentrate power by coordinating the actions of governmental agents with similar views.

I've added the Horse Race blog to my Newsgator-powered headlines page, which shows the latest 100 posts from about 160 blogs and opinion feeds, so you and I will know when a new Jay Cost essay has been posted.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Election 2008 category from November 2007.

Election 2008: September 2007 is the previous archive.

Election 2008: December 2007 is the next archive.

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