Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee on the campaign trail.
HH: Joined now by Governor Mike Huckabee, former Governor for more than ten years, almost eleven years of the State of Arkansas, and currently the flavor of choice among many people in the presidential campaign. Governor, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show.
MH: Hi, how are you doing, Hugh.
HH: Good, good to have you back. You are doing quite well, but as a result, you’ve got a target on your back now. Lots of people are throwing bricks at you. Just to be expected?
MH: Well, absolutely. It’s politics 101, and frankly, it’s a good sign. It’s a form of flattery when you’re under assault. You know, a good hunter never puts the beads on a dead carcass. You only aim at something that’s alive that you want to put on the wall as a trophy.
HH: Well, you’ve…you screwed up my whole method of interview today, because you gave a press conference about Wayne Dumond earlier today. And I went back and researched it, got Byron York’s article, and the way you told it to Byron, the parole board let him free, but Byron suggests that you had already announced your intention to free Dumond. Which is it?
MH: Well, here’s the deal. Governors don’t parole anybody, not in Arkansas. Governors can only commute, and the only governor that even commuted Wayne Dumond’s sentence was Governor Bill Clinton. Actually, it was acting governor Jim Guy Tucker when Bill Clinton was governor, but out of state campaigning. And Jim Guy Tucker pulled the trigger on the commutation. I considered a commutation, but decided against it, because he wouldn’t have had any supervision. He ended up getting paroled, but that was based on the commutation given some six years earlier at the time when Bill Clinton was governor. And the entire parole board, by the way, this is very important, Hugh, because a lot of people are going to say well, I pushed and persuaded the parole board. Every member of that parole board was a Jim Guy Tucker or a Bill Clinton appointee. And to think that a brand new, just barely sworn in Republican governor had that kind of influence on Democrat appointees either says one of two things. Those guys really weren’t thinking very well, or I’m one heck of a persuasive guy and ought to be president.
HH: In the York article, he says, however, that you had announced your intention to free Dumond before the parole board acted. Is that true?
MH: Several months in advance of that, I’d indicated that I might, that I did indicate I would commute his sentence. But after reviewing his case and deciding that he wouldn’t have supervision, I decided against it and denied the commutation.
HH: You also wrote him a letter, Dear Wayne letter, saying it is my desire that you be released from prison. In retrospect, was that a mistake on your part?
MH: Yes, it was. Absolutely it was, because you know, we didn’t know what he would end up doing. I mean, he had a perfectly pristine prison, he had served his time, he had made his parole, all of those things that normally would go into factoring into the decision. The parole board made it based on that record, and the recommendations from the people in the Department of Corrections. But you know, in retrospect, it was a God awful thing what he did.
HH: Now Governor, won’t the Dems just crush you with this if you’re the nominee?
MH: No, of course they won’t, because look, the reason they can’t is because it’s going to bring up the fact that it was Jim Guy Tucker who signed the paper while Bill Clinton was governor, and that’s going to bring up a whole lot more for them to explain than it will me.
HH: All right, let’s move on to the interview you did with Wolf Blitzer last night about children in the country illegally, and whether or not they should have equal status with other school kids seeking financial aid and higher ed. What is your view?
MH: First of all, let me make clear, secure the border, no sanctuary cities, and absolutely no amnesty. But when a child has been in the public schools of our state, and has done exceptionally well academically, and has academically and in every other way qualified for what we had in our state, called an academic challenge scholarship, then my proposal was that if those students were willing to apply for and become citizens, we should give them the same scholarships as anybody else, because I’d rather have them as college graduates making a lot more money and being taxpayers, than tax takers, and because I didn’t want to punish the children for the sins of the crimes of the parent. I think it’s a big difference. You certainly don’t excuse what the parents did, but you don’t punish the child because of what the parents decided to do in breaking the law.
HH: So Governor Huckabee, if you’ve got someone in the country illegally who’s 18, 19, 20, but was brought here by his or her parents when they were 13, 14, 15, should they be allowed to stay in the United States?
MH: Well, if their parents have to go back, they should go with them, unless they have become citizens themselves. I think that’s the key. The biggest mistake this country made is a government that completely dropped the ball twenty years ago by never securing our borders. And this situation is not going to get fixed. The 12 million will become 50 million in another twenty years if we don’t have a system that makes it at least as difficult to get across the border as it is for me to get on an airplane in my hometown, which currently, it’s easier to get across the international border than it is for me to get on a plane.
HH: But again, I’m focusing in on a very specific group of people, those who came here illegally as kids, but are now adults, and you know, are pretty young adults, but nevertheless, majoritarian, emancipated from their parents, 18, 19, 20, 21. Regardless of their parents’ status, they’re individual adults. Should they be allowed to stay?
MH: If they’ve now reached adult stage?
MH: I think a lot of it may depend upon are their parents staying, do they have family ties. Again, I’m not into amnesty, so there would have to be some way of dealing with this, and I think the best thing is to have them go back and start over, and start the process legally with the proper paperwork, the proper documentation.
HH: So why would you then give them financial aid if on a basis equal to a state resident, if you think they should have to go back and start over again?
MH: Well, because if they stay under the current system, where there is no federal government acting responsibly, I’d much rather them use the brainpower that they’ve clearly established by becoming superior academic students, which is the reason they would have qualified for those scholarships to go to college, to become citizens, which is part of what they would have to do. That way, they’d not only become legal, but they also are going to earn more money, become far more responsible, and again, I’d rather have them a taxpayer than a tax taker. I’d rather them pay money over the table than I would to make money under table.
HH: I’m talking with Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, former Governor Mike Huckabee. Now Governor, if the State of Arkansas is giving out these kind of scholarships, should they inquire as to the status of the students applying as to whether or not they’re here legally or illegally?
MH: Well, the bill never got past the House of Representatives, so as a result, it’s a moot question.
HH: Well, do you think, though, that the states governments ought to be actively cooperating in the identification of people who are not in the country legally, whether they’re minors or adults?
MH: Oh, well sure, absolutely. And one of the provisions in the bill that we did propose was that they would have to be in the process of becoming citizens, or they wouldn’t be able to access the scholarships.
HH: Now as you know, you got hit by John Fund this week and last, and I want to go over what the Club For Growth accuses you of, especially sales tax increases on gas, smokes, nursing homes, opposing the repeal of sales tax on food and medicine. Are you actually calling the Club For Growth now the Club For Greed?
MH: Yeah, I have, because they’ve been very reckless with the truth as it relates to a record that I have of cutting 94 taxes, including the first ever broad-based tax cut in the history of my state, balancing a budget every year, going from a zero balance to a nearly billion dollar balance that I turned over to the governor that took office this year. My fiscal record is good, and don’t take my word for it, there’s a lot of documentation on my website. Or people can contact I think very responsible fiscal conservative Republicans like Asa Hutchinson and people like John Paul Hammerschmidt, who are elected members of Congress, who watched my record as a Republican in the state, going against a strong headwind of the Clinton machine. And you know something, Hugh, there’s…people need to remember, nobody knows Hillary Clinton better than me, and nobody’s ever run against her like I have, because every time I was on the ballot in Arkansas, I ran against her political machine. And I beat it not once, twice, three times, but four times.
HH: Was there no choice but to accept the 17% sales tax increase to fix the schools?
MH: Not really. We were under a Supreme Court order. We had lost the case, we had battled it for almost twenty years going back to Bill Clinton’s early terms, and the final order came out. We lost on both equity and adequacy, which are two terms very familiar with school finance people. But at that point, it wasn’t a matter of if we were going to have more money in the schools, it was how efficient it would be. By the way, that sales tax that I’m credited with? I refused to sign it, because I said we didn’t get enough efficiency out of that tax. So I’m accused of supporting that when I in fact didn’t even sign it.
HH: But could you have vetoed it?
MH: It wouldn’t have mattered, because a 51% vote overcomes a governor’s veto in Arkansas no matter what, and the bill passed by some 70 votes.
HH: Two more quick questions, Governor. Did you, did President Bush do the right thing when he vetoed the SCHIP?
MH: Well, I understand why he did it. I think that in the long run, it’s turned out well. We’ve not gotten at least a compromise on it. The problem was the President should’ve never allowed it to get to the point where the Democrats could say that if you veto the bill, you don’t love children. There was a big gap between the $5 billion and the $35 billion that Congress wanted. And the reality was that we were going to put a lot of kids in SCHIP that shouldn’t be in SCHIP. SCHIP was not designed for kids whose parents make $83,000 dollars a year. But the President did not really do a good job of helping the American people to understand what that real issue was.
HH: If you had been the President, would you have vetoed it?
MH: I wouldn’t have let it get that far. That would have been the difference. I would have made sure that we took charge of the message better, and framed that issue better. Whoever frames the issue wins the debate, and in this case…
HH: But the Democrats in Congress sent it forward, Governor.
MH: What’s that?
HH: The Democrats in Congress have the majorities. They sent it forward. If that bill landed on your desk as president, would you veto it?
MH: But once again, Hugh, who frames the issue wins the debate. If you’re the president of the United States, you can frame the issue, because you have the bully pulpit. The one thing, the reason Bill Clinton was so effective against a Republican Congress was because there was one of him and there was 535 members of Congress. Their message is divided, the president’s isn’t. So a president has to be able to use the power of his office and to be the communicator in chief, and not just the commander in chief. It’s one of the most important single roles that a president has.
HH: Governor, I get that, but your staff is calling me and telling me to give you the hook, because they’ve got to move you on. But I think the audience has a right to a very clear answer on an easy question. If that SCHIP bill is on your desk, do you sign it or do you veto it?
MH: Hugh, it sounds like an easy question, but I’m telling you, I wouldn’t have allowed that bill to get to my desk in that form. It needed to be vetoed financially, because it was a terrible bill from the standpoint of $35 billion dollars. Politically, it was a very unfortunate thing to have to veto, because it only makes Republicans look like they don’t care about kids. That’s the mistake. The political mistake of getting there was a disaster, and the Republicans have to accept responsibility for that.
HH: And the last question is do you support a federal ban on smoking as has been alleged?
MH: No, I don’t. I support workplace clean air. But a federal ban on smoking would mean that you couldn’t smoke in your own home. I don’t care what people do in their home. But in a workplace, in our state, we passed a law which I’m very proud of, and that said that people have a right to have clean air at the workplace. I did not support a ban just in restaurants and bars because frankly, I think that the problem with that is that you’re punishing the customers. But what you have a right to do is to protect the workers in the same was you do from radon gas and a host of other carcinogens and toxic fumes, which is exactly what tobacco smoke is.
HH: Well, I understand that from the state side, but I’m talking about the federal lawmakers getting involved in this and imposing on states a uniform standard. Do you…just for the workplace. Do you support federal laws mandating standards for workplace non-smoke environments?
MH: I personally would on the workplace issue. If there are two or more people, and as long as anyone under the age of 21 worked in that place, there ought to be some protections for them.
HH: I’m getting the second call from your staff, Governor. Will I be able to get you back soon?
MH: I would love to. In fact, I heard you say you couldn’t get us. We’d love to do the show anytime you’d let me on.
HH: Have you got more time right now?
MH: What’s that?
HH: Have you got more time right now?
MH: I don’t right now, because we’re on the way to another interview. I’m in New York, and getting ready to go do the Bill O’Reilly show.
HH: Oh, well, then go. We’ll get you back this week or next. Thank you, Governor Mike Huckabee, always a pleasure.
MH: Thank you, Hugh, good to talk to you.
End of interview.