The criticisms of Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee as a spendthrift tax-raiser when governing the state of Arkansas have been met with a few "yes, buts" that have not been very persuasive.
The Club for Growth, known for its small-government, low-tax principles, has led the expose of Huckabee's fiscal apostasy, highlighting the many tax increases he helped enact during his gubernatorial tenure from 1996 to 2007. Others have followed suit as he has gained traction among the GOP candidates, especially with evangelical Christian voters. Huckabee's momentum has pushed him into the lead in the Iowa Poll and near the top in others.
The evidence for the former Baptist minister's tax raising ways is indisputable. The Arkansas Journal uncovered a video of him discussing a broad menu of levies that he would welcome to help increase revenues. The New York Times reported Sunday that while some taxes were cut during his term, "on balance, tax increases outweighed the tax cuts by some $500 million, and many of the cuts that Mr. Huckabee heralds owe little to his efforts."
Still, some have come to his defense, including the Times itself:
While taxes did rise in the 10 years that Mr. Huckabee was governor, the portrayal of him as a wild-eyed spendthrift is hardly apt. For the most part, Mr. Huckabee's tax initiatives had wide bipartisan support, with the small number of Republicans in the overwhelmingly Democratic state legislature voting for the tax increases and many maintaining that the state was better for them.
In addition, when Mr. Huckabee left office last January, he had turned a $200 million budget shortfall into an $844 million surplus....
"He got bipartisan support on all the tax increases," said State Senator Kim Hendren, a veteran Republican and member of the legislative budget committee.
If the best case you can make against charges that you are not a "wild-eyed spendthrift" is that others in your party joined in the taxation celebration, then you're in real trouble. Only the Times could swallow that logic. But still, they tried harder, citing Hendren:
"Huckabee didn't say 'I just want to raise taxes to start programs.' He has a liberal heart for young people, for the disabled and for improving Arkansas' lot in education, and he is pretty good at working across party lines."
That sounds in line with the Times' values: the willingness to abandon conservative principles, "reach across the aisle," and adopt liberal government spending practices. Didn't we hear that kind of praise about a certain Texas governor during the 2000 campaign? It took nearly eight years before the nation saw a spending veto.
Political commentator (and former Huckabee consultant) Dick Morris also came to his defense -- albeit weakly -- in a column last week, calling him a "fiscal conservative." How does Morris identify such an animal? By ignoring all of Huckabee's tax hikes and by only drawing attention to his comparatively small tax cuts. Morris also disingenuously claims that the state Supreme Court "ordered him to" raise taxes to pay for education improvements, which is not the case. The dictum required, as in most similar state court cases, that funding for poorer school districts be increased, with budget decisions left to lawmakers.
Besides Morris and the Gray Lady, Huckabee himself has defended against the Club's charges about his tax hikes by citing his ranking by Time magazine as one of America's top five governors; praise he earned from Governing magazine; that he balanced the state budget every year; that he left office with a nearly $1-billion budget surplus; and that Arkansas passed a property taxpayers' Bill of Rights. "I've got more executive management experience running a government than anybody running for president," he told Hannity & Colmes on Fox News Channel.
But plaudits from a liberal newsweekly and another "we love government" magazine are hardly good arguments that you're not a public money wastrel. As for balancing the budget, Arkansas's constitution requires it. And in the eyes of many, the fact that you helped get a $1-billion budget surplus likely means that government would do fine if it returned twice that amount to taxpayers.
There are things to like about Huckabee, but distracting from the evidence and telling half-truths about his tax and budget record are not two of them. In fact, it takes away from his other conservative policy stances.
Huckabee's not only putting lipstick on this pig; he's dressing it up in eyeliner, a fancy dress and a bouffant wig. But the "oinks" still come through loud and clear.
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