I've read or I'm reading books written by the contenders for the office of President of the United States in 2008 who most intrigue me. I completed "The Audacity of Hope," the best-seller by Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, and I'm currently immersed in "From Hope to Higher Ground" by former Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas. Despite the fact these men are on opposite ends of the political spectrum, I found that they share the same spirit of hope and optimism our nation so desperately needs in these angry, divisive times. I'm going to first offer my opinion of Governor Huckabee, and my next post will offer my thoughts on Senator Obama. As I listen to and read about Republicans expressing their dissatisfaction with the current crop of GOP contenders for President, I'm reminded of the words of that wise old seer, Rafiki, from the movie, "The Lion King." When Simba couldn't see his father in the pond's reflection of him, Rafiki advised him to "Look harder." If "Rudy McRomney," as GOP candidate Gov. Jim Gilmore of Virginia so cleverly calls the first-tier contenders, don't reflect the heart and soul of the GOP for you, and the Fred Thompson bandwagon looks like it's fueled more by dissatisfaction than conviction, then I would advise you to "look harder." I did, and I found my man for 2008 - Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas. If you've followed the Republican presidential debates, I'm sure you've been impressed with his wit, eloquence and authenticity.
Before you roll your eyes at the notion of him becoming the GOP nominee, however, hear me out. Let's walk through the checklist.
Socially conservative? Check! He is an ordained Southern Baptist minister who states unequivocally, "I'm a conservative, pro-life, pro-family evangelical who believes in God."
Fiscal conservative? Check! He believes in "...lower taxes, less government, personal empowerment, personal ownership, and personal responsibility...and a government that allows the marketplace to regulate itself as much as possible to encourage and enhance free entrerprise." While Governor of Arkansas, he reduced welfare rolls by nearly half, and under his leadership the rate of economic growth in Arkansas in 2004 exceeded the national average. Over the course of his ten years as governor, he saved the taxpayers of Arkansas over $380 million through the reduction of taxes and fees. When he left office, Arkansas had over $800 million in state surplus, and he believes that surplus should be returned to the people of Arkansas.
Optimist? Check! He believes in motivating people through hope rather than fear. He says, "Despite partisan stereoypes, I'm not mad at everyone and my views are not driven by rage or even mild anger. Fact is, I'm a pretty happy guy most of the time." He believes that "Warm hearts produce better results than hot heads," and this philosophy is apparent in his positions on the issues, which are characterized by great empathy and compassion.
Executive experience? Check! There is a difference between legislating and executing, and it's instructive to note that every President elected since 1976 has either been the governor of a state (Carter, Reagan, Clinton, George W. Bush) or has had some kind of executive level experience (George H.W. Bush was Vice President for eight years). Mike Huckabee was governor of Arkansas for ten and a half years, and in 2005, Time Magazine honored him as one of the five best governors in America, describing him as "a mature, consensus-building conservative who earns praise from fellow Evangelicals and, occasionally, liberal Democrats."
A man of the people? Check! Mike Huckabee was raised in a modest home in Hope, Arkansas, and he worked to pay his own way through college and graduate school because his parents couldn't afford it. As a young newlywed, he was going to school and holding down two jobs and his wife, Janet, dropped out of school to take a job and help pay the bills. It was during that time that Janet was diagnosed with cancer, which not only meant lost income because she couldn't work, but medical expenses which were, in his words, "staggering for a young couple in college whose income totaled $75 a week." They struggled mightily, but Janet recovered and despite the intense radiation therapy she endured, she was able to have children; they have two sons and a daughter. As a pastor, he was "dealing every day with real people who where genuinely affected by policies created by government." His duties providing counsel and comfort to hurting people, along with his own personal experiences, led him to "to better understand that good government is not about policies, but about the people whose lives are going to be touched."
His policies as governor of Arkansas reflect his compassion for people. His ARKidsFirst program offers health insurance to more than 70,000 Arkansas children who otherwise would not have coverage. He dedicated the state's proceeds from the tobacco industry lawsuit settlement to health education, antismoking campaigns and Medicaid expansion. He endorsed ARHealthNet, a program which gives small business owners and their employees better access to health care coverage. In addition to stressing measurement, accountability and results in the public schools, he believes that music and the arts are just as essential to a child's education as the basics, and he was awarded the Music for Life Award by the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) for his commitment to music education. He expanded charter schools in Arkansas to serve as laboratories for educational innovation and provide better learning options for parents and children.
You can add to these impressive credentials his inspiring personal story of how he took control of his personal health after being diagnosed with Type II diabetes. He changed his diet and lifestyle dramatically, losing 110 pounds and, barely two years after his diagnosis, completing four marathons. He's written a book about his experience, "Quit Digging Your Grave With A Knife and Fork," a 12-step approach to lifestyle change for better health. He even plays bass guitar in a rock band -- there must be something about Arkansas governors from Hope and their music, I guess!
Mike Huckabee is everything the GOP is looking for in a President, and he's authentic. What he lacks is a robust campaign organization and the cash. It's a shame that qualified candidates like Governor Huckabee are measured and reported on based primarily on how much money they are able to raise rather than their substance as candidates. He's not in the top tier today, but I ask you to take some time to get to know Mike Huckabee. His optimism will remind you of a great Republican president of the recent past, and his compassionate conservatism comes alive through his actions. His willingness to tackle the core issues that affect American families, such as health care and education, and offer innovative solutions that deliver results will rescue the Republican Party from its current funk and give us a new direction for the future. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the new man from Hope.