In the Fox Business undercard debate, Governor Bobby Jindal (R-LA) attacked the spending record of fellow Governors in the race, pointing to his own record as the only candidate to cut spending. Former Mike Huckabee (R-AR.) pointed out that, as Governor, he’d managed to work through a difficult budget crisis during the 2001-2003 recession by cutting spending 11% rather than backing massive tax increases. Jindal fired back, “during your time as Governor, spending in Arkansas went up 65 percent, number of state workers went up 20 percent, the taxes for the average citizen went up 47 percent. That’s not a record of cutting.”
In one of the few failures of the moderators in the debate, Huckabee was given no chance to respond to Jindal’s attack on his record. Later in the debate, Governor Christie did get to respond to Jindal’s attacks on Christie’s record. The question remains, can Huckabee be trusted with spending or is he merely a socially conservative spendthrift?
It has to be understood Governors aren’t kings or dukes. Their political actions are limited and constrained by political reality. Consider, a few years back, the libertarian magazine Reason interviewed a Republican Governor who saw the overall budget in his state balloon from $5.7 billion to $10.8 billion. State funding for public schools increased 105%, Junior Colleges by 323%, and grants and loans to college students were up a whopping 900%. Who was this big spender?
A guy named Ronald Reagan. In explaining why Reason would bother interviewing “a big government Republican” (to borrow a phrase from Jindal) like Reagan, writer Manuel Klauser said, “One’s administrative decisions, constrained as they are by existing laws, institutions, and politics, do not necessarily mirror one’s underlying philosophy.”
When I first heard the now well-worn attacks of Huckabee opponents on his record in 2007, I was taken aback, and this was why I initially opposed him. Only later did I realize the full context of Huckabee’s governance in Arkansas and the limits on what he achieved. As Governor, Huckabee served against the backdrop of an Arkansas Legislature that was more than eighty percent Democrat. Worse than that, any veto Huckabee issued could be overridden by a simple majority of the legislature. In effect, all Huckabee could do is issue heckler’s vetoes.
Governor Jindal has been a great conservative leader in Louisiana. However, he’s cut spending as the state’s legislature has been turning Republican, accelerated by the presence of Barack Obama in the White House. All the while, Governor Jindal’s veto requires a two thirds majority to overturn it, and he’s always had enough Republicans in the legislature to sustain his vetoes. Since 2011, he has had a Republican legislature.
Governor Huckabee was forced to work to get what he could, and he showed his great skills as a negotiator and as a leader by what he managed to achieve in a state where the odds were against him getting anything done at all. He managed to get broad-based tax relief in the form of increased standard deductions and eliminating the capital gains tax on home sales, while saving taxpayers money by modernizing and reforming government.
According to the CATO institute, Huckabee had an average annual increase in spending of less than four percent, the same as Governor Scott Walker. (R-WI.) However, per capita spending rose at a much lower rate under Huckabee than under Walker. Walker has been proclaimed a hero by fiscal conservatives and achieved his results with a Republican legislature and with the headwinds of the Tea Party filling his political sails. Given the circumstances under which Huckabee achieved better results, Huckabee’s record is strong indeed.
Governor Jindal has an undeniably strong record of cutting spending and reforming government in Louisiana. However, Governor Huckabee offers voters a record of accomplishment against nearly impossible odds that shows Huckabee has leadership abilities that would be vital in the tough environment a Republican President would face in January 2017.
Disclosure: Adam Graham has endorsed Mike Huckabee for President and is author of the ebook, Road to Victory: A Conservative’s Case for Mike Huckabee.