After the Wall Street Journal's John Fund took a few whacks at former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, I extended the governor an invitation to appear on the radio show. I think Huckabee has a prayer --and little else-- of being the GOP nominee, but when significant pundits have time to take a few shots at you, it is worth a closer look.
Huckabee fans have accused me of being anti-Mike for some time because of my view that the GOP race is a two man show between Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney My protests that I am just handicapping the race and not giving air time to the second tier GOPers have been unpersuasive to the Huckabee supporters, so I knew they'd be listening closely to my questions Wednesday to see if they contained an agenda.
I thus took Governor Huckabee's lead from the day, asking him about the rapist whose release he spoke in favor of and who, once released, went on to murder, about whom Huckabee had held a press conference yesterday. I followed with questions pivoting off his interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer the night before, and then gave him a chance to rebut some of the criticisms in the Fund column, and to discuss S-CHIP and the Bush veto.
The audience was, well, overwhelmingly underwhelmed --though some Huckabee loyalists phoned and e-mailed to accuse me of perfidy (read the interview transcript for yourself)-- the clincher for many listeners came with this exchange on smoking:
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.
This is not the answer of a candidate who believes in federalism, and if federalism isn't a sufficient response on federal anti-smoking rules, how will it help the GOP survive the push for one-size-fits-all Hillarycare?
There is no doubt that Mike Huckabee is a pro-life warrior. His record on taxes during his governorship is mixed, with many cuts and some hikes, and his biggest hike was the result of a state supreme court mandate. Huckabee's thus got a solid answer to his harshest critics in the Club for Growth.
Huckabee is clearly out of the Bush mold when it comes to illegal immigration, with a bias towards letting good folks who pose no threat to the national security stay here after the fence gets built --which is my general view as well.
But there is a real question about Huckabee's ideological commitment to the bottom-line for many conservatives: Are the states an appendage and an afterthought, or do they matter as a crucial bulwark against creeping big government impulses?
Governors, especially long-serving governors like Mike Huckabee, should be the most experienced and most forceful advocates for a robust federalism. Huckabee's willingness to cede control of the smoking issue to the feds is a very troubling indication of an indifference to a crucial constitutional principle that needs buttressing not diminishing as Campaign 2008 opens.
The governor promised a return visit, one not limited the dozen minutes I was rationed, and I look forward to it.
But for now, those suspicions about Mike Huckabee's conservative credentials seem more solid than they were even two weeks ago.