On January 14, Frank Pastore wrote an open letter Mike Huckabee Titled: “Dear Huck: You’ve Won Our Hearts, Now Win Our Minds Too.” Below are Pastore’s Original Questions with the Response from the Huckabee campaign.
Frank Pastore: 1. You’re accused of advancing “liberal economic policies” because you raised taxes in Arkansas. If elected, what do you want to increase social spending on and why? Most conservatives don’t define “limited government” in terms of “no government.” We want government to help those who truly need it. We want to help the single mom down the street that’s struggling. Unlike Democrats, we don’t measure the success of social programs by how much we spend on them, but by whether the people we claim to be helping actually get helped.
We want “limited government” in opposition to “unlimited government.” We believe we’re already spending too much on too many programs, and we’d rather spend more wisely what we’re already spending than simply default to spending more. We don’t want “bigger government,” we want “smarter government.” We understand a “let’s cut spending” message can’t win a general election, but a “responsible spending” message can. How do you suggest we do this?
Governor Mike Huckabee: First, I am a fiscal conservative. I have signed Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform “no tax” pledge. When I was Governor of Arkansas, I cut taxes 94 times, including the largest broad-based tax cut in the history of my state. I doubled the standard deduction and the child care credit, eliminated the marriage penalty, indexed tax brackets to prevent bracket creep, reduced the capital gains tax for both businesses and individuals, and eliminated the capital gains tax on the sale of a home. I reduced welfare rolls by almost 50 percent.
When I left office, the tax rates remained exactly the same as when I began almost 11 years earlier: the tax rate was 1 percent for the poorest taxpayers and 7 percent for the richest. Having inherited a $200 million budget shortfall from my Democrat predecessor, I left office with an $844 million surplus, letting my successor follow my lead to get the sales tax on food eliminated.
I share your goal of wanting to help those who truly need it. I will undertake a top-to-bottom review of all programs to eliminate waste and duplication. Right now there are many different programs dealing with things like hunger and job training. I will consolidate and streamline to get the most out of every tax dollar. I will reduce the federal work force by not replacing many of the baby boomers who will be retiring.
I will fight against pork and fight for a line-item veto that passes constitutional muster. I will also look for ways to accomplish our goals through block grants to the states. Governors at the state level are the ones who know their people and their needs better than the federal government and, since they have to balance their budgets, know how to get the most out of a dollar. We also need to measure performance and demand better accountability. We have to stop throwing money at problems without following up to ensure that they are actually achieving solutions. I will insist that programs and the people running them justify their existence. I will never just assume that because a program was funded last year, it should be funded next year.
While we have great needs, the federal government also has great resources provided by the sweat of the brows of all our taxpayers. They are entitled to a solid return on their investment. I will never forget where the money comes from and will demand of Congress and all my executive departments that we be the best stewards that we can possibly be of those hard-earned funds.
Pastore: 2. Your “Fair Tax” proposal is interesting, but you must know it has zero chance of getting through Congress in the coming decade, even if you should win reelection. We appreciate you raising the issue, and we’re all frustrated with the Tax Code, and we all hate the IRS. But, Congressional Democrats won’t ever let us eliminate an entire federal department like the IRS or the Department of Education. It will take decades to make a serious run at something like that. So, what are some more modest improvements you suggest for improving our existing tax system over the next four years?
Huckabee: First, I strongly disagree with the premise that the FairTax can’t be passed. It will be a challenge, but undertaking those challenges is what leadership is about. The FairTax already has a tremendous amount of support and enthusiasm around the country and in Congress. People agree that our tax system is broken and needs radical, fundamental change. As president, I would be a Communicator in Chief who would do a great job explaining the FairTax to the American people and getting them to light up the congressional switchboard until Washington gets the message. It’s our long-term solution, it can be done, and we will do it.
As a pathway to the FairTax, there are several steps we can take. I would make the Bush tax cuts permanent and fix the alternative minimum tax once and for all. I would expand upon the Bush marginal rate reductions, capital gains rate reductions, and dividend rate reductions. I would reduce the marginal corporate tax rate.
I would eliminate the death tax.
I would make all tuition deductible, because I believe that education is an investment in human capital and should be treated at least as favorably as a business is treated when making a capital equipment purchase. Our best means of remaining competitive in the ever-expanding global marketplace is a well-educated American workforce. Education not only improves our national well-being, but is also the path to personal upward mobility.
I would provide a maximum 15.3 percent tax credit for tuition expenditures, tied to employment income and carried forward indefinitely. This replicates the effects of the FairTax by allowing workers to offset their payroll taxes with their tuition costs. The 15.3 percent cap equals the payroll taxes the family paid for the year.
We also need to consider increasing the IRA deduction limit. We should consider increasing small business and manufacturers expensing allowances. I would also investigate providing tax credits for healthcare. So there are short-term steps we can take on the path to the FairTax.
Pastore: 3. You’re accused of opposing vouchers, yet you have the endorsement of the National Education Association for your work in Arkansas, and you have the overwhelming support of home schoolers. This is an odd mix. What is your position on school choice, vouchers, charter schools, etc.?
I have the support of home schoolers because I was an ardent champion of their cause when I was governor. I appointed the first home school parent anywhere in the country to our State Board of Education.
My overriding concern is that every child in America has the opportunity to get a first-rate education—I am much less concerned with the means than with the end. I support school choice, vouchers and charter schools because different options work better in different settings. For example, vouchers may not work well in a rural area where there are no better alternatives within a reasonable distance for children to travel, but they may be the answer in an urban environment. If local districts wish to do it, if states wish to do it, I think that’s fine. It goes to the basic concept that education is a state’s decision.
I also think that we ought to have tax credits for a family whose decision is to put their children in an alternative environment. That’s one way to empower families.
I am extremely proud of my record in improving public schools in Arkansas. Everyone is used to seeing Arkansas near the very bottom of national education rankings. Yet we just soared to eighth in overall quality in the Quality Counts 2008 study produced by Education Week. My sowing hard-fought reforms in areas such as reading and math fundamentals, art and music in our schools, more demanding curricula and Advanced Placement classes, higher teacher pay and school accountability is reaping huge rewards for our children and their future.
Pastore: 4. You’re accused of being weak on national security and your statement that we have “an arrogant foreign policy” is troubling. We need to hear more clearly why you think that is. Why do you want to close Guantanamo? Do you really want to give “enemy combatants” full access to our court system? This too, is troubling. In spite of this, it sounds like you “get” the global war against radical Islam. Please convince us you’ve got what it takes to go toe to toe with Osama, Ahmadinejad, Kim Jung-il, Putin, Chavez and China.
Huckabee: My perspective on foreign policy has been shaped by my experiences as a governor. I’ve traveled to approximately 40 countries in my lifetime and met with many of the world’s leaders. As governor, I’ve traveled extensively not only in trade agreements and cultural exchanges, but I’ve chaired the U.S. chapter of the World League for Freedom and Democracy and worked with elected officials from other countries. I’ve been to Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel (nine times), Egypt, all over Europe, Russia, Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan. I think Ronald Reagan was a great example of a person who came to office with the same kind of skepticism and criticism. He hadn’t had foreign political experience, but he had judgment, he had clear principles that guided him. He understood that the U.S. should be the most powerful nation on earth, but had to use that power circumspectly.
I do not believe that we have an arrogant foreign policy. I believe that Secretary Rumsfeld behaved arrogantly in not listening to the military about how many troops we needed to invade Iraq initially and then in refusing for years to adopt a counterinsurgency strategy. It is the counterinsurgency strategy finally adopted under General Petraeus and Secretary Gates that has been so successful this past year in Iraq.
When I said I wanted to close Guantanamo, I wasn’t staking out new ground, I was stating my agreement with President Bush and Secretary Gates on that issue. Since then, Admiral Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has come forward to say he favors closing the base.
It’s not that I want to give “enemy combatants” access to our court system: the Supreme Court has already held that the prisoners’ rights are not dependent on whether they are at Guantanamo or on the U. S. mainland because Guantanamo is equivalent to U. S. soil. Whatever rights these foreign prisoners have—and we’ll know that better when the Boumediene case, which is pending before the Supreme Court, is decided – our government can’t deprive them of those rights by keeping them at Guantanamo. In Rasul, the Supreme Court held that the Guantanamo prisoners had a statutory right to habeas corpus; Boumediene will tell us if they have a constitutional right.
I have what it takes to go toe-to-toe with our enemies because I understand the seriousness of the threats we face. I want to expand and strengthen our military by increasing defense spending from less than 4 percent of our GDP to the 6 percent it was under President Reagan. I know that President Clinton’s “peace dividend” has become our “war deficit.” I want to add the 92,000 to our Army and Marines that President Bush has proposed, but I want to accomplish that sooner. I know that we need to upgrade our intelligence to get information about armed groups who are ideologically opposed to us all over the world—micro groups can cause macro damage in this age of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.
With respect to the war on terror, I understand the radical theology and ideology their ruthlessness is based on; I understand that they really want to establish an Islamic caliphate and destroy our civilization. I am concerned about Al Qaeda’s safe haven in Pakistan, which it is using not only to attack Afghanistan and plot against us, but also to undermine the Pakistani government. I know that we must win in Iraq, not only for the security of the Iraqis, but for the security of the entire region and our own security. I recognize Iran’s ambitions to spread westward and establish a “Shiite crescent” by causing the Sunni governments in its path to fall like dominoes, and I understand that we must have a strong, unified Iraq to serve as a bulwark against such Iranian expansionism. I am concerned about Iran’s links to Hamas and Hezbollah and its nuclear ambitions. After decades of containment, President Reagan adopted a new strategy in the Cold War—we win, they lose. My strategy in the war on terror—we win, they lose.
I recognize that China isn’t just an economic threat, but a military one as well. I know that they have been investing heavily in their military, especially their navy, which they see as a key instrument for projecting their power. Last year their military spending increased 18 percent. That means that in 17 of the past 18 years, they have had double-digit increases in military spending.
I will be very cautious in my dealings with North Korea. We recently found traces of highly-enriched uranium on aluminum tubes that they handed over to us, when they claim they’ve never had a program to enrich uranium. This comes on the heels of the Israeli raid on a Syrian nuclear facility involving material from North Korea. Recently they missed the important deadline of December 31st to disable their nuclear facilities; disclose their nuclear programs, facilities, and materials; disclose how much plutonium they have extracted; disclose their uranium enrichment program (the existence of which they deny); and disclose their transfer of nuclear materials and technology to other countries (which they also deny). Given the potential North Korean/terrorist nexus, it is essential that we are tough on North Korea as part of our war on terror.
In Russia, President Putin is spending his oil revenues updating his Soviet-era military. They have a new missile defense shield around Moscow, have been investing heavily in their Pacific Fleet, and have been developing new missiles, including a new ICBM that they have successfully tested.
We must remember that when the Soviet Union fell, we still had Russia. This is a country which has always had both imperialist ambitions and an inferiority complex relative to the west. Czarist history is a case study in schizophrenia, centuries of struggle between Westernizers and Slavophiles. We will continue to experience this push-pull, continue to have good days and bad with Russia, but overall it will be better than the Cold War. The bottom line is that Putin doesn’t want another terrorist attack like the school siege in Beslan any more than we want another 9/11. But he despises the loss of face from the fall of the Soviet Union and will do everything he can to reassert Russia’s strength and power—militarily, economically, diplomatically. I see him for what he is—a staunch nationalist in a country that has no tradition of democracy, just autocracy. The vacation from history is over. We must get back to work and continue to project our power as consistently and forcefully as Russia will hers.
Pastore: 5. Your position on illegal immigration is confusing. On the one hand, you’ve got the strongest immigration platform of all the candidates and you want to pardon border agents Ramos and Compean as your first presidential act. We all love this. But, on the other hand, you gave children of illegals in-state tuition breaks in Arkansas. Please explain this apparent inconsistency.
Huckabee: There isn’t an inconsistency—it’s a matter of which desk you sit behind. As governor, I had no control over immigration, which is a federal issue. I had no control over our borders or who came into my state. So I tried to improve something I did have control over--turning my state’s tax-takers into taxpayers. I proposed giving children who had gone through our schools and done very well academically, who were alcohol and drug-free, and who were applying for citizenship, the opportunity to compete for a very select academically-based scholarship along with their peers. I didn’t believe then, and I don’t believe now, that innocent children should be punished for the sins of their parents. There was no limit on the number of scholarships—everyone who qualified got one, so they wouldn’t have been taking scholarships away from another Arkansas resident. My plan was not adopted; no child ever received one of these scholarships. And contrary to distortions promoted by my political opponents, no children of illegals ever got in-state tuition breaks.
Pastore: 6. You have said that you want a national ban on smoking. This offends even the vast majority of non-smoking conservatives because it violates the principle of federalism. How serious are you about this?
Huckabee: This has been misinterpreted because I strongly support the principle of federalism. At a Lance Armstrong cancer forum last August, I said that if Congress presented me with legislation banning smoking in public places, I would sign it. That is because I would not oppose the overwhelming public support that such a congressional vote would reflect. But since such sentiment for federal legislation doesn’t exist at this time, and since I have also said that the responsibility for regulating smoking initially lies with the states, I believe that this issue is best addressed at the state and local levels.
Pastore: 7. We understand the need to talk about the environment and global warming for electoral purposes. How serious are you about governmental involvement in this, too?
Huckabee: I believe that we must be good stewards of our environment because God has entrusted us to take care of this world that He created for us. We don’t own the earth, it is on loan to us. In that light, I believe that we must take care of our air and water and forests and wildlife to keep both ourselves and the overall system healthy. We must pass the earth on to the next generation in at least as good a shape as it was handed to us. Anything less diligent and conscientious would be poor stewardship and an abdication of a God-given responsibility.
I believe that we must cut greenhouse gas emissions. A cap and trade system has worked well for acid rain caused by the emission of sulphur dioxide, and I believe it can also work well for the emission of carbon dioxide. At the same time, I don’t want to impose too great a burden on our businesses, which is why I believe that some of the allowances for emissions must be given to our businesses rather than auctioning off 100 percent of them, as some environmentalists are demanding.