Does Arkansas Still Heart Huckabee?
ALISON STEWART, host:
All this week, we've been doing a little comparative journalism project, looking at what the national media is saying about some of the presidential candidates versus what their hometown journalists know about these people running for president.
So far, a New York reporter has told us that Republican Rudy Giuliani deserves some credit for helping the city, but not all of it, and, boy, he has a temper. North Carolinians say Democrat John Edwards seems to be a really nice person, but he spends a lot of money and a little time representing them in the Senate.
And now we turn to the man the mainstream media seems to have a man-crush on right now - Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee running for the GOP nod. Let's review his record in Arkansas since he's just topped the Iowa opinion polls.
Helping us out is Ron Breeding. He is the news and program director at KUAR Radio in Little Rock, an NPR affiliate. Yeah, he's covered Huckabee's career since before the man was even governor. Hi, Ron.
RON BREEDING: Good morning, Alison.
STEWART: So, good morning.
Since Huckabee's surge, you've had some time to reflect on the mainstream media's coverage of the man. Have they got it right?
BREEDING: I like your phrase man-crush because at least lot of us in Arkansas have been amused slightly by the glowing first round of coverage in the national media. Huckabee is a very, very media savvy person having grown up working, not only in the pulpit as a pastor, but also starting on radio here in small town Arkansas when he was 16 years old or so. And he's ran - run various communications projects - radio and TV stations - as part of his ministry before he got into government. So we knew he was really quite charming and quite funny and quite glib and, certainly, the national media has fallen in love with him over the past few months.
There is another side - there are other things about him that are just beginning to emerge in the national coverage.
STEWART: Yeah. This whole charm campaign, he works a little bit of it on us here on THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT.
BREEDING: I saw the ping-pong. It was…
STEWART: Listen to him…
LUKE BURBANK, host:
Maybe you thought I was charming - I lost.
STEWART: Listen to him answer to my question about his relationship with another former governor of Arkansas.
BREEDING: I'm sorry?
STEWART: Listen to this piece of our interview we had with Mick Huckabee about - there you go.
(Soundbite of archived recording)
Mr. MIKE HUCKABEE (Former Republican Governor, Arkansas): …went through some horrible experiences in their marriage because of some of the reckless behavior that he has admitted he had. I'm not defending him on that - it's indefensible. But just none of it let it to get lost on us that they kept their marriage together. They raised a magnificent daughter - Chelsea is everything you would hope a daughter to be. But they kept their marriage together, and a lot of the Republicans who have condemned them and who talk about their platform of family values, interestingly, didn't keep their own families together. Give Bill and Hillary Clinton credit for doing something that we say they should have done.
STEWART: So is he always been Mr. Nice Guy?
BREEDING: Well, you know, that's - I think you're seeing right there a very generous streak, dare I say Christian streak that the governor has shown often over his career. But there is also a more prickly side - a very defensive, combative Huckabee that we haven't seen much in the national media yet.
Just this week, I saw the first mention of it when someone asked him a question about creationism. He showed a little annoyance that, why do I always get these questions about religion? What's, you know - so you're going to see more of that and, certainly here in Arkansas, the thing that really got his goat was those questions about his own ethics, any - and there were constant mini-scandals. Typically they didn't amount to a whole lot, but you know, things are going on constantly with regard to his typically personal things.
He was - I think he was found guilty of ethics violations or of, like, a gift of a canoe from the Coca-Cola Bottlers that he did not report. Three hundred bucks - things like that that really didn't amount to a lot, but they dealt with his personal benefit, you know, things given to him in terms of gifts or…
BREEDING: …money, and he got very defensive when anyone asked about those sorts of things.
STEWART: Yeah, he had 14 different complaints. I believe he was fined for about five of them - about a thousand dollars each. There's one charge that the attorney general - state attorney general has cleared him of, but, apparently, it really happened. And when he left the governor's office, he used about 13 grand in state funds for destroying 91 computer hard drives?
BREEDING: Yeah. And by the time he left office, he was certainly very adversarial with many in the news media here. I like to think that my relationship covering him from the start was sort of a playfully adversarial relationship. He seemed to kind of relish - answering our, what we like to think, were tough questions at times.
But others in the media that wrote stories about him in the paper that were not flattering, he condemned in the harshest of terms. In fact, the reporter for the state-wide paper that first broke the story about the crushing of the hard drives, you know, was condemned as, for Jason Blair-type tactics.
And, really, this kind of out there stuff that Huckabee will say at times. And certainly whenever he was leaving office, he knew that there was going to be a lot of interest, especially if he ran for president, in his career. And so he took the step of overwriting the hard drives multiple times and then having them physically crushed. And a member of his staff supervised that personally to make sure that that happened, leaving no possible trace of e-mail evidence or other what - other things that he left behind.
STEWART: Mike Huckabee's had to respond to some of these claims. Chris Wallace on "FOX News Sunday" asked him about it and Governor Huckabee claimed it was all about partisanship. I think we have a Soundbite of Huckabee on Fox News.
(Soundbite of TV show, "FOX News Sunday")
Mr. HUCKABEE: If you look at the politics of this state, the people who are not happy that I was governor - remember, I was only the fourth Republican elected in a hundred and fifty years. I was sort of a lone wolf out here. They couldn't attack the fact that I was getting things done like building roads and reforming health care and education, so it got to be the politics of personal destruction.
STEWART: Two-point question: Is he right, and did he do all the things he claims to have done?
BREEDING: He did a lot of things. In fact, again, most people in Arkansas will look at Huckabee - Democrats and Republicans alike can give him credit for a lot of major accomplishments. He served as long as anybody since Clinton and before that, going back to Faubus.
In his 12 years in office, Huckabee, you know, his greatest accomplishment is something he points to called Our(ph) Kids First. It's a children's health insurance program that is pointed to as a model for other states. He had major education reforms, he tackled and took on some very important issues, and got a lot of important things accomplished with a Democratic majority legislature.
A lot of people don't realize that Arkansas - the way we are in the South and most of the South has gone pretty strongly Republican. Our state continues to elect - we have two state - two U.S. senators who are Democrats, most of our locally elected officials, all of our - the majority of our state legislature are Democrats, and yet Huckabee did manage to get things accomplished with them when they found common ground on issues.
On other issues, they would clash in demagogue one another and there were times when they really seemed to not be able to get along at all. But for the most part, Huckabee did get along with the Democrats who, by necessity, he had to work with in terms of getting anything accomplished in the legislature.
STEWART: Ron Breeding, news and program director at NPR affiliate station KUAR Radio in Little Rock, Arkansas. Thanks for walking us through that, Ron.
BREEDING: Thank you, guys.
STEWART: Coming up on THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT, the best song in the world today, we swears it will happen. If we have to cancel the rest of the show to get this segment in, that's our commitment to the best song in the world -Coming up on THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News.
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