washingtonpost.com
Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R)
Interview With The Fix's Chris Cillizza and The Post's Dan Balz

washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, May 23, 2006 6:00 AM

washingtonpost.com's Chris Cillizza and Washington Post reporter Dan Balz interviewed Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) on May 16 as part of an ongoing series of conversations with potential 2008 presidential candidates. A transcript of the interview is below:

Let's start with immigration, since it's topic A today this week. Let me begin with the National Guard. You have in the past raised concerns about the National Guard being overstretched because of Iraq. Given that ... what's your reaction to the idea of now using the National Guard to help try to seal the border for what appears to be an indefinite amount of time?

GOV. HUCKABEE: Well, I was gently relieved that ... the President's suggestion was less than what I feared. Had someone asked me over the weekend, I probably would not have been very charitable in my response, because I was anticipating that there was going to be a mass deployment, long period of time, and that the Guard would be called up to perform a police function. All three of those things were problematic for me.

I don't think the Guard can continually be called up for long and frequent deployments. We are really stretching them, and we're stretching not so much their willingness but the cooperation of their families and their employers.

I also would have had a real problem with using a military force for a police function. I think that's really getting right on a line, if not stepping across it. And I was very happy to know, number one, that the president has plans for a limited number of Guards 6,000 troops, most of which will come from the states that are directly affected. Secondly, that the call-up will be for two and three weeks at a time and not for extended months at a time. Thirdly, that their primary role is one of support, providing surveillance and filling backup roles and not armed and ready to shoot intruders.

Part of my problem with that would have been that we have, in essence, militarized a peaceful border, and I think that's a terrible precedent. I'm not sure that's an image we want is to truly militarize it. Police it, absolutely. Militarize it, no. And there is a distinction. We should keep that distinction very clear, really, in our nation.

Hopefully, what the president did was to try to answer this growing chorus of demands that we "do something." And I think he has done that, and I think his approach is responsible and balanced, and it's not going to please people on the far extremes of either side. But there comes a time when I think the extremes have to give way to the mainstreams, and that's [what] I believe the president really has proposed.

So I'm relieved, and I'm really able to accept the plan that he has, given that the long-term solution is an increased presence of true border patrol trained and equipped and hired for that purpose.

Given the limitations that you laid out, it does raise the question of whether what the president proposed ... anything other than [a] band aid. ... How much can 6,000 Guard, under this proposal, do to seal a very porous border?

It's not going to completely seal the border, and I don't think he would even pretend that it would. I think it demonstrates two things. One, he is addressing it. And that he is making an effort to deal with certain elements of the border, but he's not pretending that this is the ultimate solution, nor is he pretending that the Guard really is a long-term answer for security immigration issues.

Where are you on the debate that rages here between the House approach on immigration and what seems now to be a consensus approach in the Senate, particularly on the issue of a path to legal status or citizenship for at least quite a few of the 11 to 12 million who are here illegally?

I tend to think that the rational approach is to find a way to give people a pathway to citizenship. You shouldn't ignore the law or ignore those who break it. But by the same token, I think it's a little disingenuous when I hear people say they should experience the full weight of the law in every respect with no pathway, because that's not something we practice in any other area of criminal justice in this country.

We have everything from plea bargainings to suspended sentences to probation to clemency. There's a whole gamut of ways in which there are lesser than the full penalties applied for a whole variety of reasons -- everything from jail overcrowding to non-violent offenses.

To think that we're going to go lock up 12 million people, or even round them up and drive them to the border and let them go, might make a great political speech, but it's not going to happen. What should happen, however, is exactly what I think the president has proposed, and that is that we create a process where people make restitution for the fact they have broken the law.

It's not an amnesty, and I know that there are some who think that anything less than essentially grabbing them by the nape of the neck and tossing them over a fence, real or imaginary, is amnesty. But I think that's ridiculous. And whether it's Patrick Kennedy, Rush Limbaugh, or an illegal immigrant, there ought to be some rationality in how we apply our law. We do that every day.

I would imagine if any of us checked the record of prosecutors in my state or yours there are far more sentences that are plea bargained than actually go to trial. And that it's pretty darn rare that a person even convicted at trial gets the maximum sentence on every charge brought. It's just not always the way we do it.

Suddenly to say that these people that came over here to pluck a chicken, pick a tomato, or make a bed should suffer the full consequences of the law as if somehow they've totally violated our peace and prosperity, is absurd. Now, should they have to pay some type of fine? Should they have to get in line behind the ones who are going through the legal process? Sure. That's quite appropriate. But criminalizing beyond what they've already been criminalized, I mean, they've already broken the law. But to make them felons and in essence to say we're going to put our heel on their head, what's the point of that?

Why do you think there are so many people in your party and in the leadership of the House of Representatives ... feel so strongly in a different direction on this?

I honestly don't know. I mean, I wish I could tell you I knew the answer to that. I've done a lot of town halls. I've done a lot of call-in talk shows, both on radio and television, in my own state. And I've done a lot of Q&A formats in states all over the country, from one end of the coast to the other.

And I find that there's a certain segment of the population that is truly exercised about this and virtually nothing but this. And they've gone to seed on it. You can't get them off of it, and you can't have a discussion beyond the classic, "what part of illegal do you not understand?" I understand it correctly. I know exactly what that means.

Do you hear this a lot when you do town meetings? I mean, your state had some experience with this back when Bill Clinton was Governor.

Yes. I hear it more from, again, a segment for whom it is the only issue. I don't think it is the number one issue that people talk about when they sit down and have dinner at night. I just don't believe that at the breakfast table in most homes in Arkansas the first thing that happens is the man throws his cereal spoon down and says, "Let's talk about immigration, honey." I don't think that's happening. But it is an issue that can cause people an extraordinary sense of emotion, and what I find is that it is driven more by heat than light.

What is the issue that they throw their spoon down and say, "Let's talk about X"?

I think people are far more concerned about the kind of schools their kids go to, whether they're going to keep their jobs, can they afford to get sick, if they get cancer, and where are they going to get the kind of care that may help them stay alive?

I mean, day in and day out what people really care about is what affects their immediate families and what threatens their families, what really threatens their families, whether it's drug dealing going on in their neighborhoods, whether it's shoddy schools from which their kids will graduate and not be able to compete when they get to college or get to the workforce, and I think there is a lot of anxiety about, what happens if I lose my job and I can't replace it? Or I lose my pension?

Things that have happened with Enron and companies like that, where they've squandered their employees' pension funds, I think it has brought a new level of anxiety. People don't feel like they can trust their employer. There was a time when my grandfather, you know, came home from World War I and went to work in a brickyard in Hope, Arkansas. It's the only job he ever knew until he retired at age 65. That's it. Somebody said "one thing he did." That's all he did.

And he never had an expectation he could work anywhere but there. He wasn't job shopping. He didn't get the classifieds out every week. ... That was the whole point: He had a job; he could carry his lunch in his lunch box and come home at night, pay his rent. That's what mattered.

Today people really aren't sure their company will be there in five years, much less 45. And they're not sure that even if the company is paying a good wage now that they won't get downsized, bought up, part of some type of acquisition. So I think there's a lot of anxiety about people just being able to feel some sense of security about their own well being.

And is it your view that it's that sense of insecurity which is overriding otherwise good economic numbers in terms of the growth of the economy?

I do, because the numbers belie the spirit.  The numbers are pretty darn impressive. They're wonderful in my own state.  My gosh, we have had now 25 consecutive months of record revenues. Of course, I attribute that to dynamic leadership from the governor, of course, but it's frankly beyond anything even our state's economists can understand.

Every month for the past 23 we've said that next month we're probably going to have, you know, a colling down and a leveling off, and we haven't.

Given the political environment, would the White House folks be smarter to switch tactics, and rather than try to say, "Look, these numbers are actually better than you're giving anybody credit for, or, you know, you need to look on the bright side," to address that anxiety that Americans are feeling about the economy in a more direct way, in a more forthright way?

Yes. Personally, I think that would be a very important approach. Kirsten and I were having a conversation earlier, and one of the things that I mentioned to her was that people are driven by one of two things -- fear or hope. Fear drives you to do extraordinary things, but it's not sustainable. Fear is a very explosive emotion, but it has a short life span. It's the sprint. The marathon is hope. What gets you up day after day after day is that anticipation that if you go to work you can earn better things and do better.

There's a lot of fear that exists in the country, fear of everything from border security to terrorism to economic downturn. And I think there is a need to remind people that we are a very resilient country, we're a resilient people, and that even when there's uncertainty about a certain job sector we've always been able, as a nation, to reinvent itself.

... When I was a little kid, [we were told] Russia is going to bury us because they got to outer space before we did. Then, we went to the moon, and we kind of showed them up. I remember when we were afraid that, "Oh, the Japanese are going to own everything in America. They're just buying up real estate, and every TV and car is going to be a Japanese product. And the American economy is going to go to Japan." And what happened? We, once again, found innovations and suddenly the technology market shifted from radios and transistors to PCs. And that was in an American-based economy.

Then, of course, that manufacturing started shifting elsewhere, and now we're going to pot again, and now it was Mexico, and then ... my point is is that there is a need for us to be reminded of who we are as a people, not so much just what the conditions are, because those conditions on any given day can frighten people.

There's one area where you sound more downbeat in a longer term way, and that's on the culture. And let me read you one of the things you said down in Memphis [at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in March]. A line that was widely quoted after that speech: "The country was better off with Leave it to Beaver than Beavis and Butthead. We were better off when The Gideons gave Bibles to the fifth graders than when school nurses gave condoms to the sixth graders. We thought it was better for fathers to take their sons hunting than sons in urban areas hunting for their fathers." That's a very striking set of comparisons between then and now. Is it your sense that culturally this country has made a turn significantly for the worse, and it will be very difficult to turn it around?

I don't think it's so much that it's difficult to turn around. I think we need to recognize that we have had a cultural shift, and it hasn't necessarily been all that positive. ... I think America has got to sort of brace itself and say, "How good is this?" For example, on the issue of marriage, no-fault divorce became the vogue in the early '60s. When states first introduced it, then everybody got on the bandwagon, and the result is now one in two marriages virtually ends in divorce in the country.

Divorce is one of the key predictors of poverty for a child growing up in a home that's broken. Without making any judgments about the value or rightness or wrongness of it, it's an economic fact that when children are involved in a divorce they are more likely to end up spending part of their childhood in poverty than if they have a two-parent household.

There are three basic prerequisites that almost guarantee ... that a child won't have a day of poverty. If a person gets married and remains married in a monogamous relationship for life, finishes high school, gets a job, and keeps a job for at least five years, there's a 91 percent likelihood that a ... child in that family will not have poverty.

By the same token, a person who gets married before the age of 18, who does not finish high school, and who does not or who is not employed regularly is a person who has like an 86 percent chance of spending a majority of one's life in poverty.

So when we're really addressing issues like poverty, you can't do that without addressing the real driver of some of those, which is stable homes, families. So that's why to me those issues are important. They're not frivolous. They're critical economic issues. They do have a driving power in helping people to live in adequate housing, to give kids the opportunity to have decent educations, live in good neighborhoods. ...I'm not saying that there's not some wonderful kids that come out of broken homes, because my own wife comes out of a broken home. And, gosh well, she got to marry me. How better can it get than that?

... But, again, if you just look at the sheer statistical numbers from a dispassionate perspective, there has been in fact some real consequences as there has been a growing instability of the basic family unit.

Those numbers did begin to turn around during the Clinton years. Many of those social indicators which have been heading clearly in the wrong direction, whether it's poverty or teen pregnancy or those sorts of things, began to turn around. What do you think caused that, and what do you think it's going to take to keep it in that direction?

There were some key factors. Welfare reform was a part of that, where we started putting a greater value on work, and we also gave people a way out. I think a lot of people thought that welfare reform was built on cutting people off benefits. This is it all together, because I like welfare reform in our state.

I know when we reduced it by half it wasn't about saying, "You're not going to get benefits." It was about, "We're going to put the focus on job training," and even in our case of building a health insurance program, so that working parents who are coming out of welfare had a safety net under their kids, because otherwise, why would a parent take a job at which, frankly, by the time they had to pay for their own medical coverage they actually had less disposable and expendable income than they did when they were on relief?

People [are] not stupid. They're not going to really endanger their families. So there were certain things that were going on, I think, that helped to create an environment where people could be more self-empowered. And those are good things that we should continue to do, to create the same type of educational opportunities.

The advent of community colleges in the early '90s, and the proliferation of those, has been very, very significant in creating job training opportunities that didn't exist a decade before. That was a huge sort of almost untold miracle of job creation in the country, and particularly of retraining as people now have to change entire careers seven or eight times in their lifetime.

Why wouldn't somebody listening to what you had to say in Memphis react by saying, "Governor Huckabee has an interesting way of putting it, but basically he is simply uncomfortable with the modern pop culture. And that he would prefer to take this country back to a place where it was 20 years ago or 30 years ago rather than moving in the world that we've got today."

If "taking it back" meant that neighborhoods were more stable, and kids and families knew each other and visited over the fence, yes, I'd love to do that. If it meant that people had a greater sense of belonging, not just to their own families but to their communities and neighborhoods, and they were part of the Rotary Club or bowling league, yes, I think that would be great.

I mean, I've read Robert Tubman's book, "Bowling Alone." It's a powerful sort of portrayal of the sociological shift of American culture. I do think we were better off when we had greater connections with people, and they were connections that were built over a long period of time. It's an observation. Can we go back and recapture it? I'm not sure. Heck, I mean, my own life has been far more mobile than I think my parents ever envisioned, or that I envisioned as a kid growing up. And it's probably going to be even more mobile in the coming years. I mean, that's just the way we all live.

My kids have moved more in their twenties, you know, than my parents have moved in nearly 40-something years of marriage before they died. So there's a part of me that laments what we have lost, and that is a sense of community. But I accept it. We're not going to necessarily go back and get everybody to watch black and white TV and pick one of three channels and choose either "Father Knows Best" or "Ozzie and Harriet."

I'm just simply observing that there was something wonderful not necessarily about "Leave It to Beaver" as a piece of great artistic expression, as much as it was that it was a reflection of a simpler, almost more predictable kind of world, where the biggest thing that a kid worried about was whether he hit a baseball through the neighbor's window, not whether there's a crack deal going across the street.

But is there a set of policies that you would favor or that you think would work? Not to take us back, but that would deal with these kinds of problems that you see, but in the context of a 21st century world of technology and mobile families and busy lives and, you know, two parents working very hard?

You know, John Nesbit in 1980 when he wrote the book "Mega Trends" made a wonderful analogy of high tech/high touch. And it was very futuristic at the time. It's sort of passe now. But if you think about it, there really is a sense that he was very right, and that the more high tech we become, the more high touch we really need. Otherwise, we become very dehumanized.

And I think we see it so much in things like child pornography and Internet predators. That is really frightening stuff, and ... it's just so new to us. But the only way to counter that is, again, a greater sense of community, where kids don't feel so isolated and lonely that their relationships are these artificial vicarious relationships that are carried on with total strangers over a dispassionate piece of equipment. That you would have baseball coaches and soccer coaches.

... I mean, some of that stuff is like building sidewalks. You know, we're beginning to think, you know, sidewalks were a good thing. Not only were they good for our health, but it was good for our socialization. That we need to design neighborhoods so that they are consumer-friendly and that there's a sense in which people have common space, whether it's green areas of parks, that that's healthy and noble, that we need those type of activities that naturally transpire when people socialize. And whether it's going to church or, you know, joining the local garden club, there is some value there.

Now, do we politically force everybody to join a couple of civic clubs? Of course not. That would be nonsense. I think it's a matter of trying to provide the right sort of leadership and really create a climate in which people want to know their neighbors and want to feel a sense of responsibility and volunteerism.

Let's move on to one other social issue, which is abortion. I think earlier this year you said you would have signed the South Dakota bill. Is that right?

I would have signed it, because even though I think that it was a very strong bill, and probably wouldn't have passed in a lot of states without some exceptions of rape, incest, and physical life of the mother, I'm pro-life. You know, ... if I'm going to err, I'm going to err on the side of life. You know, that's just where I come from in my own heart and convictions.

As a governor I've signed virtually every kind of pro-life legislation that we can sign under existing federal law, none of which have been harsh or punitive, but I think they've been important to really point out a pro life culture in Arkansas. That's, for me, a good thing.

I think we have allowed the pendulum to swing so far the other way in terms of an anti-life mind-set and culture. It's an issue that ultimately I think needs to be changed more in the hearts of people than in the laws of people. But certainly, I'm not going to be reticent about supporting laws that would help us to preserve human life.

And do you think it would be good for the country if Roe v. Wade were overturned by the Supreme Court?

Personally, I would, because Roe v. Wade was really ... a ruling that I've never felt was rational in that it took something called privacy and it applied it to a human life. And, you know, what I find is that the average American has no idea what Roe v. Wade really did. They really think what it did, it just said that you can have an abortion in the first trimester, which it doesn't say that it all. I mean, ... it virtually takes any restrictions away completely.

And the average American doesn't agree ... that abortion should be completely without restriction and on demand at any time under any circumstances. Most Americans believe that there should be certain limitations and guidelines.

And when I hear a lot of people say, "Oh, we shouldn't touch Roe v. Wade," and I ask them the follow-up question, "What do you think it did?" and I get the answer, it's amazing how many people do not fully understand. ... I think it would be more appropriate to at least force us to realize that the idea of unrestricted abortion, whether it's for birth control or for a true sense of medical emergency, would at least have some sense of sanity behind it.

You seem to be talking from a social conservative perspective about economic issues and fiscal responsibility. Do you believe that this viewpoint has survived withing the Republican Party?

Chris, I think it's a good point. I don't think I've ever been asked that in that way. But I think you're on to something, in that I think there are a lot of people in the Republican Party who think that there is this total disconnect between fiscal responsibility and social responsibility, and I've said for a long time that I've never matched it up quite like that.

But these are not opponents. These are really elements that work together. I think sometimes, if anything, I get in trouble with my party because I've also spoken a lot about that we can't ignore poverty, we can't ignore the lack of health care available to people who are in the middle between if they're really poor, they're going to get it; and if they're really rich, they're going to get it.

But if they're in the middle, they're the ones you've got to worry about, because they may eventually get it, but they'll go bankrupt having it. If they're really poor, they're going to be on the Medicaid or indigent relief. The lack of adequate housing, you know, the inability of middle class families to access college for their kids, should be frightening to us. If a person is really, really poor, they're probably going to qualify for enough grants that they'll be able to make it. If they're rich, it's no problem.

But, again, there's a group in the middle for whom this is a real struggle. And it's more difficult sometimes for them who are just above the poverty line but nowhere near the income level to really be able to afford two or three kids in college. So I guess maybe to get to the heart of your question, yes, I think there is a greater need to say that a lot of the things that we're concerned about in the social level have huge economic concerns. The single biggest one of that is health care, and we have spent all of our resources in America politically talking about health care.

And, you know, I'm probably the broken record that says what we've got to do is shift the discussion to health, since 75 percent of health care costs are driven by chronic disease, and chronic disease is primarily caused by smoking, overeating, and inactivity. Change those three behaviors and there's a dramatic shift.

We spend 16 percent of our nation's GDP on health care. No other nation on Earth spends anything like that. In Europe, in most of the countries, tops is nine, nine and a half [percent]. ... A good way to look at it is to see that we still spend more than anybody else, but that we spend just 11 percent [of GDP]. There's a $700 billion difference between those two figures -- $700 billion a year. I mean, that's a pretty big chunk of change.

... But the one thing that will really change the American economy is to go from a disease focus to a health focus. If we don't make the change, we will not be competitive economically, because our GDP is expected to be 20 percent of health care costs by the year 2015 under the same trends. And we're spending in health care dollar expenditures two and a half times that of any other developed nation on earth -- two and a half times. It's not sustainable, and it's not just a Medicaid issue, it's the whole gamut of what we spend.

Do you think that the bill that Gov. Romney just signed in Massachusetts begins to get at the kind of issue you're talking about?

It opens the discussion. How it's implemented I'm not sure, because there are a couple of dynamics in that bill that are intriguing to me that I don't yet know the answers to. One, of course, Massachusetts has a much higher per capita income. I think their per capita income is more like $40,000 a year, at least. So it's a much different economic dynamic to begin with in terms of what it's going to actually cost.

The question that I have not had anyone answer yet is: If the mandated cost is roughly $200 per person on the mandated insurance, but the actual costs of providing it is more like $600 a year, who pays the $400 difference? That's a question I have not been able to fully get an answer for. So if the government picks up the $400 gap, is that a huge tax increase? And who pays that tax increase? And how do you enforce?

I think, though, that what has been helpful is that it has opened up this whole discussion of the need to make sure that we didn't have this vast population out there that really doesn't have coverage. Now, one of the things, though, that has to be understood is there are a lot of people who don't have coverage because they can't afford it. There's a whole group of Americans who could afford it; they just don't choose to have it, because they either don't anticipate needing it or they assume that somebody else will take care of it. And certainly, that's a problem.

And you like the idea of requiring people to buy some insurance?

On surface I do. I don't buy this auto insurance analogy, though ... because you don't have to have collision and comprehensive insurance in any state that I know of. You only have to have liability in case you hurt somebody else. So the analogy, though it's a nice rhetorical one, it breaks down on the very practice of it, because what you're paying for in health insurance is your own health.

The question is: Does a person have a right to take a lot of risk? And then, the real question is: give them the right, but then do they have the right to demand that somebody else pay for it? So I think that's a great and important and valued discussion.

Is this going to be a central issue in 2008, or do you think this will be another cycle in which there will be some talk about health care but nothing concrete?

I don't know that it will be the issue. It had better be a key issue, because it is so important to our economic survival. If we don't address it in some manner, we're really not addressing the long-term ability of the United States to stay afloat. And it's not just a matter of the immediate cost of health care. It starts affecting everything else down the line from Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid and private sector business.

I mean, the great example that I often quote is when GM puts $1,500 in every car for health benefits for their employees, and Toyota is putting $110 in their cars per employe in health benefits, it doesn't take long to figure out from the math of that that GM is really sucking air and Toyota is becoming the number one car company in the world.

With baby boomers hitting retirement age at record numbers right now, and going to continue to do that for the next 11 to 12 years, when they hit retirement age they're going to demand more medical dollars than have ever been demanded by anybody. And then, the worst part of that, they're expected to greatly outlive their actuarial tables.

Unfortunately, the extended life they have is not a healthy one. They're going to be very, very sick as they approach the finish line. And even today, in 2006, the average American spends 80 percent of their lifetime medical dollars in the last 18 months of life. That will get worse, not better, under the current trends as the baby boomers hit that age of needing those sort of the last lap of health care.

They're going to need it for a longer period of time than was ever anticipated. I mean, it will bankrupt us. That sounds melodramatic, but I don't know how else you can describe what does happen.

... Was it last week or two weeks ago that Medicare tables were adjusted to say, "Well, we got it wrong. It's actually going to go broke two years earlier." How long will it be before that is shifted again? It will happen. ... The actuaries will start telling us that at the rate of growth, which is twice the rate of inflation, whatever we're predicting today is overly optimistic.

I have a question about your present health. You come to national prominence in no small part due to your focus on getting your personal health in order and spreading the message of physical activity and healthy eating in your state. What else should Mike Huckabee be known for as you finish your tenure as governor? You've clearly become a larger national figure of late. But tell me in the time before that, what will you look back, do you say these are the core things that were important to me that I accomplished? Putting aside the health discussion.

... A lot of people have sort of tied me to, "gosh, he's the guy that lost the weight and wrote the book." Yes, that's right. I just recently changed the name of my PAC, because it was Healthy America PAC, and now it's Hope for America PAC. And the reason I did that was because I think there was this perception that I'm a one-trick pony. The only thing I have any interest in at all is losing weight and being fit.

Well, yes, it's a passion. Absolutely. No apologies for that, because as I am able to point out, the economics of it are critical. But some of them are going to say, "Tell me about your 10 years as governor." I would first say -- education. Because if you look at what has happened in Arkansas education over the last decade, you'll see that the first time, because we raised standards, we started having very strict measuring tools and accounting. ... I'll put my record up to, you know, Clinton's, who touted his education record.

But we've seen dramatic increases in every test score in which we test. We've been able to implement No Child Left Behind without whining because it was a good thing for us. We were already on front of it before it even was passed, because we started our Smart Start Initiative in 1998, Smart Step in 1999, and Next Step just two years ago, which now has redesigned the high school.

We've tightened the curriculum. We are now seeing declines in the remediation rate in college, higher-than-ever graduation rates, higher than the national average, which is pretty darn significant for a state deeply embedded in poverty like Arkansas. Created college scholarship programs, created a seamless curriculum that starts with K through 16, because, you know, we looked at the whole picture and said we had this disconnect between what happened in the early grades, K through 4, 5 through 8, and especially a disconnect between K through 12 and the higher education system.

So I could point to massive things in education, including a passion for the arts in education being one of the few states that mandate both art and music education. I certify teachers, because I think that's vitally important. And it's a way to help pull people out of poverty. It's a way to give them the ability to think and to create, and that's where we're headed is a creative economy. So education.

Another one would be transportation. We've hard the largest highway construction program in the history of our state during my tenure. We've got the lowest unemployment rate, wonderful economy right now. We've diversified the economy with more high-tech industry.

Brown University named us as the no. 1 state in the nation in terms of utilization of IT to deliver state services. I mean, that's a little known thing. You never read about that, but I was very proud of that. But here's Arkansas. Somebody said, "Name the state that has done more to implement IT and internet services to deliver government to its people," you'd say, "Oh, well, California, Massachusetts, Texas." And it's high-tech states.

What if somebody told you it was Arkansas? And, you know, I mean, I think that's significant, that a state that has the record that we have traditionally had to be able to do those things.

In conservation, one of the first things that happened when I was governor was setting aside one-eighth of one cent of sales tax to go into the conservation of our natural resources. It's a pretty bold thing ... a Republican out there touting preservation of wetlands and publicly owned space for everything from hunting, fishing, hiking, beautification of our state, development of park systems and things of that nature.

But that's an important thing, particularly in a state where you have a lot of people who can't afford memberships and expensive hunting and fishing clubs. And, you know, you never want there to be this sense that you had to be a person of affluence in order to experience just the scenic beauty of a state.

How do you deal with the sort of typecast image that you're the guy who ran the marathon and lost the weight? And how do you move from that first act to your first major act on the national stage, to a second act, to something beyond that? How have you gone about trying to do that?

First of all, let me be very clear. I don't mind the fact that the other has happened, because it has at least given some attention that probably wouldn't have otherwise happened. So, you know, it's not like I'm saying, "Oh, I wish they'd quit talking about that." No, it's fine.

I mean, first of all, it's an important issue that probably touches more Americans than any other one thing. And people can understand and relate to it, and I think they also sense beyond the policy side, they figure that any person who can set forth a goal like that and go from here to here, 180 degrees, has demonstrated some capacity to be disciplined enough to get done whatever. I mean, I think that's a good thing, and people can appreciate that.

What I'm doing today probably is how you get to the next stage, because clearly once you've done the interview about how did you lose weight, and tell us about running marathons, that's a great interview and it's a wonderful story and I love telling it. I don't get bored doing it now, because I'd much rather tell how I lost it than how I gained it.

But the point is that then that usually leads to: Is there anything else about you, or is this it? Is that all you've got? And, you know, if it was all I had, then, frankly, it would be a one-trick pony.

How much of Mike Huckabee is preacher and how much is politician?

I don't know that I separate any of that. One of the things that I've always said is that I think a big mistake people make is when they want to compartmentalize their faith. ... For example, I've had people say, and I've heard political figures say, "My faith has nothing to do with my politics."

I think that's problematic. ... That sounds to me like "my faith is pretty insignificant in my life." I would say that my faith has everything to do with my politics. The reason that I care about people who are in poverty, the reason that I care about people who are living in substandard housing, the reason that I was moved to compassion with the (inaudible) of Katrina, without any doubt was because of my faith.

The reason I tend to be a little bit maybe unconventional when it comes to certain issues, whether it's immigration or whatever, is because of my faith. I don't apologize for that. I say if you really want to know what makes me tick, that will help you understand it. And do I say I would separate it? No. Heavens no.

I think that would be indication that my faith was pretty insignificant in my life, if I could take it off like Mr. Rogers takes off his sports coat and puts on his cardigan when he comes into the room. I mean, it's just put that in the closet now and put this jacket on, and now I'm going to play this role. I think that's, to me, very shallow. ...

One thing I always try to remind people of is that I think ... we've not been very good about depicting the Christian evangelical faith. We've done a lousy job, sometimes focusing more on what we seem to be against than what we're for. And I think that's our fault. I think we've done a lousy job of communicating warmth and heart. We've come across many times as being harsh and intolerant. And for me, being a person of faith is an absolute admission of my own frailty and my complete understanding that the human condition is a very fragile one. And, if anything, it has made me far more sympathetic to people, whether they are addicted to drugs or addicted to alcohol, or food for that matter. And I understand that we are all pilgrims struggling on this pathway.

Be careful about being overly harsh with someone who falls and stumbles, because, you know, I'm one step away from joining them down there on the turf. That doesn't mean that I am just cavalier about what I think might be the right and wrong of certain lifestyles. But certainly it doesn't mean that I should be overly judgmental and harsh and, frankly, mean-spirited. And I think sometimes we've all, in my realm, been guilty of that.

You've not been coy at all about your interest in at least exploring the issue of running for president, and you've now been doing it for many, many months. Where are you in that process? What comes next? What's your own timetable, and what are the issues that you're trying to work through as you come to a decision?

My timetable is to continue do what I'm doing, and that is to take steps that would at least put me in a position to make the decision. But the decision is not something I would make until after I've left office. I mean, I want to finish my term. I have a job. It's a very full-time job. This is an endeavor that, you know, I'm obviously thinking about. I'd be total dishonest if I've told you before, of course I'm thinking about it.

... What I've got to do over the next several months before I leave office is really determine, number one, do I have a message that America is willing and ready to hear, and is ready to follow? Secondly, do I have the will to go out and spend every waking moment asking people to write checks and help me to get there?

Thirdly, do I have the ability to build an organization structurally, to organize down to the minute level that's necessary? ... I always say there are four things involved in politics -- message, machinery, motivating the volunteers, and raising money. And if you can do those, you know, four things, then you can run. If you can't do those four things, then you can't.

How wide open do you think the GOP nomination will be?

I think it's totally wide open. If I didn't think that, I wouldn't even consider, because, I mean, I'm not the presumed frontrunner. I know that. In fact, that's good for me, because when you're the frontrunner you only have one direction to go, and it's not a good one.

Who would you regard as the frontrunner?

I would have that opinion, but I wouldn't want to venture it, because ... one thing I don't want to do at this point is go out there and disparage some other Republican, and then have them feel like they've got to destroy me.

Earlier you said message, machinery, motivating volunteers, raising money. Message, it seems as though you have one. Of the other three, what is the biggest hurdle in your mind that you need to get over in order to convince yourself you can and should run?

I think I can raise the money, but I think the perception is: Can I raise the money? You know, the fact is ... that has not been a priority of mine, because I think when you raise an extraordinary amount of money you need to be able to have a very specific purpose.

Part of it is my own frugal background. I know a lot of people would raise millions of dollars for no particular purpose just because they could. You know, I spent my life raising money for both church, charitable causes, as well as political. I don't mind doing it, but I darn sure want to look someone in the eye and if I'm going to ask them to contribute something, that it's because we really need to make the contribution.

So I know there's a perception: Can he raise money? And so there will be a certain level of that that I'll just have to prove that I can.

One last question. If the name Huckabee is not on the national ballot in 2008, could Sen. Clinton carry Arkansas?

I think it would be tough, and a lot of it would depend on who the Republican nominee is. ... If the Republican did not have some Southern roots and was not perceived as really sort of a person ideologically in touch and in tune with Arkansas, Hillary could [win] perhaps. But it would be a tough one.

And her husband?

Probably so. Not by more than about 52 or 53 percent. But he'd carry it.

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