By David S. Broder
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 6, 2006
CHARLESTON, S.C., Aug. 5 -- The nation's governors on Saturday launched a bipartisan drive to block a move to expand the president's authority to take over National Guard troops in case of natural disaster or homeland security threats.
At a closed-door luncheon on the opening day of the annual summer meeting of the National Governors Association, the chairman, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R), told colleagues that a provision in the House-passed defense authorization bill would end the historic link between the states and their Guard units.
Huckabee and the association's vice chairman, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano (D), plan to ask all the governors at the session to sign a letter of protest Sunday aimed at killing the provision when House and Senate conferees meet next month on the bill.
Huckabee told reporters that the move to shift control of the Guard to the president during national emergencies "violates 200 years of American history" and is symptomatic of a larger federal effort to make states no more than "satellites of the national government."
Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, the senior Democrat, called the proposal "one step away from a complete takeover of the National Guard, the end of the Guard as a dual-function force that can respond to both state and national needs."
The provision was tucked into the House version of the defense bill without notice to the states, something Vilsack said he resents as much as the proposal itself.
Under the provision, the president would have authority to take control of the Guard in case of "a serious natural or manmade disaster, accident or catastrophe" in the United States.
Huckabee said he does not know if President Bush wants that authority, but said "the administration is supporting this."
He and Vilsack said they believe the provision was a reaction to Hurricane Katrina, when Bush debated taking control of National Guard units from Louisiana and Mississippi to end confusion about who was responsible for security in storm-devastated areas.
Vilsack called that a "misguided reaction." He said he had long since proposed an alternative that would give command authority to a federal official at the site of any disaster, while retaining a governor's authority over troops in his state.
Calls to a spokesman for the White House National Security Council staff, where the plan reportedly originated, were not returned.
Huckabee, who is considering a presidential bid in 2008, said Congress and the administration -- run by fellow Republicans -- have moved far from what he called the "traditional states' rights position" of conservatives.
In addition to the National Guard, he cited the new "Real ID" legislation, requiring states to ascertain the citizenship status of everyone seeking a driver's license. Huckabee said that, in effect, "they are trying to make every entry-level employee in our [department of motor vehicles] offices an immigration officer, and they're giving us no money to train them or hire them. It is a disaster in the making."
During the afternoon, the governors heard Tommy G. Thompson, the former secretary of health and human services and former governor of Wisconsin, warn that the country's health-care system is heading for financial breakdown within seven years -- unless it is converted to a system of health maintenance with an emphasis on preventive care. He said governors must start diet and exercise programs in their states and take other steps to reduce the cost of chronic disease, because "Congress will not do it."
Huckabee, who shed 110 pounds two years ago out of health concerns, has made that issue his theme for his year as chairman of the organization.