Huckabee's Faith-Based Views Find Critics, Fans in Both Parties

By Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 21, 2007

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- When the idea for a proclamation declaring Christian Heritage Week came up in 1994, Jim Guy Tucker, the Democratic governor of Arkansas, would not sign it. His aides said he did not think it was appropriate to honor a particular faith.

But when Tucker went out of town for a week and Republican Lt. Gov. Mike Huckabee became the acting chief executive, the Baptist minister enthusiastically signed the proclamation, declaring at a later celebration that he was taking a stand against "Christophobia."

"It's a new word. I just made it up," Huckabee said, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "Some people talk about homophobia; I've been hearing Christophobia."

Other executives have signed similar proclamations, but in Huckabee's case his aggressive, in-your-face efforts for the symbolic cause exemplify the central role his religious beliefs played in setting policy in Arkansas, first as lieutenant governor and then as governor.

Huckabee's moral certainty revealed a public official quite different from the affable, folksy campaigner who describes himself as a conservative, but one who is "not angry about it." His decisions have opened him to criticism from the left and the right, as liberals and conservatives have complained that his religious devotion has clouded good judgment.

His detractors point to a governor who became indignant at criticism of his personal behavior, particularly after it was disclosed that he had accepted tens of thousands of dollars in gifts from supporters. And they say his views resulted in petty conflicts over matters such as Christian Heritage Week or his refusal to sign a disaster relief bill until legislators removed the words "acts of God" to describe tornadoes because Huckabee argued that God was protecting people from tornadoes, not causing them.

To his admirers, both liberal and conservative, his religious views have been an asset. Supporters have seen Huckabee's strong opposition to abortion, his push to get health insurance for lower-income children and an unsuccessful initiative to allow the children of illegal immigrants to get college tuition breaks as expressions of the compassion he has drawn from his faith.

"He's very concerned about children and people who are less fortunate," said Jerry Cox, a Huckabee supporter who runs the conservative Family Council of Arkansas. "He's a compassionate person towards individuals who need a second chance, which I suppose can be good and bad."

Huckabee, whose sudden rise in the polls has transformed the Republican presidential race, won four elections in this unusual Southern state, where the governor's office, both U.S. Senate seats and the legislature are controlled by Democrats.

After a stint as the head of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, Huckabee's first run for public office was a 1992 bid for the Senate on a platform that included many of the issues of the emerging religious right, particularly limiting abortion rights.

He lost that race, but Huckabee won a special election for lieutenant governor the next year. Three years later, Huckabee became governor after Tucker resigned following convictions for conspiracy and mail fraud as part of the Whitewater investigation.

Huckabee's political career started in the antiabortion movement. While a pastor in the 1980s, he worked as a local organizer for an Arkansas ballot amendment that would ban all public funding for abortions except those required to save the life of the woman.

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