If you liked George W. Bush’s brand of big-spending, big-government conservatism, you’ll love Mike Huckabee.
Most of the leading Republicans running for president show some support for Bush’s ideology, but no other candidate so completely embodies it.
As governor of Arkansas, Huckabee dramatically increased state spending. During his two-term tenure, spending increased by more than 65 percent -- at three times the rate of inflation.
The number of government workers increased by 20 percent, and the state’s debt services increased by nearly $1 billion. Huckabee financed his spending binge with higher taxes. Under his leadership, the average Arkansan’s tax burden increased 47 percent, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, including increases in the state’s gas, sales, income, and cigarette taxes. He raised taxes on everything from groceries to nursing home beds.
Huckabee answers these complaints by pointing out that he "cut taxes 94 times" while governor. True. But most of those tax cuts were tiny, like exempting residential lawn care from the sales tax. Some cuts reduced overall state revenues by as little as $15,000. On net, Huckabee increased state taxes by more than $500 million. In fact, Huckabee increased taxes in the state by more than Bill Clinton did.
On its annual governor’s report card, Cato gave Huckabee an "F" for fiscal policy during his final term, and an overall two-term grade of "D." Only four governors had worse scores, and 15 Democratic governors got higher grades, including well-known liberals like Ted Kulongoski of Oregon, Rod Blagojevich of Illinois, and Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania.
But Huckabee doesn’t just embrace big government in the form of big taxes. He truly appears to believe that if something is a good idea it should be a federal government program.
For example, having become health conscious while losing more than 120 pounds (a remarkable feat), he now calls for a national smoking ban. Because he believes that "art and music are as important as math and science" in public schools, he wants these programs funded -- and thus, directed and administered -- federally.
Huckabee is, incidentally, the only Republican candidate for president who opposes school choice.
Huckabee has called for increased federal spending on a variety of programs from infrastructure to health care. He wants more energy subsidies, including, naturally, more subsidies for ethanol. In fact, he supports increased agricultural subsidies generally. He is the only Republican candidate who opposes President Bush’s veto of the Democrats’ proposed expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, and he is skeptical of most conservative proposals for entitlement reform.
Calling himself "a different kind of Republican," Huckabee often appears to be channeling John Edwards or Lou Dobbs. He rails against high corporate profits and attacks free trade agreements. As governor, he raised the minimum wage and increased business regulation. He says it is "a biblical duty" to pass more regulation to fight global warming.
Perhaps Huckabee’s only claim on conservative credentials is that as a former Baptist minister, he is more anti-abortion and anti-gay than the other candidates. In many ways, he has been running an overtly religion-based campaign. But even here, his preference is to increase and centralize federal government power. Unlike Fred Thompson, John McCain, or Ron Paul, Huckabee rejects federalist solutions to these issues and would have the federal government overrule state abortion and marriage laws.
Under the Bush administration, the Republican Party has increasingly drifted away from its limited government roots. It has come to be dominated by a new breed of conservatives who believe in increasing the size, cost and power of government to achieve "conservative ends," even if that means limiting personal freedom in the process. Bush has brought us No Child Left Behind, the Medicare prescription drug benefit, and a 23-percent increase in domestic discretionary spending, and Huckabee’s been right there with him.
On election night in 2006, 55 percent of voters leaving the polls said they believed the Republican Party had become the party of big government. Mike Huckabee is doing his best to convert the other 45.
Michael Tanner is director of health and welfare studies at the Cato Institute, and author of Leviathan on the Right.