National Journal's Linda Douglass sat down with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. This is a transcript of their conversation.
Q: I want to welcome Governor Mike Huckabee, who is one of the Republican presidential candidates and is creating a lot of buzz out there on the trail right now. Welcome, Governor Huckabee.
Mike Huckabee: Thanks Linda, pleasure to be here today.
Q: Thank you so much, let's start right off with asking you the questions that everyone is asking about your campaign, and that is this: you would seem to be the ideal candidate for the Christian conservatives, and yet their leaders are clearly hesitating to embrace you. Is it your message? Is it you? Is it something else?
Huckabee: You know, the good news for me is, even if the leaders are hesitating, the followers aren't, and at some point the leaders may look up and say, "Can you tell me where everyone went? I'm their leader and need to know where they went."
The amazing thing in the Value Voter debates , when the people have a chance to see all of the candidates at the same time, I not only win but I win overwhelmingly, getting more votes than all the other candidates put together and that's happened now in three different Value Voter debates.
Q: But what do you think the hesitation is on the part of the leaders?
Huckabee: I think some of them are sort of forgetting that the movement is all about what we believe and what we stand for, and it's not so much about the politics of Washington. But if they're based there and they breathe that air too much, they tend to start to thinking like the people who look at this from a very political standpoint, and say, "OK, what do the polls say? How much money is in the bank?" rather than, "Who stands with us? Whose ideas and principles are where ours are?"
And people really do forget that back at this point of the game in 1979, Ronald Reagan was flat broke. He was in, like, fourth place. No one was giving him any shot of being the nominee much less winning the election, but he went on to win because he communicated in a way that touched where people were -- maybe not necessarily where the Establishment was or where the elite of the party happened to be. In fact, he never really had the support of the elite of the party until he became the president, and then he became the elite of the party. But that is what people forget... is that when the conservative movement generally wins, it's not because it's a top-down. It usually is because it's a bottom-up-type operation.
Q: Do you think that the Republican Party this year risks losing the strong support from Christian conservatives that it has had in the last several elections? Is there something that could happen in this year's race that could cause those voters to be turned off?Rate the candidate's positions
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Huckabee: It could happen if the nominee is not somebody who really shares their principles, but I still think when it comes down to it, that many of the pro-life and pro-family voters are going to believe that they still have reason to support a candidate, particularly if the candidate shares their views. I think that's why many are coming on board with me. They know that if I were to be the nominee, it would be very easy for them to support me and do it enthusiastically.
Q: Would you, as president, move to ban abortion in this country?
Huckabee: What I would love to do is to see that we really change this debate from banning abortion to understanding that the issue is trying to protect innocent human life. And I think sometimes when we frame it in the sense of banning something, it's like, "Oh that's a terrible thing." What we really need to do is say, "Is it a human life?" Let's talk about that. Is what is in that mother's womb a human life? Or is it something else? If it's something else, it's a different discussion. If it's a human life, then let's ask, "Do we have a right to end that human life for our conveniences?" Whether it's the mother's or the society's, and where does that lead us?
What I think we have to get back to is that the debate ought to center around the sanctity of human life -- the unique and intrinsic worth of every human life, and that's not going to happen in a single election cycle. We'll not make all the changes, but we need to start moving that way, and as a president I'd try to shape the debate and change the discussion so that we really begin to focus on the real issue which I think we've lost over the last several years.
Q: But you would support a constitutional amendment banning abortion, which certainly in your view would be taking a human life?
Huckabee: Absolutely. And the reason I would is for the same reason I would support a constitutional amendment that would recognize that people of different color are as much human beings as me or anyone else. I can't help but remember back to the Dred Scott decision of 1857 in which the courts made one of the most hideous rulings in judicial history in this country and ruled that some people really weren't as much people as others. It took a long time to undo the damage of that, if ever. There have been many times in history when we've affirmed, for example, that women had equal status.
I believe there will come a time when we hopefully will mature enough as a nation that we will decide that every human life -- whether it's white, black, male, female, or in the gestation stage, or whether it's 80 years old and unable to speak -- is a life that is deserving of respect and dignity.
Q: Governor, people, reporters in particular, ask you a lot of questions about your religious beliefs. They ask you about the fact that you don't necessarily believe in evolution and other kinds of questions. Do you think the other candidates, say Mitt Romney, should be pressed to explain the specifics of his religious beliefs?
Huckabee: Well sure, I mean if I'm going to be, I think everyone ought to be subjected to the same standards. I shouldn't be held to a different set. You know I don't mind being asked the questions. I sometimes get a little frustrated when that's all I'm asked and people don't ask me about education and health care and transportation and energy independence, because that's where I'm going to spend most of my time as a president.
When I was a governor for 10 and a half years -- longer than anybody has been in an executive position in government who is running for president -- I didn't have the luxury of sitting around talking about just pro-life, pro-family issues. I was consistent and clear and I took action on those issues, but I think if people looked at my record as governor, they'd say, "Here's a guy that was an education governor. He was a highway governor. He was a health care governor." Those are the hallmarks that people will remember from my having been a governor. And if I'm president, they're going to say, "This is a national security governor. This is an energy-independence governor. This is an education president." They're going to be looking at how well we lead this country in issues that touch American families every night when they sit at the dinner table.
Q: I'm just about to ask you about your record as governor. But just one more final question on that subject. So you do think that Governor Romney's religious beliefs should be at least as much of an issue in the campaign as your own are?
Huckabee: Well, if mine are going to be. And not just his, but I mean let's ask Rudy Giuliani, John McCain and Fred Thompson. We shouldn't just say one candidate who happens to be open about his faith is going to get all the religious questions and everybody else just sort of hides behind whatever it is they believe or don't believe. If it's so important for the people to know what I believe, wouldn't it be just as important to find out what every other candidate believes, whether they're Democrat or Republican?
Q: So that's a fair question. Let's talk a little bit about your record as governor. You were, as governor, a supporter of a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants and were a supporter of the notion of high school students whose parents might have brought them over illegally at least being eligible for college scholarships. And now you're talking about sealing the border. What has changed?
Huckabee: Well, I never talked about opening the door for people who were illegal. The only thing that I ever talked about were the children of anyone, and I never made a distinction as to what their status was. The point was you don't punish the child for a crime of a parent. I have supported enforcing the laws on adults who broke the immigration laws. I believe in a secure border. I believe that we shouldn't have amnesty, and I don't believe in sanctuary cities.
Q: No path to citizenship?
Huckabee: Well, if the path is one that takes the same path that others have taken to become citizens who came here legally. I have not advocated that you have sort of a special express lane for people who've broken the law while others are standing in line for seven to 12 years waiting to get in. What I did advocate -- and it makes a lot of conservatives mad, I'll be honest with you -- some of them have abandoned me over it and that's fine I understand that. But my position was and remains that you do not punish a child for the crime of the parent. If a child is in the back seat of a car when a father drives drunk, it's perfectly appropriate to put the father in the drunk tank, but you don't put the child in the drunk tank. If a child was brought here when he or she was five years old and has gone through our entire education system and has worked hard, learned and made straight A's, and has qualified for an Academic Challenge scholarship, which was a very specific program in the state, and that student has qualified to be able to earn that scholarship, I'd rather that student go to college and become a taxpayer, not simply take some low-end hourly wage job and ultimately be a tax-taker.
Now part of the provision of the legislation -- by the way, it never passed because there was a lot of uproar over it -- but part of the provision was that person had to be in the process of applying for citizenship. So it was not that you get a free ride, It was that the very thing that we would hope for... two things: one, that people are self-sufficient and not dependent upon the government. And No. 2, that they become legal. Those were the two requirements within that bill. I still think that makes a lot more sense than saying to somebody who is a straight-A student who might be smart enough to go to MIT, and graduate school eventually, and find a cure for cancer, to say no we want you to pick lettuce instead.
Q: Do you think the illegal immigrants should be allowed to get some kind of a driver's license?
Huckabee: No, I don't. I think that's a big mistake because if a driver's license is also the basis of being able to vote, the next thing you have would be illegal people voting. Voting is a precious right of a citizen. It is absolutely not the privilege that should be extended to somebody who is not a citizen of this country, period. Video: Huckabee on Fair Tax
Q: You have gotten a lot of criticism from anti-tax groups and a lot of praise from pundits, columnists and so forth for the same thing. The anti-tax groups have criticized you for presiding over tax increases in Arkansas for the social welfare of the people of Arkansas. Your local paper did an analysis that showed even though you cut taxes, taxes went up overall $505 million during your tenure. The pundits who write about you say well, that shows that you are a compassionate conservative. Do you think that tax increases are necessary in some cases?
Huckabee: Well, at the state level, they are. When you have to balance a budget and meet Supreme Court orders to equalize education funding, which is what I had to do -- both from a Supreme Court case we lost as well as from a law that mandates that we balance our budget, which I did every year I was a governor. Governors don't have the luxury of printing money or borrowing money like the federal government. So the feds can talk about, you know, they didn't vote for taxes. What they voted for was to indebt, three generations away, a bunch of kids who haven't even been born yet. I would say my approach is far more responsible than the approach of members of Congress who have created incredible deficits that are going to be on the future heads of these great-grandchildren of ours that have yet to be born. Did some taxes get raised when I was governor? Yes, they did. One of them helped build our roads. Eighty percent of our people voted for that. Another one was voted on by the people that was a one-eighth of a cent dedicated to conservation, I think that was a great thing for a state that calls itself the Natural State.
Q: So you wouldn't rule out then as president raising taxes in some cases if it was necessary -- whether it was for war or infrastructure or education?
Huckabee: I think that raising taxes at the federal level is probably the last thing on my agenda. Because the problem at the federal level is spending more than it is lack of revenue. But what I would do, even more importantly, is change the very tax structure, which I think would have more to do with just igniting the economy. I believe in getting rid of the current tax on productivity, whether it's productivity on work, wages...
Q: You mean the income tax?
Huckabee: Exactly. Totally get rid of it, both on corporations and individuals. Also eliminate capital gains and tax on savings and dividends and inheritance. And we go to a consumption tax, completely. Economic models and this plan called the Fair Tax, was designed by some of the leading economists at MIT, Harvard, Boston University, Stanford. And the concept is that once you change to a truly consumption-based tax, you end the underground economy. You bring capital back to this country that's been parked offshore. You have the capacity to restore manufacturing jobs, and it can have a dramatic impact on finally encouraging people to be productive. Right now the system says that the harder you work, the higher the tax bracket we're going to put you in, and in essence, we are penalizing your productivity.
Q: So this is a tax on consumption not income, I have many more questions I want to ask you about that, but let me just get in one final question on a slightly different subject because I know you have to run, governor. How would you be a different president than President Bush?
Huckabee: Well, time would tell. I think one thing is I would have a great deal of respect for the role and place of the states more so than this administration. One disappointment is that I think we have moved away from the concept of federalism. I believe Jefferson won the debate with Hamilton back 250 years ago that we don't want a very strong centralized federal government and weak states. We want very strong energetic, innovative states and keep the federal government and its centralized form much milder. I think we've moved the wrong way in this administration.
Secondly, I would have a different foreign policy. I don't believe that the role of the United States is to be in essence a missionary organization, exporting democracy whether or not the people in those countries want it. I think the best way we can help democracy in other parts of the world is to create a version of it here so strong, so very desirable, that it becomes a magnet and so extraordinarily attractive that other countries would want to be like us.
Q: OK, thank you so much Governor Mike Huckabee. I do hope you'll come back another time and talk with us again.
Huckabee: I look forward to it, Linda. Thank you so much.
Copyright 2012 by National Journal Group Inc.