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Five Things Mike Huckabee Doesn't Want You to Know About Him

The former Arkansas governor is surging in the Republican polls for the presidency, but with popularity comes greater scrutiny into his odd past.
 
 
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Look who's the dark horse now: Not Fred Thompson, the Law & Order actor whose get-off-my-lawn glower was initially mistaken by the media for Reaganesque magic, but Mike Huckabee, the ex-Arkansas governor with the beady stare and steely proclamations about the Iraq war. You might remember him from the Fox News Channel debate in September, when he reproached Ron Paul by appealing to the "honor" of the Republicans as a reason to keep occupying Baghdad -- winning both applause and comparisons to Star Trek's Klingons.

Suddenly, heading into the primary season, it's Huckabee who is making moves, polling at 24 points in the crucial primary state of Iowa. (Thompson: three points.) His ratings, as his campaign is gloating, put him within striking distance of Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachussetts

So who is he? His latest ad finds him repeating Chuck Norris internet jokes, borrowing for his campaign a har-har style from Jesse "The Body" Ventura that would suit him well if it were 1999 and he were promising to give Minnesotans tax breaks instead of vowing (as he did the other day) to bomb Iran " in a heartbeat" without consulting Congress if President Huck deems it necessary. "Like our Founding Fathers," Norris wrote in a mass email to Huckabee supporters on Nov. 13, playing to conservative evangelicals frustrated by bad choices, "he's not afraid to stand up for a Creator against secularist beliefs."

A complex figure, Huckabee, an ex-Baptist minister, has been treated in the media as a simpleton, with more attention devoted to his folksiness than his foreign policy (raised in poverty, he comes by this duck-hunter schtick more honestly than did George W. Bush.) But that's chicken scratch next to the pile of controversies that have remained out of sight.

Here are five things you probably didn't know about him.

1. Clinton conspiracy theories inspired his biggest mistake.

Like today's 9/11 Truthers, some conservatives in the 1990s were fixated on signs allegedly revealing monstrous crimes -- in their case not discrepancies in the melting point of steel but murders and other dark acts supposedly masterminded by the Clinton family. "Clinton's biggest crime," claimed New York Post scribe Steve Dunleavy in 2000, was allowing a Vietnam veteran named Wayne DuMond to go to prison for 50 years after being convicted -- falsely, Dunleavy said -- for the 1985 knifepoint rape of the 17-year-old cheerleader Ashley Stevens, a distant cousin of the Clintons. "That rape never happened," Dunleavy said.

In cloudy circumstances, DuMond had suffered castration before his jailing. He said a lynch mob had severed his testicles. They somehow ended up as trophies on the desk of a crooked local sheriff, Coolidge Conlee. In the view of the theorists, Conlee was somehow an "ally" of the Clintons, conjuring up a world in which state politics were on the scale of The Dukes of Hazzard . "He didn't have no right to take them," DuMond said of his balls in 1988.

By the time Huckabee became governor, it was believed by many on the Right that DuMond had not only been maimed but also framed by the Bill & Hillary Octopus. Responding to the pressure, Huckabee said DuMond had gotten a "raw deal" and wrote to the imprisoned DuMond: "Dear Wayne, [m]y desire is that you be released from prison. I feel that parole is the best way for your reintroduction into society to take place."

In June 2001, Ashley Stevens heard on her car radio that DuMond -- let loose by the state of Arkansas -- had beein seized for strangling 39-year-old Carol Shields in Kansas City, leaving her naked and bound on a bed. Authorities had also suspected DuMond in the similar rape-murder of a 23-year-old pregnant victim, Sarah Andrasek.

Huckabee has since sought to pin the blame on a parole board for freeing the ingrateful DuMond. The next year, however, the Arkansas Times took home an alt-newsweekly award for a piece, "Huckabee Frees Career Rapist," in which numerous inside sources said it was the governor who made the decision.

2. Win over the Christian Right? He is the Christian Right.

At 15, in a small church in Hope, Ark., young Mike Huckabee came to the pulpit with a pitcher of grape juice. As he poured water into it, he cautioned the flock against "watering down the blood of Christ." Likewise, after college, Huckabee picked the most fire-and-brimstone employer imaginable.

In the '70s, there were still two strong factions of Southern Baptists, the fundamentalists and the moderates. The more liberal Baptists hadn't yet gotten the boot. No moderate, James Robison -- a self-described "dark-visaged, angry preacher" for whose TV ministry Huck became communications director -- raged against gays. In one piece of footage, Huckabee's boss bellows that he is "sick and tired, hearing about all the radicals and perverts and the liberals and the leftists and the Communists coming out of the closet. It's time for God's people to come out of the closet, out of the churches and change America!"

As press flack, Huckabee had to handle the fallout in 1979 when Robison was kicked off the Dallas station WFAA for citing a National Enquirer report that gays seduce and kill children. Huckabee went on to organize a 1980 strategy session for Robison and the Christian Right as they sought to carve out a role for themselves under Reagan's Morning In America. Robison, who in his mellower old age has a show on the gold-plated Trinity Broadcasting Network, remains an important liaison between the Bush administration and the Christian Right, and has endorsed his old friend. (It should be noted, however, that as a leader in the Southern Baptist Convention, Huckabee was to the left of a fundamentalist rival he defeated.)

Despite Huckabee's undiluted credentials -- as someone who helped to build the Moral Majority, as a governor who fought to stop gays from adopting -- he has been slighted by other like-minded Christian leaders. He's suffered the indignity of watching evangelist Pat Robertson endorse, in his place, the licentious, pro-choice mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani. The buzz is that other Christian Right leaders just aren't sold on Huck as a safe bet. One reason is that he's already pissed off other parts of the party's base. For example:

3. If you're a Minuteman, you'll hate Huckabee.

In the world of Free Republic, the conservative internet community, real Republicans are holding out for a hero to save them from the Mexican immigrants they believe are trying to establish an evil Aztec caliphate in the Southwest. Posts one patriot: "Huckabee. He's that pro-amnesty governor who lost a lot of weight, right?"

One evening in 2005 during the Minuteman craze, Dr. Wesley Kluck, a pediatrician in the Bible Belt town of Arkadelphia, sat down to e-mail a plea for help to his old classmate, Huckabee. Years ago, Kluck's third-grader daughter had proudly announced she was learning Spanish to talk to a new best friend. The friend's mother, Juanita Hernandez, got up before dawn to debone chickens for the food giant Tyson Foods, in a plant along Interstate 65 at an industrial park in nearby Gum Springs.

But just after sunrise, U.S. agents in khaki uniforms had stormed the place. They arrested over a hundred workers, stranding 30 children to fend for themselves.

Around midnight, Kluck tells AlterNet, an email arrived from a concerned Mike Huckabee, who moved to help the families. He personally paid $1,000 to help and demanded an explanation from the federal government. "How is our government benefiting from an abandoned 1-year-old?" Huckabee asked. His constituents were furious. They called up the governor's office, swearing at him for helping the Mexicans. The calls, Huckabee said, were running "1,000 to 1" against him.

Even his worst enemy in Arkansas -- the maverick Arkansas Times editor Max Brantley, who busted Gov. Huckabee for several ethical violations involving gifts and cash -- credits Huck with a rare streak of kindness towards poor immigrants. And that's not all: Huckabee, eating sandwiches with reporters one day, frankly called some fellow Republicans "driven by sheer racism."

So jokes about sending Chuck Norris to secure the border will not be enough to endear Huckabee to the GOP's nativist wing.

4. He supports a crazy tax plan.

On the one hand, Huckabee has managed to alienate the tax-cuts-for-the-rich crowd. Big corporations haven't invested in him. The Club for Growth has run ads calling him too liberal. He "destroyed the conservative movement in Arkansas," complains old-school, right-wing activist Phyllis Schlafly. And one former state GOP legislator, in an interview with AlterNet, suggests that a lot of people's feelings were hurt when Huckabee compared them to "Shi'ite Republicans": extremists who didn't understand the practical considerations of governing a state like Arkansas, with its progressive tendencies.

To boost his tax cred, candidate Huckabee has eagerly signed onto FairTax, a proposal to abolish the IRS touted by Atlanta radio host Neal Boortz and at rallies nationwide. Boortz would end the income tax. Instead you'd pay a federal sales tax, and to offset resulting problems, the government would write you checks every month. How much you get depends on the number of people are in your household. And nothing else.

The cash awards, or "prebates," are supposed to offset how hard it will be on poor people to pay more for groceries. For the middle class, it has the allure of the government paying you, instead of vice-versa, while you get to fire your accountant and throw out your paperwork, unless of course you're a store owner, in which case you become neighborhood taxman. Says Huck: "I would like April 15 to be another beautiful spring day in America."

Bruce Bartlett, an economics adviser in the Reagan administration, has accused FairTax of originating in the Church of Scientology, which has historically seen the IRS as a mortal enemy. For some time the IRS refused to honor L. Ron Hubbard's pyramid scheme as a tax-exempt religion, so his acolytes dreamed up an awfully similar plan to obliterate the agency. FairTax activists, however, maintain that the resemblance between the two plans is coincidental.

But what's important is whether FairTax itself is workable. Analysts across the political spectrum have said it isn't. Costs could far exceed the promised 23 percent sales tax, and possible side effects include instantly creating a tax-free black market for everything, screwing up important deductions and punishing older people who've paid the old way.

5. If you enjoyed the Terri Schiavo case, you'll love the Huckabee administration.

After Huckabee became governor of Arkansas in 1996 -- taking over from the corrupt Democrat "Jim" Guy Tucker, who had refused to leave office -- he grabbed national headlines with a governor's intervention that year to block the state from paying $419 for a retarded 15-year-old girl's abortion, her pregnancy stemming from being raped by her stepfather on a camping trip.

Huckabee held up Medicaid payment for the operation. He claimed his hands were tied by the state constitution, Amendment 68, which prevented underwriting of abortions unless the mother's life was endangered. The Supreme Court had thrown arguments from Christian Right governors like these out before. But Huck held to his guns, which threatened to end the $900 million annual agreement with Washington that gave his state medical money, so long as it played by federal rules.

A compromise was finally reached in which private money footed the bill. Afterward Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist Michael Leahy accused Huckabee of having played a moralistic version of poker with the meek, remarking:

We do not need any affable benevolent men playing Supreme Ruler. Maybe it's the kind of role that a lot of us would slip into if similarly thrusted into high office. Maybe it's what a lot of people fantasize about in the shower, the selfish, autocratic things we would do if our word were law, our prejudices were given full berth, our resentments were settled -- and to hell with mortals' rules.

Read more of John Gorenfeld's work at gorenfeld.net.

 
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