Election 2008

After Dropping out of the Race, Huckabee Heads Back into the Woods

It appears that Mike Huckabee will make a seamless transition from life on the campaign trail to hunting and fishing.
Politicians rarely give a glimpse of their lives that is not staged. But on Sunday, two days before Mike Huckabee ended his Republican presidential bid, the ex-Arkansas Governor did just that, talking about his passion for hunting and fishing.

The occasion was the 50th anniversary of the Texas Outdoor Writers Association. The group was holding its convention in a downtown hotel in College Station, where Texas A&M University is located. Inside, through a Western-themed lobby and past the pool, was a rustic meeting room filled with 60 or so people. Almost all were White, middle-aged journalists who write about hunting and fishing. Huckabee was slated to talk at 1 P.M., but by this stage in his campaign being on time was not an issue.

Allen Warren, a sportsman and video maker from San Antonio filled the gap, lamenting the sorry state of getting young people involved in the great outdoors. As a video player stubbornly would not work, he talked about the value of being with kids in the great outdoors, preferably hunting or fishing.

"I was 14 years old when I killed my first deer," he said, recounting that day. "Sometimes we get so caught up in why we are out there, we forget what it all means."

"There are different stages of becoming a hunter," Warren said. "There's the shooting stage. After that you want to shoot everything you can shoot. Then there's the trophy hunter. Then they go through a stage where they handicap themselves. And if they do it enough they become a philosopher. They reflect on all of it."

Warren was now beyond the reflective stage. He described himself as a "missionary' for the waning sport, saying not enough people were learning to hunt. The media "doesn't like good people" like sportsmen, he said, possibly insulting the few friends he had in Texas' fourth estate. But worst of all, he said, kids were not experiencing the outdoors through hunting and fishing. "What does it feel like to not know something?" he said.

Fortunately, Huckabee would soon appear with an uplifting message for sportsmen.

Ray Scott, a true impresario for bass fisherman who said he has known Huckabee for 30 years, took the podium holding an old leather suitcase with a fish head and tail sticking out both sides. He introduced the former governor as one of "25 people who have changed the face of hunting and fishing," an honor that Huckabee quickly told the audience that Scott also earned through his avid support of bass fishing.

Huckabee, dressed in a blue button-down shirt and a blazer with an embroidered bass tournament patch, started by saying how he remembered when the contest first came to Pine Bluff, Arkansas. He said he remembered when the record was set for catching the biggest fish, and said he learned to fish on the Arkansas River. "It is a real thrill to talk about something other than politics, something that is near and dear to my heart."

"In our state, if you grow up like I did, the real recreation was hunting and fishing on public land," Huckabee said. He said many school boys would come home after classes, ditch their books and pick up a shotgun and go out into the woods to shoot squirrels.

"For us in Arkansas, our natural resources were our greatest treasure," he said. "It is a beautiful state. I grew up loving it. One of the goals I set as governor was having every kid within reach of a fishing hole."

Huckabee went on to say that when he first became governor, he had a reputation for being fiercely anti-taxation. But at that time there was a proposed state constitutional amendment to raise the sales tax and dedicate those funds to buy land for hunting and fishing. Instead of opposing it, as many people predicted he would, he embraced it and helped campaign for its passage. Of course, that included traveling by boat up and down the state to hold press conferences at boat landings, he reminisced. People sneered he did that just to get tips from the best fishermen, Huckabee said. "They were right," he said.

But there was a lot more to hunting and fishing than meets the eye, he said. When young people learn to fish and hunt, Huckabee said, they learn science and ethics not taught at school. Fishermen learn about water PH levels and other factors that affect fish. They and hunters also learn about following rules, such as what size fish you can catch or size deer you can shoot. Then they must discipline themselves to follow those rules when they are on their own in the woods, he said. Then there was the joy of going out with your kids.

"If you have never looked on the face of a kid catching their first fish, you have missed something special in life," he said, saying schools can and should do more to teach kids how to fish and hunt. "Parents who have never-ever been involved in their kids school, never-ever going to a PTA meeting, or a parent-teacher conference, will come out once you take them fishing It's teaching science without knowing it."

As expected, he slipped into promoting Arkansas as a tourism destination for sportsmen. He also said that people who pay for hunting and fishing licenses do more to preserve the outdoors than any so-called environmentalist, because those fees support state fish and game departments.

Huckabee said hunting and fishing were among the most optimistic, if not inspirational of human activities. "There is a certain feeling in us that lives for hope and anticipation," the Baptist minister said. "How many have you been in a boat and said I'll just cast one more time Let me try this one more time"

And just being outdoors was its own reward. "It's not about the fact I brought anything in, it was the fact I went out," he said. "I am even convinced that in heaven there will be flooded timber duck hunting -- and if there isn't, I will ask for a transfer"

"It is the anticipation of going out there, blowing the whistle, and bringing them down. It is not about getting one, but about seeing them in their natural state."

Then it was Huckabee's time to get philosophical.

"I also have a healthy respect for the creation and the creator," he said. "I have a simple philosophy of life. Every person was created to have a relationship with God, with the world, and with ourselves. When we know what that is, we are pretty balanced people. We were not all created to live in all concrete and steel structures."

"It is not just recreation," Huckabee said. "It is re-creation of all that matters and all that is good."
Steven Rosenfeld is a senior fellow at Alternet.org and co-author of "What Happened in Ohio: A Documentary Record of Theft and Fraud in the 2004 Election," with Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman (The New Press, 2006).