Columns » John Brummett

Governor goes off, comes back


Gov. Mike Huckabee went off last Thursday, but returned Friday. That's his pattern, spouting in-your-face preacher rhetoric then back-pedaling his way to a responsible political position. He's a much better governor when he knows what he's talking about. He can see straighter when he gets down off that high horse and takes that chip off his shoulder. What happened was that he invited some of the fine folks from our Stephens Media Group newspapers to the Governor's Mansion for lunch. He does this from time to time with various news organizations. I chose not to go, being weird. That morning, David Pryor had touted at an education symposium the forthcoming Clinton School of Public Service, which will offer the nation's first-ever graduate program in public service and which Pryor will head. It will be housed in the old and refurbished Choctaw Station next to the Clinton presidential library. It will be associated with the library but a part of the University of Arkansas. Clinton will have an office there and come by to visit with students from time to time. Anyway, it came out at the symposium that the UA will be seeking state operating money for the school, about $2 million a year, give or take, beginning in July 2005. So, at lunch, one of our guys asked the governor about this fresh information about a need for state money. Huckabee knew nothing about it. He'd have had every excuse - every good reason - to decline to comment. But he went off anyway, not even quarter-cocked, to wit: "I think the state has already made a multimillion-dollar investment in the library." "I don't see the state having the resources to expand a program at the library for the simple reason that we're going to have a hard time just paying the freight we've already committed ourselves for." "It seems to me that's sort of like changing the rules in the middle of the game because we were very explicitly told that the library would be self-sustaining, that it would bring money, not cost money." "That's totally news to me. That's the first time I've ever heard that they were going to ask the state for an ongoing commitment to fund a program there. The question might be, whose scholarships are we going to cut, which faculty salaries ... will we eliminate?" Huckabee must not have known the state already had sent $1.6 million to the school for start-up costs. He must not have known the school is separate from the presidential library. He must not have stopped to think that the governor and legislature ought to provide money to the colleges and universities and leave the academic priorities and micro-management to them. He must not have considered that the school would go before the state Higher Education Coordinating Council. He must not have remembered that he said not a word when his pal Lu Hardin, president of the University of Central Arkansas, spent a half-million dollars the other day to buy a chronically money-losing if splendid magazine. So, the next day the Little Rock daily newspaper set out to do a follow-up on our guys' little luncheon scoop. And the governor, perhaps having had things explained to him, was quoted as saying: "I'm very supportive of the Clinton Library. And I believe the goal of having a School of Public Service is an admirable goal. But it will be up to the University of Arkansas administration and the system's trustees to determine if they can properly fund the school given the budget situation. State budgets will be strained to say the least." That was better. The governor might want to think about whether he went off in the wrong direction because of his partisan and personal aversion to Clinton. I think that's one reason he committed the tragic error of siding with Wayne Dumond. That the victim was a distant cousin of Clinton caused Huckabee to see sinister complication where none existed.

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