Columns » John Brummett

State of the state speech

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Let us now analyze Gov. Mike Huckabee’s State of the State speech to the legislature. Our format will be to detail particulars, then destroy or extol them, or both, depending on what’s warranted. What he said: He gave an extended sports metaphor about how the experienced people need to provide “senior leadership.” But he said some people are just “towel-poppers,” all about silliness and trouble-making. He vowed not to be a towel-popper, but a senior leader. Destroy: The metaphor was over-long and trite. I caught one guy failing in his effort to suppress laughter. But more than that, the governor should be the ultimate senior leader, possessing as he does sole executive authority and a decade’s experience. Yet Huckabee purposely eschews any specifics about how to meet the court mandate on school facilities or pay for his proposed increases in Medicaid, prison and higher education. Over the years he’s been the biggest towel-popper of all, calling legislators rats and roaches and saying mostly recently his legacy was fine but that the legislature needed to work on its. What he said: We need to stop smoking, get a little exercise and lose weight. Otherwise health care costs are going to eat us alive. Extol: Amen, brother. What he said: Elementary and secondary education are important, but we’re not going to get anywhere if our kids don’t go to good colleges and stay there to get degrees. Both extol and destroy: He’s right, and it’s past time someone dared to emphasize post-secondary education, even over K-12. But he offers no credible way to pay for the increases. What he said: We’re losing financial ground on prisons, too, and we need to take some of these offenders out of prison and give them alternative sentencing. Both extol and destroy: He’s right. But all he ever does is talk. He’s been saying this since he took office in the last century, and the only real reform we’ve seen is the emergence of a few drug courts. What he said: We need to act now while interest rates are favorable to raise money for a billion dollars in bonds to improve our secondary roads to four-lane highways so that our better-educated people can get around to better jobs, and so that commerce might flow more readily. Since a bond issue will require a public vote, he vowed to lead the campaign to persuade the people to approve whatever the Highway Commission convinces the legislators to come up with. He called for a program based on need and traffic count, not one composed of tactically chosen projects designed only to garner legislative support. Both extol and destroy: He is so right that we need a highway program about traffic, not politics. His vision is sound. He sees college-educated people who are more connected in several ways, including by better highways. He might be forgiven for offering no specifics on financing, considering that he offsets that irresponsibility with his vow to champion in the subsequent public referendum whatever the legislators choose. But it would be better “senior leadership” for him to establish at least one ground rule. He should have told the legislators he’d champion anything they propose except a raid on general revenues, which would impair our ability to stay the course on K-12 reform, much less achieve his objectives on higher education, prisons and health. In conclusion: This was vintage Huckabee, a mixture of the banal, the well-spoken, the candid, the visionary and the passing of the buck.

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