Gov. Mike Huckabee’s appearance isn’t the only thing that’s changed. His rhetoric has less weight, too.
We miss the briefly courageous Mike Huckabee. The champion of school consolidation. The champion of art teaching in schools. The champion of tougher high school graduation requirements — the courses required every year even if the Bodcaw superintendent insists there’s no demand for physics or French II. We even vaguely recall a crusading governor who said school improvements would not come without cost.
But that was then. First, he was AWOL during the legislative session. More recently, two recent events sharply illustrated the return of the Huckster. One was his reaction to the news that state tax collections are running ahead of forecast. “If things continue to improve,” he told the Democrat-Gazette, “I would prefer that the discussion center on how to reduce taxes rather than finding ways to spend more money.” If this isn’t a sound bite for future presidential campaign biographers, I don’t know what is.
Huckabee went down this path once before when the state enjoyed a momentary blip in revenue (and didn’t face, as it does now, the coming crush of a reduction in federal Medicaid support). He and the legislature rushed to cut taxes. Not long after, the sales tax had to go up yet again to pay for a tepid response to the court finding that the state inadequately supports public education.
And now here he goes again. The legislature fell short in financing schools in the last legislative session (by a cool $2 billion on building work alone) and Huckabee thinks a paltry $99 million surplus should be the impetus for a tax cut rather than being applied to the state’s debt to school children.
Tax cut talk sounds particularly inappropriate from the lips of a man concurrently bemoaning “unfunded mandates” on local school districts. Here I refer to the governor’s alibi on why he thinks his state Board of Education should encourage, but not require, more physical education instruction. The Huckster, who is trying to enrich himself with a crusade against the obesity epidemic, thinks physical education should be a local school option. He didn’t feel that way, we remind you, on consolidation, Advanced Placement courses, college-geared graduation requirements, art teachers and many other “unfunded state mandates.” (Good mandates, we readily admit.)
Huckabee can’t risk support of required P.E. instruction. Because then he couldn’t explain why he won’t also ask the state Board of Education to require new limits on candy and soft drink machines in Arkansas schools. The answer is simple. He’s beholden to the sugar lobby. The schools also are Coke addicts. They push Coke for vending revenue and other soda company kickbacks, money that is conveniently outside the school aid formula calculation.
It is particularly hypocritical — not to mention wrong — for Huckabee to claim there’s no scientific evidence that the absence of soda machines might contribute to healthier kids. His own diet book says it’s vital to remove unhealthy food and drink from your house. Why this isn’t true for schools is a question only the governor can answer, but he doesn’t talk to us.
Actually, I take that back. The governor did talk to us briefly when were cheering his brief time as an education governor. This was before his primary concerns were a presidential campaign and peddling a book that would be unmarketable but for the celebrity of his taxpayer-financed public office.