Purchased a FORA.tv video on another website? Login here with the temporary account credentials included in your receipt.
Sign up today to receive our weekly newsletter and special announcements.
MR. COOK: Okay, here we go. Im Dave Cook from the Monitor. Thanks for coming. Our two-time guest is former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. This is his sixth visit with our group. His last was in November of 2009. Thank you for including us on your 41-city marathon tour for simple government. Mike Huckabee moved from the pulpit to politics, with a gift for cheerful alliteration. Our guest said he majored in miracles, winning a Masters degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He began his career as a Baptist minister. His first experience in the temporal realm of politics was a losing Senate race in 1992. The next year he won a special election as Lieutenant Governor and was elected to a full term as Lieutenant Governor in `94. Two years later, he became governor of Arkansas when the incumbent was convicted on a federal fraud charge. Mr. Huckabee was elected to two full terms as governor in `98 and 2002. As you know, he ran for President in 2008. In a recent Newsweek Daily Beast poll, he tied with President Obama, the strongest showing among potential 2012 GOP presidential candidates. So much for biography. Now on to the captivating process portion of the program. As always, were on the record here. Please, no live blogging or Tweeting or other means of filing while the tea is underway. It somehow seems like a disconnect to talk about blogging and tea. But anyway, theres no embargo when the session ends. As regular attendees have heard me say ad nauseam, if youd like to ask a question, please do the traditional thing and send me a subtle, non-threatening signal. Given the number of reporters here today, I will limit myself to one question, and ask that you try to do so also, so that as many as possible get a chance to question the governor. Ill start off by offering our guest the opportunity to make some brief, opening comments. Then well move to questions from around the table. With that sir, thanks for doing this. The floor is yours. GOVERNOR HUCKABEE: Thank you very much. First of all, I want to say thanks to David for his accommodating the schedule. This was the earliest I could get here, and we werent able to put together the traditional Sperling breakfast. So Im just delighted to be able to go back to all the places Ill be and say Guess what? I went to D.C., and guess who showed up at a tea party? All the reporters in D.C. GOVERNOR HUCKABEE: Theyre true tea partiers. So now that weve established where we are, Im really truly grateful for this kind of turnout in the middle of the afternoon, and I hope that you are properly caffeinated so that you can stay awake during all this engaging experience that well have. Just yesterday, my new book, All the Simple Government came out, and hopefully well talk about that primarily today. The essence of it is this: That the problems we face are very complex, but the best way to approach them is to take some simple, common sense maxims and place against them. I think the book will surprise some people in that it is perhaps bold and candid, relating to such things as Social Security and Medicare. I dont necessarily take the safest position to take politically. But I wanted this book to be a book about where I really stand, what I really believe. I think there's no secret that Im certainly contemplating the prospect of running for President again. That is not a decision that Ive made. Ive read recently that Im absolutely going to do it, and Ive read that Im absolutely not going to do it. So I dont know whether the perceptions are schizophrenia or I am, or neither one. But the truth is, Im seriously contemplating it. But one of the things that is important to me is to put forth what I stand for, and to find out does this resonate with people, because I think thats an important factor in this for me a very methodical process. Interestingly, Ive had so many people say But dont you think youre starting too late? And a reporter in Iowa asked me that very question yesterday. Arent you starting too late? Do you think youre just getting way behind? I said Can you name me all the other people whove announced? He paused a minute. He says Well nobody. I said Then why am I so late? I dont get this whole thing about that I had to make some decision about this today. Im sure theyll be some questions about that, but I really hope that we can get into the heart and meat and message of the book. One of the reasons I wanted to write it was because the frustration of sometimes being a candidate is that youre always responding to things that may not be something of importance to your heart, to your soul, to what you think is what motivated you to get involved in politics. When you write a book, you get to frame the issue. You get to say this is important to me, and this is how I feel about it. This is what I think ought to be done about it. So with that in mind, I hope youve read it. If you havent, then you can read it during the tea. Its an easy read. I tell people its so easy that even Members of Congress would be able to understand it should they choose to read it. Maybe they will, and David, Ill open it up and well start with questions. MR. COOK: Let me start. On the assumption that somebody else will probably ask a question about your political plans, I will ask -- GOVERNOR HUCKABEE: Im sure it wont even come up. MR. COOK: Ill ask you a question based on the book. Your book makes clear that youre not a fan of public employee unions. You accuse them of having a parasitic relationship with the states. You say theyre like tics with an unquenchable thirst for power. Yet according to a new USA Today Gallup poll, 61 percent of those asked would oppose a law in their state, similar to what Republican Governor Scott Walker has proposed in Wisconsin, taking away some collective bargaining rights. Only 33 percent would favor it, and as you know, a bunch of other states, Ohio, New Jersey, Indiana, Iowa with Republican governors are considering similar legislation. So my question is having read your other books, I know you come from modest means. You came from modest means. What danger, if any, do you see in the GOP striking out at collective bargaining and looking like the party doesnt care about the rights of middle class working people? GOVERNOR HUCKABEE: Let me begin by saying that when I wrote that particular chapter, it was June of last year, and nobody was talking about public employee unions. I feel somewhat validated in the fact that I was thinking about this, and believing that there was a coming meltdown. The week of the book, the hottest news item on the front page of every paper and the lead story on every newscast is the conflict going on in Wisconsin and now Indiana and Ohio, and soon to be to a neighborhood near you most likely. For those looking, its page 35 of the book, where I specifically discuss the idea of public employee unions, and the reason that I said is that they have a parasitic relationship with the states and a symbiotic relationship with the federal government. I think theres a big difference between collective bargaining for public employees and collective bargaining for private sector employees. Whats happened, over a course of several decades, is that because the public sector does things that has no competition; it is not a marketplace. Government by its nature operates in a monopoly, and therefore when the employees are bargaining for higher wages, the decision-makers are the very politicians who benefit from the efforts of the unions to get them elected and to keep them elected. So there's somewhat of, it seems to me, an unholy alliance between the givers and the receivers in that process. Theres no objectivity; theres no accountability. Over time, politicians have been all too willing to be as gracious and kind and benevolent as possible, not to offend the people who are giving extraordinary amounts of campaign contributions, $400 million in 2008 from unions to Democratic candidates, 200 million to Barack Obama. That can buy a lot of love in this city, and obviously it has. It can buy a lot of love in state capitols, and it clearly has. In the private sector, if youre a member of a union and your company makes paper, theres probably five other companies that are making paper too at least, maybe more. If you ask for more than your company can afford to give and still be competitive, at some point the people lose their jobs because the company goes out of business. So there is a market dynamic that is unique to the private sector employees. I dont have any problems with unions. In fact, I was the only Republican that was endorsed by two different unions in the 2008 campaign, which may have caused me more pain than comfort. But I was proud to have those endorsements, because Ive always been a -- during my time as a governor, one who listened to, worked with and tried to have respect for people who were members of labor unions, even though it was a very tiny part of the workforce in Arkansas. MR. COOK: And hurting the party, I mean in terms of -- I take what youre saying about your own background. GOVERNOR HUCKABEE: Yes. MR. COOK: Is there a danger for the party in being seen as anti-worker and hurting you in swing states like Ohio? GOVERNOR HUCKABEE: Well, they have to make sure that people understand that, for example in Wisconsin, for every dollar that the teacher puts in, the state puts in 57 in the retirement program. Now when people hear that, its like whoa. So its one thing to say gosh, we dont want, you know, teachers to get hurt. Heck, I dont either. If you look at my record as governor, I mean I was the one who passed a 28 and out bill for the teachers, when my Democratic predecessor had vetoed that very bill before me. So Im not anti-teacher and Im not anti-public employee. Public employees had good pay raises when I was governor, and I didnt fight them and I did everything I could to make sure that we recognized their value and worth, particularly teachers. I feel very strongly that teachers ought to be paid well. But I also think there ought to be accountability. What I dont think is realistic is when you have a disproportionate difference or disproportionate share being paid in the private and the public sector. One of the points thats made in the book is that nationally, public employees are now making 30 percent more in wages and 70 percent more in benefits and health than are their private sector counterparts. Thats significant. So if you tell a guy out there in the private sector, if hes even holding onto his job, and he may be laid off; but if he is holding onto it, I bet you he went through some serious concessions to keep his job and to keep his benefits. If you tell him now you need to pay more taxes because the person who does similar things to what you do in the public sector gets 30 percent more in wage and 70 percent more in benefits, thats a hard sell. Thats where Republicans have to take this. MR. COOK: Let me tell you where were going to begin. Brian, Stephanie, wherever you are, Craig Gilbert, the gentleman next to Craig and Im having a senior moment. I apologize. Rick Klein, Matt Visor, Walter Shapiro, Margaret Talub (ph) and Carl Lubsdorf (ph). Brian. GOVERNOR HUCKABEE: That ought to keep us busy. MR. COOK: Yes. MONITOR BREAKFAST: In your 12 years when you encountered budget shortfalls in Arkansas, what if anything did you do to reduce state employee wages, benefits and collective bargaining ever? GOVERNOR HUCKABEE: Collective bargaining was not an issue for us in Arkansas, because we didnt have unions that had collective bargaining at the public employee level. Arkansas is a right to work state, one of 23 states that is, and so we had associations of state employees. I worked very well with the associations, and we worked hard to make sure that there was cost of living increases. One thing I did do was to make that when we had increases, that we increased more at the entry level than we did the executive level, because what happens, if you take an across-the-board percentage, and say okay, everybody gets a four percent increase, because thats what the CPI is, that sounds fair. But what happens over a period of a decade, if you make that adjustment every year, the people at the top are going to have a disproportionate growth in their income compared to the person whos at the entry level. So what we recognized was we need to get new talent into the state. It wasnt so hard to keep them once they were there, and if theyd been there for 10, 15, 20 years, its really easy to keep them, because theyre doing great. But the people at the entry level were the ones that needed the boost. So we made a lot of adjustments, so that the higher proportion of salary increase was directed toward the people who made the least money. MR. COOK: Stephanie. MONITOR BREAKFAST: We saw in November that a number of Republican candidates who were chosen in the primaries were not able to win in the general election, partly because they were too conservative. At least that was the view -- MR. COOK: Can you hear in back there? MONITOR BREAKFAST: Partly because they were too conservative. That was the perception of the general election. So how can Republicans avoid the same fate in the general election? Can they, especially in this very polarized political climate? GOVERNOR HUCKABEE: I think Republicans had a pretty good year last year. So you know, my take on it is that for every situation where somebody might say the candidate was too conservative for maybe a particular state, there were a lot of candidates who because of their conservatism and because of their affiliation unapologetically with the mood and the movement of the Tea Party, were in fact elected. So its the dynamic of any election. Some people are going to be too left of center for some and too right of center for others, and I think it shakes out. But in the long term, Republicans had a phenomenal year, and I think the most significant thing that happened in the elections was not what was generally perceived as the big story, how Congress shifted, particularly the House. I think the big story was what happened at the state legislative level, where you had, I want to say and I used to have it right off the top of my head. I think it was like 23 legislatures that flipped, and thats really significant for two reasons. One, a lot of the policy that will actually take place will happen at the state level, not the feds. My observation is theres not a whole lot of movement, mostly gridlock at the federal level, and thats probably good for the country in many ways. But the real policy to change education and health care and transportation, and the things that cause people to kind of live and breathe and have jobs, is typically that which happens at a state level. That was significant for that reason, and the second reason being thats the farm team for future members of Congress, the Senate, for governors and for presidents. So I thought that was a huge story that maybe didnt get as much attention, but you have to understand I kind of come from the perspective that I think what goes on in the states is really important, and its one of the reasons that one of the chapters in the book is clearly about that, that the further you drift from shore, the more likely you are to best lost from sea. I try to explain why I think that the whole concept of a focus on states is really a critical one, and one that we need to talk a whole lot more about. MR. COOK: Craig? MONITOR BREAKFAST: Just to go back to Daves question, so would you like to see collective bargaining eliminated from public employee unions in your ideal world? GOVERNOR HUCKABEE: If its not eliminated, I think it has to be certainly somehow contained in a reasonable and responsible way, and I dont have a specific proposal, other than just to recognize that it is not the same to have collective bargaining at a public employee level as it is private sector level, because of the lack of competition, and the fact that there is, again as I call it, the parasitic relationship, where the people who grant the benefits are also the recipients of the return love from those are getting those benefits. MONITOR BREAKFAST: As a former Republican governor, do you have any advice for the governor of Wisconsin in this standoff, in terms of what you think may be at stake? (inaudible) hold your ground? GOVERNOR HUCKABEE: I think the fact that his Democrats ran off and, you know, went hiding in Illinois is really to me an important dereliction of duty. In Texas a few years ago, there was a similar moment. It was interesting. I was governor at the time, and they went to Oklahoma. They wouldnt come to Texarkana, though they first said they were going to. They were going to come right here. But they knew that they had a Republican governor in Arkansas, and I might send the state troopers to make them go back over. That was the thought. So they went to Oklahoma, where Brad -- oh my gosh. MONITOR BREAKFAST: Brad Henry. GOVERNOR HUCKABEE: Brad Henry, of course, was governor at the time. So they thought it was safe haven, and it was kind of a comical thing, except heres what I think is the long stretch of it. The Texas legislature now is so Republican that they have super-majorities in both the House and the Senate, and virtually on every constitutional office. Now Im not saying its directly related to that, although I dont think that that helped the Democratic Party of Texas in their image and public perception, to say we didnt get it our way so we leave. The point is, you know, President Obama was real adamant after the election. He said elections have consequences. He said we won. Remember when he had that meeting, and it was kind of at a table like this, and it was a health care meeting, and I think it was to Paul Ryan, who said I have a lot of ideas, as Paul does, and I think the world of him. The President kind of just blew him off and said, you know, we won, as if to say we dont have to listen to you. We have the majorities. Well fine. If youre going to play that game, then everybody gets to play when its their turn to bat. I think its so hypocritical for Democrats to have had this we own it all. We dont have to listen to you on health care. We can meet in the back rooms in the middle of the night. We can come up with a draft of 2,300 pages that none of you have read. Of course none of us have read either would be the other part of that. We can do that. But if you should get elected, if the people should choose you, and we dont get to dictate the terms of the deal, well head to Illinois. Well go to the hidey-hole. I just find that outrageously hypocritical and duplicitous, and I think that they got to be called out on that. MR. COOK: Sir. MONITOR BREAKFAST: Mike Warfield (ph) with the Standard. Weve been talking a lot about economic issues and foreign policy issues the last couple of weeks, but the administration announced today that they wont be defending the issue of the ban on gay marriage in courts anymore, and I just want to see your opinion of that, and your opinion about social issues in general in the next two years in the conversation. MR. COOK: Thats page 178 in the book. GOVERNOR HUCKABEE: Actually, its the first chapter. Very first chapter I open up. I think a lot of people expect me to talk about social issues, and the interesting thing that people who think thats all I talk about. I hope theyll read the book, because I certainly go the gamut. But the reason I dont walk away from it is because I show in the first chapter of this book that there is a direct economic component to the issue of family and marriage, and to specifically address the Justice Department decision in the Obama administration, Im deeply disappointed. They are clearly out of sync with the public, and the reason I say that is because 3 states have now had on the ballot for the people to make a decision, whether or not marriage should mean something other than a man and a woman life term relationship. 33 states have had it on their ballots, 33 states, including very liberal states like California and Maine, have affirmed traditional marriage. The only places where that has not happened have been where judges, or in a couple of cases state legislatures, have in essence stepped in front of the people and made a decision contrary to that. But in every ballot case, every last one of them. Now I dont know. Maybe we dont live in a world where we pay attention to the bosses, i.e. the voters anymore. But were supposed to, and when the voters are so overwhelmingly -- I mean this isnt like 16 states versus 17 states. 33 out of 33. So what does the President believe he knows that citizens in all these other states dont? I find it very disappointing that in a time when the economy and world affairs are exploding, the Justice Department would decide that this is what theyre going to put on the plate today. But I go back to there is a quantified impact of broken families. For example, one of the things that I mention in the book is a $300 billion dad deficit in America every year, 300 billion. Thats the amount of money that we spend as taxpayers to pick up the pieces, because dads are derelict in their duties and theyre not raising their kids and supporting them. Thats a big number. $300 billion is a, even in Washington terms, thats a lot of money. Theres also, I think, a staggering conclusion, that if the mothers of children in single parent homes who are married to the childrens father, we would eliminate poverty in America. I saw this as a governor. One of the reasons I came to the conclusion it was not for some evangelical reason, it was because of the pragmatic practice of having been a governor for almost 11 years and seeing that a lot of the money that we spend as a state was spent in picking up the pieces for people whose lives were broken, because their families were dysfunctional or shattered. And you know, we can argue it all we want, but the figures are clearly there. Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 1965, when he was a junior staffer at the Labor Department, wrote a report lamenting that 25 percent of African-American births in this country were illegitimate, 25 percent. He would be shocked today when he would learn that 75 percent of African-American births in this country are illegitimate, and 41 percent across the board. That is a huge turn in a generation, and he was warning then, and I dont think anybody would say that hes some fundamentalist, or that he is the leader of the evangelical movement. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, by anybodys definition, would be a little left of center. But he understood the reality and the economic reality of out of wedlock children. MR. COOK: Rick. MONITOR BREAKFAST: Another thing you address in your book is the treatment of the First Ladys anti-obesity initiative. GOVERNOR HUCKABEE: Yes. MONITOR BREAKFAST: And Im interested in your take on that. I know youve defended her to some of the critics. But as someone who launched his own anti-obesity drive to, as I recall, rather good press, why do you think its been greeted the way it has been? Has it been something in the way that its been presented to the public? Is it just a symptom of our politics today that you cant do anything today thats viewed as non-partisan? GOVERNOR HUCKABEE: You know Rick, unfortunately, I think a lot of it is because shes the one presenting it, and thats why Ive been defensive of her. I still think that her approach is the right one. I do not think that shes out there advocating that the government take over our dinner plates. In fact, shes not. Shes been criticized unfairly by a lot of my fellow conservatives. I think its out of a reflex rather than out of a thoughtful expression. Thats one of the things that bugged me most about the political environment of the day. We dont have to believe that everything the other side proposes is immediately and altogether bad, and the reason I have been very vocal, even doing an event with her and publicly speaking out for her initiative, is because it is exactly what Republicans say they believe, that you put a focus on individual responsibility. You encourage people to make good choices, and you reward them for doing so. I thought thats what we were about. She does not in the Lets Move campaign dictate what families do with their own children. She doesnt say you cant have a cookie, you cant have a birthday cake. Thats not anywhere in her program. The one thing that I think shes been criticized for, maybe by some, is that shes asking for, insisting upon or pushing for that school lunches and school breakfast offer healthier choices. Well, the federal governments already spending that money. You know, we can argue whether or not you ought to have a school breakfast. Thats a point I make in the book. I talk about the whole school breakfast program. But the conclusion is if you dont feed these kids, thats the only food theyre going to get. But if youre going to feed them, weve already made that decision, and if USDA is going to subsidize the food that goes into their plates, then shouldnt it be healthier food? Heres a couple of things that are pretty startling. 75 percent of the kids who are recruit age for the military cannot pass the physical because theyre obese by Army standards. Now if you really want to talk about obesity, lets talk about it as a national security issue. Its an economic issue, but it is a national security issue, because at the trend were going, wed better hope we dont have a war with anybody, because were not going to have anybody who can pass the physical to wear the uniform. Thats pretty scary. So rather than us condemn Michelle Obama, I think we ought to be thanking her and praising her for what shes done, and I specifically mentioned her program in the book, because -- and Im sure that will get me in some trouble with some people and Ill be pilloried for that. But so be it. As I say, there are a lot of things in this book that are gut level honest, and thats one of them, that I didnt write it to be lived. I wrote it because I believed it to be the truth. MR. COOK: Were about halfway there. Were going next to Matt Visor, Walter Shapiro, Margaret Talub, Carl Lubsdorf, Mark Shields, Chuck Rush, Sam Stein, and well end with Ruth Marcus. Matt. GOVERNOR HUCKABEE: Im tired of listening to all those names. MONITOR BREAKFAST: Governor, switching quickly to Presidential politics, a lot of the prospective candidates are spending a lot of time in New Hampshire. Your book tour had six stops in Iowa and five in South Carolina, none in New Hampshire. Is there any reason why youre not spending time there, and is that -- GOVERNOR HUCKABEE: You ever been to New Hampshire in February? Its cold up there, man. MONITOR BREAKFAST: It is. GOVERNOR HUCKABEE: My southern blood isnt acclimated very well for it. MONITOR BREAKFAST: Is that any indication of your electoral sort of map that you, you know, youd sort of focus more on an Iowa and a South Carolina than a New Hampshire? GOVERNOR HUCKABEE: A fair question. I can always punt and say the publisher put the schedule together, and actually they did. It was not conscious on my part, but I think a lot of it is -- I mean the publisher, when they put a book schedule together, and many of you in this room have written books, so Im not telling you something you dont know. Theyre not particularly interested in the politics of the stops. Theyre looking at whether or not there's a market, they believe, for the book. So you know, maybe the reason that I didnt spend three weeks in Portland, Oregon or Vermont might have something to do with the fact that there might not be as much of a market for a conservative book there, than there would be in Iowa or South Carolina or Alabama or Texas. Some of it has to do with the logistics of were doing 41 cities in like three weeks, and were doing it on a bus. So in order, they literally are looking at maps to see where you can drive between Point A and Point B and get to the next book store. MR. COOK: Walter. MONITOR BREAKFAST: Governor, staying with this (inaudible) fixation on 2012, really having been through the decision-making in 2008, is your decision-making process different this time around, and if so, how? GOVERNOR HUCKABEE: It is, because its based on the personal experience of having been there, done that. I was describing to Kirsten earlier today, I said you know if you jumped out of an airplane, youd have a whole lot better understanding of what youre going to do the next time you do it. Until youve done it, you really can -- you can watch films, you can go through the training. But you really dont know the sensation of it. Well, unlike some people who are talking about running, I really do understand the sensation of it. I also understand that the longer your campaign exists, the longer an infrastructure youve got to support. And in a time, the more candidates you have, the limit of money is going to be available, because the pool of people who are going to get in the primary is maybe not fixed; but its not unlimited. So the idea that someone would crank up a campaign as early as possible, having been through it, it doesnt make sense, unless you are so poorly known that you have to go out and wave your arms in front of everybody else and say look at me, Im here. Im in a very different position than I was in four years ago. Obviously, Im better known. Im polling at the top of virtually every national poll, and in many states, and by the way one of the things that Ive found most interesting, I was always considered well hes the evangelical candidate. Thats the only people who support him. But if you look at polling in New Jersey, in Pennsylvania, you know, Im leading the polls in states like that. Well thats not exactly what I call the hotbed of evangelicalism. So no longer have I been, I think, relegated to sort of a subset of the GOP. It puts me in a very different position. It doesnt mean that I can wait indefinitely. But it certainly means that Id be smart to wait for not only the field to develop, but to not walk away from a platform where I get to determine what I want to talk about, to a platform where I stand there waiting my turn, over 14 guys on the stage, and maybe I get called upon to ask or to answer a question about something really substantive to the presidency like evolution. I mean thats what I find just -- its like nobody wanted to talk about education and health care and infrastructure, of roads and bridges and sewer systems that are dilapidated across the country. So we all ended up with some of these extraneous things that I thought were very frustrating. But the debates are important. Im not saying the debates arent. But when the debates become more about the true substance of what a president will do or not do, then it becomes more important to be there. MONITOR BREAKFAST: Do you think about it every day? GOVERNOR HUCKABEE: Yes, because if I didnt, somebody would come up to me on the street and tell me man, I hope you run, or man, I hope you dont. I get both. MR. COOK: Margaret? MONITOR BREAKFAST: I have a foreign affairs question and I think I still want to ask it, but if someone else wants to throw out later the very interesting idea raised in a Washington Post piece, that part of what youre trying to gauge is that President Obama may be very tough for any Republican to beat. Id love to hear your thoughts on that. Now heres my foreign affairs question. GOVERNOR HUCKABEE: Okay. MONITOR BREAKFAST: I checked quickly the back of your index, and it does not mention Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain or Libya. Im wondering how big of a game change you think whats going on right now in the Middle East is for the world, whether its good or bad for U.S. interests, and if you dont think -- if you think that President Obama has done something wrong or miscalculated in his handling of it, could you tell us specifically what? GOVERNOR HUCKABEE: Yes. Its not in the index because at the time I wrote the book, I dont think I saw it coming. But Im in good company, because neither did the CIA, neither did the DNI, and neither did the President or anybody in his cabinet see Egypt coming or Yemen or Tunisia. So I think its the nature of a true uprising. It concerns me a little bit that no one in the intelligence community seemed to be prepared, or think that there was even the inkling of it, and it did seem to catch everybody off guard. The harsh reality of whats going on in the Middle East, I happened to be in Israel during the time that the Egyptian uproar was at its zenith, and I think that perspective was very interesting. But nobody could really say heres where its going, because nobody knows. Nobody knows exactly where it came from; therefore, its hard to know exactly where its been. Ive talked to intelligence and military people who are convinced that this has been brewing, but its been brewing somewhat at the hands of the Egyptian military, that they themselves were ready for a charge and they helped foster it. Obviously, the social networking and the fact that there was a ready population, a population that was ready to see something change. But even in the midst of it, the people that really know this stuff, the honest ones said we dont know where its going. But isnt that the nature of most revolutions? Nobody can really predict exactly where its going. You can barely figure out where its come from, other than a complete dissatisfaction with the leadership thats in charge. The big fear, specifically in Egypt, is that if the Muslim Brotherhood, the best organized of any entity in that country, is able to get a foothold in the government, it could be -- in fact, sometimes what happens in a revolution, where an attempt to bring more independent, more free and more democratic ends up being the polar opposite of that, because the group that is most targeted taking over is really wanting to take over for even a more totalitarian purpose than was there. MR. COOK: Carl? MONITOR BREAKFAST: Governor, I wondered what your view is of the report that was put out in December by the bipartisan Debt Commission headed by Senator Simpson and Governor Bowles. Do you agree with some of the members, like Senator Coburn of Oklahoma, that in order to deal with the deficit situation, everything has to be on the table, including taxes to get more revenue, including curbing entitlements, including curbing defense spending? GOVERNOR HUCKABEE: I do, and I spoke about it very, I think, boldly in the book. For example, I say that its time to consider raising the retirement age for Social Security and changing the rules of Medicare, in part because Social Security, when it was created in 1935, was established at a time where the life expectancy for a man was the late 50s, and for a woman in the early 60s. Medicare in 1965 was a program that when it was established, life expectancy was 67 for the average American. So you know, the thought was you retire, you get some health benefits for 18 months, and then we dont have any responsibility for you. Now were living into the 80s. Heres the irony. All the time were touting the idea that 60 is the new 40. Have any of you heard that before? Of course you have. MR. COOK: Dont believe it, but anyway. GOVERNOR HUCKABEE: I was hoping that 50 is, you know, the new. But if it is in fact true that 60 is the new 40 and you know were now running marathons in our 50s and 60s, and were just better than we were, my point is, is that weve got to be realistic and say that you cant sustain a program that was built on actuarial tables that are no longer valid. MONITOR BREAKFAST: Thats the least of it. What about raising revenue and dealing with Medicare? Those are really where the problems are. GOVERNOR HUCKABEE: Well, I do specifically talk about Medicare. But I think theres got to be revamp, maybe looking at voucher programs, to put more control in the hands of the individual patient. One of the problems that we have with Medicare is the same problem we have with employer-based health insurance, the fact that its not personal and its not portable. Medicare is portable, but its not really personal, in that theres no incentive for the recipient to save any money. When the person who receives the benefit isnt the same person whos paying for the benefit, its a recipe for abuse. Theres got to be some reforms and changes in that, and I dont think we can leave anything off the table. Weve clearly seen a huge shift from where we were, the days of John F. Kennedy and even the establishment of the Medicare program, when a very small portion of our budget was considered discretionary, or excuse me, a small portion was considered mandatory and a large portion discretionary. Since the 70s, thats increasingly grown to the place where now it is very lopsided in the favor of whats called the entitlements or the non-discretionary. MR. COOK: Mark. MONITOR BREAKFAST: Government, when high tea is being held at a five-star hotel in Washington and Mike Huckabee is the guest, you know the populist revolution is over. MONITOR BREAKFAST: I guess I want to ask you, has your success and your celebrity and the financial security, how large a factor is that in your decision? GOVERNOR HUCKABEE: Not nearly as much as people might think, because Ive had nothing, and was pretty doggone content. And you know, the last few years, Ive certainly done better than Ive ever done in my life. You know, if I have the choice of being, lets say, better of or abjectly poor, I kind of like better off better. You know, Id be dishonest if I said I didnt. But Im not enamored with the things that I have that they have me. One of the things, you now, that Id have to understand is that if I run, you know, I walk away from a pretty good income. So I dont want to walk away any sooner than I have to, because frankly I dont have a lot of reserve built up. Most of my life was in public service, and therefore I didnt come away wealthy. Im trying to recover in order to do public service. In order to run for President the last time, I cashed in my life insurance, my annuities. You know, I pretty much went through everything that I ever had as an asset that I thought I might one day live on. One thing I committed to myself, my wife and to God was that if I do this, Im going to hopefully be in a position where Im not so completely destitute at the end of it that I have no idea what to do if I get sick, or if I retire, or if Im retired earlier, have a disability. Those are things I have to think about, because Im self-employed. I dont have, you know, some safety net to fall into. MR. COOK: Chuck. MONITOR BREAKFAST: Governor, an alumni of the Clinton administration and even some members of the Republican leadership from the mid-1990s believe that the government shutdown essentially reelected Bill Clinton. Does that same scenario, do you think, exist for President Obama now? On the broader point, how much of your decision is predicated upon what happens in the battle between President Obama and the Republicans in Congress over the next four to six months? GOVERNOR HUCKABEE: Not a great deal of it, because I understand in politics the dynamics are going to change anyway. Anybody whos going to make a decision about being in a race in the latter part of 2012 based on whats happening in the early part of 2011, has not been through much of a political endeavor. Because all the talk, you remember in 2007, for the first what, eight-nine months of the year, the only thing people talked about was Iraq, the only thing? How big a factor was Iraq in the 2008 election? Not very. What were the issues? Economics, jobs. When did that turn? The fall of 2008. I was talking about that the fall of 2007. I remember being editorialized as an idiot, because I was talking about the economy starting to go south. In the fall of 2007, specifically at the Dearborn, Michigan debate, which was an economics debate, all the Republicans were asked to talk about the economy, how it was doing. One after another they read the RNC talking points. 23 consecutive quarters of unprecedented growth, were doing great. They came to me, and I was kind of like the guy that -- I would say I became the party pooper, because I said, you know I guess if youre in the corner office -- I remember something to this effect in my words. If youre in the corner office and, you know, youve got the executive suite, lifes doing swimmingly well. But if youre out there lifting heavy stuff on the factory floor, its not doing so well. A year later, I looked like a genius. But at the time I was considered a complete buffoon, for even suggesting that the economy was starting in a downturn. It wasnt that I had some keen crystal ball or insight. You know what? I was just talking to people who were the working people. I was talking to cab drivers and baggage handlers and school teachers and factory workers every day, and not just talking to them, but I was listening to them. I was asking them whats going on? What they were telling me was that they were working harder, but their fuel costs, education costs and insurance costs were costing them more, and they were actually working harder and having less to show for it than they had a year before. MONITOR BREAKFAST: On the broader point, is the trap set for Republicans though again, do you think, on the government shutdown? GOVERNOR HUCKABEE: On the shutdown? No, I dont think so, because the dynamics are different than they were in 1995. That was largely a political battle, and what we are in now is much more of an economic battle. Another thing too is that some of the processes that were shut down in 1995 are automated now. A lot of the checks that go out are still going to go out, even if the government shuts down. So I dont think that the impact will be as dramatic. It wont seem as harsh, and frankly, I think there are a lot of Americans who are so fed up with government spending out the kazoo, as evidenced by the elections and really a growing sense of outrage, the fact that even after all these months, the overwhelming numbers say that the average American still does not support Obamacare. Its a clear majority that wants it repealed, largely because they feel like we cant afford it. So thats why I dont think its the same dynamic at all, for some structural reasons, and others, the political mood is different. MR. COOK: Sam. MONITOR BREAKFAST: I want to give you another chance to be the party pooper of the -- GOVERNOR HUCKABEE: Oh, Im sure I can be. MONITOR BREAKFAST: Another prominent Republican in defense circles, Bing West, has come out with skepticism about the course of the Afghanistan war, and it seems that there is somewhat of a trend going on in conservative circles with regards to concerns over the prosecution of the war. Do you sense that at all? Do you have your own doubts, or are you committed to seeing this through along Obamas vision? GOVERNOR HUCKABEE: Well, my doubts about Afghanistan happened from being there in January of 2006, and when I say my doubts, I believe our military is capable of doing whatever theyre assigned to do, if theyre given the resources to do it. But I came away from that experience wondering what does the end game look like here? I cant see a conclusion. I was in Iraq and I could see a conclusion. You have fertile soil, you can grow things. You have oil; you can build an economy off that. You have an educated population; thats a good, healthy foundation to work from. Youve got a developed culture. You had all those things. You had developed architecture. I mean there were many things that you could see in Iraq. Even the part that had been bombed out, you could see that there was a shell of a civilization here. There was a potential for an economic revival, and for some stability, depending on how the government would go, whether it could be governed by people who are sane. But you go to Afghanistan and you look around, you think my gosh, am I in a country or the surface of the moon? You honestly could not see what it is that can happen here. You cant grow anything but poppies. The cash crop is essentially developing the basis for heroin for Europe, and a farmer would get $4,000 a year for an acre of heroin, and $85 a year for an acre of corn. Which do you think hes likely to grow? The government is so incredibly and hopelessly corrupt, and I dont see that changing any. I dont know of anyone who says what a great bunch of people we have over there running that thing. I mean we all, even our own administration, whether its Bush or Obama, kind of throws up their hands and thinks that the Karzai government is again, mindlessly corrupt. MONITOR BREAKFAST: So what do you think is going to happen? GOVERNOR HUCKABEE: I dont know. I mean the honest answer is I dont think any of us know exactly. Were there. The question is, Im asking people tell me what is it we do to say were done? Help me to understand that, because Im not sure, and so I think its time for us to have some very honest conversations with ourselves. I think Democrats and Republicans need to sit down together and not make this a political football, but ask ourselves what exactly do we expect to happen here? I mean I understand originally it was to rid ourselves of the Taliban. But I think more of them are hiding out, excuse me, in Pakistan than we have in Afghanistan. MONITOR BREAKFAST: I have one other question. Would you ever take a call from [name] anonymously about (inaudible)? GOVERNOR HUCKABEE: Hes never called me, ever. MONITOR BREAKFAST: Have you ever talked to him? GOVERNOR HUCKABEE: No, I havent. MONITOR BREAKFAST: (inaudible) the voice on the telephone. GOVERNOR HUCKABEE: Thats true. I guess he could call or somebody could call me and tell me that it was him. But you know, Ive not had a lot of calls from people in that world, so I just -- by the way, if he wants to call me and set up a fundraising apparatus, it sure would help make my decision to run for President much easier. So hint, hint. MR. COOK: Ruth? MONITOR BREAKFAST: Im Carls clean up hitter here. GOVERNOR HUCKABEE: Oh, okay. MONITOR BREAKFAST: He asked you a few times about raising revenue. Do you need more -- do we need more revenue in order to deal with the debt and deficit, in other words, the tax revenues need to go up by raising taxes? And even if you think they dont, would you be willing, as part of a bargain, to support something like the Simpson-Bowles plan? GOVERNOR HUCKABEE: I think the key thing is to put a focus on cutting the expenses rather than raising the revenue, because my experience with government, Democrat or Republican, is that if you give people a way to continue to spend what they want to spend, theyll never, ever cut the spending. So before you ever put taxes on the table, I think you cant even talk about it. I feel the same way about border security. Dont talk to me about what to do with the people who are here until youve secured the border and stopped the flow. I think the same thing. Dont even bring it up. Thats why I say Im not trying to avoid or evade -- well yes, I am actually. But -- MONITOR BREAKFAST: Well so you would differ from Senator Coburn, then, who was willing to support it as part of a package? Would you have voted his way or would you have voted against the recommendations? GOVERNOR HUCKABEE: Again, I would have put the focus on saying that we have to take this incrementally and in steps, and the first step is cut the spending, because I dont have any confidence that government will ever cut spending if they think that they can raise taxes, to keep from having to make hard decisions. Its hard to cut spending. Believe me, Ive -- MONITOR BREAKFAST: So do you mind me putting you down as a no vote on the Commission? GOVERNOR HUCKABEE: Yes, right now, because the no is that, you know, there are three ways to answer a question. Yes, no and not now. This is a not now. You know, the not now is that no, no way until there is serious spending cuts. Ill be honest with you. When I was governor during the recession that started in 2000 and went through really 2003, it was a tough time. I mean, you know, when you navigate a canoe when the rivers low on water, you have a lot more chances of hitting rocks. A lot of the governors are now going through even a tougher canoe ride down the river, because theres just not much water there. I know that, for example, Ill just give you this anecdotally. I had increased state funding to libraries. Not a big thing, you know. It wasnt huge, but it meant a lot to those libraries. We did that in the `99 budget. In 2003, when we were sucking air, we came back and said, you know, were going to have to take it back to where it was. We didnt, you know, of course in government, thats always a big cut. We took it back to where it had been before we gave them the big raise. Every library in the state put signs out, Governor Huckabee is burning books. I mean you know, you would have thought that I was piling them up in the yard and lighting them on fire with matches, and you know, it was all my fault that libraries were going to be decimated. So you never get credit for what you increase; but you get hung in effigy for every cut you make. Its not pleasant. We cut 11 percent out of the state budget. The reason thats significant is because 91 percent of the state budget were three things: Education, Medicaid and prisons. As I always tell people, governors do three things: Educate, medicate, incarcerate. Thats what you do. Everything else is this much of your job. You do three things, and so its not a pleasant thing to go in there and take those tough positions. But if you dont make the cuts first, I think youre asking for trouble to put taxes on the table first. MONITOR BREAKFAST: Simpson-Bowles did it simultaneously. GOVERNOR HUCKABEE: Whats that? MONITOR BREAKFAST: But Simpson-Bowles did it simultaneously. GOVERNOR HUCKABEE: Yes. How far did their proposal get? Not very, part because of the cuts, but part because of the taxes. Again, I think the mood of the public is nobodys in a mood to see government get more money, but they are in a mood to see them spend less money. So thats what has to happen. Youve got to take the priorities where they are and where the people -- you know, theres a thing called consent of the governed. I think a lot of people tend to forget that, but that really is a dynamic in all of this, and I dont think theres any consent of the governed to say raise my taxes right now. But there is definitely a consent of the governed to say cut your expenses and do it now. That to me is evident. MR. COOK: Weve got time for about one more. Anybody who hasnt had one. Eleanor? MONITOR BREAKFAST: Governor, most of the analyses of your presidential prospects point to what they call a Dukakis flaw, and that is the gentleman that you furloughed. What do you say to that? GOVERNOR HUCKABEE: Will it be an issue? Of course it will, because in a campaign, people use anything and everything they can against you. Its kind of like the old Dragnet series. Everything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. In politics, every decision you ever made will be used against you. The smart play on my part politically would be to never have touched, ever, ever, ever any clemency case. I mean thats the smart thing, and if I were talking to a governor, heres what I would say to him. If youre playing politics with your job, dont ever do a clemency. If you got elected because you honest to God put your hand on that Bible and said you were going to do the right thing, then look at every case individually. Make the decision you think is right, and be prepared to take a beating for it. Thats just where I am on that. There was a kid who was 16 years old. He committed a burglary. It was an aggravated but not armed, and for that he got 108 years. 108 years. He had already served, at the time when his case came to me, years before we would ever know what he might be capable of, and I have many maybe inclinations of what might happen in a policy. I think I outline some of them in the book. But I dont read human minds. In that particular case, what came to me was a Judges recommendation, and a board recommendation from the entity that had looked at his case, and said heres a kid who was 16, got 108 years for a crime that was, again aggravated burglary. Most people who committed first degree murder in my state didnt get 108 years. He had already served 11, and most people wouldnt have served -- they wouldnt have even been sentenced to 11, much less served 11. It was clearly a disproportionate sentence, based on all the other cases like his. Quite honestly, Id love to tell you this isnt true, but that kid was black, and if hed been white and upper middle class and had a good attorney, he wouldnt have served a day. Hed have had probation, hed have gone to see a counselor, and hed probably have gone to college and probably would be on Wall Street making a couple of billion bucks a year. But instead, hes a poor black kid, single parent home and Im not making an excuse for what he did. Im just saying that the sentence that he received was disproportionate to anything that was like this. So based on the recommendation of the board and based on what I felt like was really the duty of a governor to correct an injustice, I made a decision. Now later, that same guy made several moves that should have put him back in prison, and there were subsequent mistakes made by the prosecutors and by both Washington state and Arkansas, who could have brought him back in and they did not. You know, I will forever grieve over the fact that Maurice Clemmons killed four people in Seattle. I mean how can you not? It, you know, aches me to the bone. But I also had been very honest in saying if I had the same file in front of me today that I had then, I would make the same decision. I would like to think, God help us, when we get to the place when the only decisions we make are the ones that are in our own political self-interest, and we never make a decision that is risky, because we would let someone serve 108 years in prison to save our own political necks. So could that destroy my opportunities and possibilities? Yes, it could. Should it? Ill let people make that decision. But I think thats what we get elected to do, is to make hard decisions, tough decisions. Sometimes they dont always turn out beautifully. MR. COOK: I promised Kirsten that I would have you up and moving at 3:59, so I want to thank you for coming. I want to thank Kirsten for helping set this up. Well send embeddable video clips. Theyve trained me to say that. Thank you again, Governor. GOVERNOR HUCKABEE: Thank you, David. I appreciate it. Thank you all for coming out today. MR. COOK: Thanks. GOVERNOR HUCKABEE: Good to be with you.