For better or for worse, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who’s in the crowded field of GOP presidential contenders, has been getting a lot of attention lately in blogs and media columns. Read the National Review’s “Dump the Huck” and a New York Times column, “Who Doesn’t Heart Huckabee?”
Though his fundraising lags the front-runners, some are speculating Huckabee could be a vice presidential pick, especially because he’s solidly pro-life, pro-gun, and pro-religion—which would be attractive to the Republican right. He had an unexpected 2nd place showing in an Iowa straw poll in August, and comes across as genuine, funny and likeable in televised debates and campaign appearances. Plus, he’s a bass-playing church pastor who lost 100 pounds and has run four marathons. What’s not to like?
On education issues, he’s got a longer track record than most of his Democratic or Republican opponents.
As Arkansas governor from 1996-2007, he was a big proponent of arts education—and says he would be as President. He also launched a national effort during his tenure as chairman of the National Governors Association to make America healthier, which eventually helped lead to bans of sugary sodas and drinks from school vending machines. In 2003, he ushered through first-in-nation legislation to require obesity screenings in Arkansas schools.
He’s dealt with his share of education-related controversies as well. In the wake of a 1998 school shooting in Jonesboro, Ark., that left four people dead, Huckabee opposed any new gun control measures and instead wanted to focus on the underlying cause of youth violence. He was also governor in 2000 when rural schools again sued the state for more funding—a battle they had been waging since 1992. Rural schools were eventually victorious, forcing Huckabee and the Arkansas legislature to come up with more money for schools and oversee controversial rural-school consolidation.
He also was head of the Education Commission of the States as it faced a staffing and financial crisis last year.
During the presidential campaign, Huckabee has generally supported the federal No Child Left Behind law. He told me as much last year while he was outgoing chairman of the NGA, when he hosted a dinner party in Charleston, S.C., for some reporters attending the organization’s summer meeting. During the on-the-record dinner, he railed on Congress for getting too involved in state matters, whether it be immigration issues or the National Guard. However, when I asked him about NCLB, he admitted he makes an exception for the education law. He said he thinks NCLB is an appropriate extension of the federal government, so long as states are given flexibility to implement it.