Reporting On Mike Huckabee

Written Dec. 13, 2007 as Mike Huckabee was making his first campaign for President of the United States.

Then-Arkansas Lieutenant Governor Mike Huckabee in his office at the Capitol in July 1996. Photograph by Michael Hibblen.

I covered Mike Huckabee quite a bit over a three year period, beginning the night he won his first political office. With Huckabee today busy campaigning and getting a surprising amount of attention and support in his bid for President, I thought I’d post some of my articles, photos, radio reports and an MP3 of an interview from this early period in his political career.

The interview was recorded in July of 1996, two weeks before he became Governor of Arkansas. I took the photos included here on the day of that interview in his Lieutenant Governor’s office. I’m not expressing support or criticism, but thought this might be of interest for anyone wanting to learn more about Huckabee’s background.

As he has been portrayed lately in the national media, Huckabee was indeed a friendly and extremely likable person. Sometimes he seemed almost too friendly. Some in Arkansas took to calling him the Huckster because he could use that charm to persuade people on his proposals. He could also seem rather thin skinned and would hold grudges against reporters who crossed him. But most of my experiences were positive, even when questioning him about things he didn’t want to talk about. He was always willing to give me a few minutes and seemed to speak with candor, while discussing topics other politicians wouldn’t want to discuss.

For a while I saw Huckabee at least once a week when he would come by my radio station to record a weekly radio address. It was heard statewide on affiliates of the Arkansas Radio Network. Bill Clinton had actually started the practice in Arkansas of a Governor’s radio address, similar to what had long been done by Presidents. Huckabee expanded it one step further by also hosting a live monthly “Ask The Governor” program, which would take calls from people who often sought to pin him down with tough questions.

I met Huckabee July 27, 1993, the night he won a special election to become Lieutenant Governor of Arkansas. A year before he had lost in an effort to unseat the popular, longtime politician Dale Bumpers for the U.S. Senate. In later years he would acknowledge many mistakes in how he handled that first campaign by allowing himself to become too negative in going after a highly respected Arkansas favorite. But with Governor Bill Clinton being elected President in November of 1992, Lieutenant Governor Jim Guy Tucker became Governor with a special election held to fill the Lieutenant Governor’s position.

I covered that election night for Little Rock radio station KARN. I was late getting to Huckabee’s watch party because I also had to cover the losing candidate, Democrat Nate Coulter, who ironically had been Senator Bumper’s campaign manager the previous year. After Coulter’s concession speech I hustled over to Huckabee’s event, but missed his speech. I spotted him doing an interview with a TV station, patiently waited until they were done, then introduced myself. I was immediately struck by his friendliness and being able to block out all the activity going on around him, giving me enough time to get what I needed for my reports. Just the way politicians shake hands and greet people, seeming to sincerely look people in the eye is a vital charm that all politicians must have to be successful and Huckabee has that.

I saw him only periodically over the next couple of years, with the Lieutenant Governor not being an especially high profile position outside of the state capitol. But opponents of the President, who were gunning for any dirt they could get on Bill Clinton, were demanding investigations into the President’s previous business dealings in Arkansas. While not implicating Clinton, the probes, which started with the failed land development deal called Whitewater, would eventually ensnare Governor Jim Guy Tucker, giving Huckabee the chance to become Governor.

The cover of the Little Rock Free Press July 10, 1996.

Tucker announced his plans to resign after being convicted of fraud. With Huckabee to succeed him as Governor, I recorded a lengthy interview with Huckabee two weeks before his inauguration. I would use this for a series of reports for KARN, as well as a cover story for the Little Rock Free Press, an alternative paper I had periodically been writing for as a freelancer.

There had already been talk, even back in 1996 that Huckabee was hoping to one day make a run for the White House. He had already lost one Senate bid and was preparing for another campaign when he got the opportunity to become governor. In my interview, I asked about his long-term political aspirations, with Huckabee saying, “A week ago I thought I was headed for the United States Senate. It looked like everything was in place. Then suddenly the world turned upside down. Because of that, my main and only goal at this point is to move into the governor’s office in such a way that brings calm and peace and restores a sense of trust by the people of Arkansas in their government and their governor.” You can hear more from Huckabee by downloading the interview below.

AUDIO: My interview with Mike Huckabee in July 1996, two weeks before he became Governor of Arkansas. He discussed the Whitewater investigation, his political ambitions at that point and concerns over a Baptist minister serving as Governor.

Then-Lieutenant Governor Mike Huckabee during my interview in July 1996.