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Huckabee alienates GOP in Arkansas
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Jake Files was a newly elected representative when all two dozen Arkansas House Republicans met for their first caucus in 1999. They had doubled their numbers in elections two months earlier, and were ready to join Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee in pushing for conservative government.
That was when Brenda Turner, the governor’s chief of staff, entered.
“Just walked in, shut the door and said, ‘There’s two kinds of people in the world: those who are for Mike Huckabee and those who are against Mike Huckabee. I’ll do everything I can to help the first group. I’ll do everything I can to hurt the second,’ ” said Mr. Files, who left the legislature after two terms.
And that’s the way it was.
“Not only would he not help you, he would go out of his way to do things in opposition to you,” Mr. Files said.
For the 10 years he was governor of Arkansas, Mr. Huckabee was at war with much of his party.
Now that Mr. Huckabee is seeking the presidential nomination, many Arkansas Republicans warn that he could wage a bruising battle with the national party, too.
“One can hardly argue that the Republican Party has thrived,” said former Rep. Jim Hendren, who was House minority leader and ran for state party chairman in a bitter 2001 race won by a Huckabee surrogate. “We thrived as we were an opposition party and standing on principles as the Republican Party. But unfortunately, when we got some power, particularly at the state level, we began to fight among ourselves.”
The former Southern Baptist pastor-turned-politician took control of the governor’s mansion in 1996 with expectations that he would lead the kind of Republican ascension in other states of the Deep South. But he left office last year by turning over the governorship to a Democrat and with Republicans bitterly divided over his legacy for his party.
“He destroyed it,” said Randy Minton, a former state representative whom Mr. Huckabee worked to help get elected but who later clashed repeatedly with the governor. “We had one U.S. senator, we had two congressmen, at the tops we had 37 out of 135 legislators in the House and Senate. Now I think there’s 32 in the legislature, we have no U.S. senators and we have one congressman.”
In both on-the-record and private conversations with Republicans in Arkansas, the picture that emerges is a governor who succeeded at advancing his causes and was willing to fight anyone who didn’t agree.
That matters because the next Republican presidential nominee will be tasked with trying to rebuild a congressional majority and stoke a Republican Party after eight volatile years under President Bush.
Like Mr. Bush, Mr. Huckabee achieved some early successes. By the beginning of 1999, when he was sworn in for his first full term, his party had gained nearly a quarter of the state's House, added state Senate seats and held the lieutenant governorship, one of the two U.S. Senate seats and half of the four congressional seats.
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