- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 25, 2006

Republican governors yesterday strongly criticized the Bush administration for its position on the National Guard and a contract with an Arab government to operate six major U.S. seaports.

Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, chairman of the National Governors Association, and Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne said the president would violate the Constitution by arrogating unilateral power to deploy the National Guard in a state to deal with a local or regional emergency, such as Hurricane Katrina or terrorist acts.

“We are going to be very loud, very clear and very united in our voices to say [to the president] it would be unacceptable for the federal government to announce to a governor: ‘Stand down. We’ve decided to take this operation over,’” Mr. Huckabee said.

He made the remark at a dinner Thursday, then repeated the same sentiment at the NGA’s public meeting yesterday.

“I believe in states’ rights,” Mr. Kempthorne said in an interview during yesterday’s plenary session. “Under the Constitution, the National Guard is subject to the call of a governor, and the states — not the president — should determine whether the guard is needed for local disasters, whether natural or man-made. Absolutely.”

South Dakota Gov. Michael Rounds, a Republican, said the governors will take up the issues surrounding the National Guard when they meet with Mr. Bush and separately with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld tomorrow.

The governors also faulted the administration’s plan to cut money from the federal budget for the National Guard at a time when guard units must leave their equipment in Iraq as they rotate back to their states and are replaced by fresh units.

Governors of both parties — who are in the District for the four-day annual NGA winter meeting — also agreed that the White House had shown ignorance of the public mood in the contract to allow a company based in the United Arab Emirates to take over operation of six U.S. ports.

Mr. Bush threatened to veto any move by Congress to block the contract. Mr. Huckabee said that regardless of what Mr. Bush and his administration decide to do on the ports contract, Republicans governors and lawmakers will be fine with their constituents.

Mr. Huckabee noted that New Jersey Gov. John Corzine has been working with other governors in states directly affected to block the ports deal and that both House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee “have challenged the administration’s position on this.”

“Governors need to have a major role in a decision like this,” said Mr. Huckabee, adding that the way [the proposal] was sprung on them “put a lot of elected officials in both parties in an impossible position with the reaction they were getting from constituents, leaving them with no alternative than to be vocal in opposing it.”

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