Josh Goodman is a former staff writer for GOVERNING..E-mail: email@example.com
I recently called up Arkansas state Rep. Jon Woods to ask him about legislation he's sponsored designed to crack down on illegal immigration. I also wanted to ask for his thoughts on former governor Mike Huckabee, a fellow Arkansas Republican with very different views on immigration. Before I could get the question out, Woods volunteered his opinion:
"Our governor is not doing anything. Mike Huckabee was the governor before our governor and he was even worse."
"We've had two governors in a row that illegal immigration was the last of their priorities. Mike Huckabee basically made Arkansas a sanctuary state and Mike Beebe, our current governor, doesn't want to talk about the issue."
"People in Iowa need to know about Mike Huckabee and his record."
Huckabee's record on immigration is one of the biggest obstacles he faces on the way to the Republican nomination for president. Woods, in particular, criticized Huckabee for supporting drivers licenses and college scholarships for illegal immigrants. The latter issue prompted a heated exchange between Huckabee and Mitt Romney at the debate the other day.
There's another action Huckabee took as governor, however, that reveals a lot about him and about the national immigration discussion. When federal officials conducted an immigration raid in Arkansas and 30 to 35 children were left behind, Huckabee contributed $1,000 in state money from his emergency fund to help care for them.
Here's Huckabee's explanation in a press release, as reported in the August 10, 2005, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette:
"As a parent, my heart goes out to anyone who is forcibly separated from their child. As governor, I have a responsibility to ensure the safety of the people of this state and as a parent I have a moral duty to protect children in need."
"These innocent children should not be made to suffer because our government ignores their humanity. Furthermore, our nation derives no benefit when a 1-year-old child is abandoned. Consequently, I join with my friends in LULAC and the people of Clark County in offering support for the suffering children with the hope that this kind of tragedy never occurs again."
Those quotes give you a good sense of Huckabee's political persona. He's a compassionate conservative like George W. Bush circa 2000, except even more compassionate (and perhaps more conservative).
What's also interesting to me is how susceptible this gesture is to diametrically opposed interpretations. If you agree with Huckabee's views on immigration, you probably see this is a basic act of human decency. Even people who want more border security and more immigration enforcement don't want children to be abandoned, right?
If you don't agree with Huckabee's views, you probably are struck by his decision to target taxpayer money specifically to the children of illegal immigrants, some of whom themselves may have been in the country illegally. Of all the people in need, he thought these ones were most deserving? Even people who support lenient immigration policies don't want illegal immigrants singled out for special government benefits, right?
In other words, some things are obvious, it's just that there isn't any consensus about what, exactly, those obvious things are. So, I propose a new slogan for the immigration debate: "Where common sense disagrees with itself."
Written and compiled by staff writers and editors, GOVERNING View is an on-the-ground, and sometimes behind-the-scenes, look at the topics we're covering in print and online. From notes on what's up in statehouses, county courthouses and city halls, to encounters with people, places and things, GOVERNING View is a window into the side of state and local government you don't always see.