Huckabee yuks it up on Leno
Excerpts from presidential candidate Mike Huckabee’s chat with Leno:
Leno: Folks, up until a few weeks ago, my next guest was an also-ran with a funny name in the Republican campaign. He still has a funny name, but now he’s near the top in the national polls. He’s neck-and-neck with Mitt Romney in Iowa, and the caucus there will be held tomorrow. Please welcome Mike Huckabee, ladies and gentlemen. (Applause.) Thanks for coming.
Huckabee: Wonderful to be here. Thank you.
Leno: This is what I find fascinating about American politics. I kind of follow this kind of stuff. So I’ve known who you are for a while, but you literally, in the last couple of months, have come from nowhere with hardly any money. Explain how this happens.
Huckabee: I’m just trying to keep from going back to nowhere as fast as I can. (Laughter.)
I’ve seen a lot of this. People are looking for a presidential candidate who reminds them more of the guy they work with rather than the guy that laid them off. I think that’s part of what’s going on right now. (Applause.)
Leno: Right. Now, tell us about your background. I know you’re from Hope, Arkansas.
Huckabee: Yes, born and raised there.
Leno: Also, of course, President Clinton -- did you know each other growing up?
Huckabee: We didn’t know each other growing up. He’s nine years older, and he had moved away when he was like 7 years old and went to Hot Springs. When he ran for president, somehow it just didn’t sound right to say, "I believe in a place called Hot Springs." So he talked about his birthplace.
(Laughter.) You can understand that. We all understand that.
Leno: Now, your first career was as a Baptist minister. How long did you do that?
Huckabee: About 12 years.
Leno: How did you become -- how did get into that line of work?
Huckabee: Well, I mean, the honest-and-serious answer is that I just saw life and a perspective in the church that I think very few people get to see. You see every single social pathology that’s out there. Nothing is abstract to you. You put a name and a face on everything, and I really began to believe that so many people making decisions that affect the way we live, the way our future would be governed, didn’t have a clue about how people were really struggling. It became evident to me that there were a lot of folks making decisions that didn’t understand poverty, hunger or disease. They didn’t understand the challenges that people had in their families. And for my own three children, who were small at the time, I decided I don’t want to spend the rest of my life complaining about what "they" are doing. And I finally thought it’s time to get out of the stands and on the field and get my jersey dirty.
Leno: You also played in a rock band.
Leno: So it’s this is like TV -- Baptist minister during the day, playing White Snake at the KitKat Club at night. Doesn’t that seem -- (Laughter.) Some of your congregation -- (making rock music sounds.)
Huckabee: I never played with my teeth or anything like that. So it wasn’t totally bad. I started playing guitar when I was 11 years old. I was like so many kids that came out of the ’60s that wanted to play guitar more than anything. When I finally got a guitar -- my parents got a guitar from J.C. Penney, ordered it from the catalog. I got it Christmas 1966. They paid $99 for whole rig -- guitar, amplifier. It took them a year to pay it off. My parents barely made enough money to pay the rent. We lived in a little rented house. It was a big sacrifice for them, but I played that guitar until my fingers nearly bled and until their ears nearly bled. It was -- (Laughter.)
Leno: And they said, "Son why don’t you become a minister?" (Laughter.)
Huckabee: I think they were hoping for me to do anything, and obviously, I wasn’t good enough to make it as a professional. So I had to find something else to do, and that looked like it was mostly indoor work and no heavy lifting. I thought it would be a pretty good way to go.
Leno: Do you think you could sit in -- are you good enough to sit in with our band later?
Huckabee: No, but I’d like to do it anyway. (Applause.)
Leno: I think you first got elected about the time I took over this show, about ’92?
Huckabee: Well, ’93 was the first year. I ran in ’92 and lost an election. Then I ran in ’93 for lieutenant governor, and I won and was reelected in ’94, and became governor from the position of lieutenant governor when my predecessor resigned, and then was reelected twice and served 10-and-a-half years as governor.
Leno: Because when I first met you, you were living in a trailer in Arkansas.
Huckabee: My wife wanted me to tell you it was a manufactured home.
Leno: Yes. (Applause.) Why were you living in a trailer? Were you trying to put on the airs and impress public constituents? (Laughter.)
Huckabee: You know, it was a triple-wide. A lot of people only have a single-wide trailer, but we had a triple-wide. It was pretty significant. Actually what was going on was the governor’s mansion was undergoing renovation. There were a lot of things -- the wiring and all this stuff had to be redone. So we had an option to go out and rent this very expensive place or find alternative housing arrangements. We decided to move in a triple-wide manufactured home on the grounds of the governor’s mansion. We knew we were going to take a beating.
Leno: We had a million jokes about it. (Laughter.) Thank you. You supported the monologue for weeks with that. (Laughter.)
Huckabee: The big line was -- they said, "I’m sorry. I’m running late today. I was on the interstate and got behind the governor’s mansion. (Laughter.)
Leno: Well, we actually interviewed -- that was the first time I met you. You looked a lot the different then. Here he is. We’re talking seven years ago.
Leno: When we come back, I want to ask you about that triple-wide jacket you had on there.
(Laughter.) We’ll take a break and come back with Mike Huckabee when we come back.
(Break taken.) (Mike Huckabee is playing his guitar with the band.)
Leno: Nice job. Before I ask you about news, I want to ask you about the triple-wide jacket. You lost quite a bit of weight. How much weight did you lose?
Huckabee: About 110 pounds. (Applause.)
Leno: Congratulations on that. What was your secret?
Huckabee: The Legislature kept eating my lunch every day. (Laughter.) No. My doctor sat me down. I faced a health crisis in 2003, and he basically told me if I didn’t make a lifestyle change, I was entering the last decade of my life. Then he described it. He said to me, "Here’s what’s going to happen." And when he described it, that’s when I decided I needed a new exit strategy. So I really changed my lifestyle. I started eating differently, got rid of the fried foods and sugars. You know, I’ll tell you something, when you grow up in the South, everything is fried. I mean, you don’t eat anything unless you fry it.
Leno: Fried water. (Laughter.)
Huckabee: That’s right. You know, it’s very difficult to do that. If you don’t fry it, you put sugar on it. It’s just the way we eat. And between that and not exercising, which I did not do, it really caught up with me. I was in a health crisis. So my life was kind of representative of like a lot of people in this country that just don’t take care of themselves. We don’t have a healthcare crisis as much as we have a health crisis, and I was the epitome of it.
Leno: So that’s terrific. Now, you and Romney seems to have gotten into fisticuffs lately. What’s going on here? You guys are neck and neck and seem to be getting --
Huckabee: Oh, it’s politics. I mean, that’s what politics is about. I tell people that, if you can’t stand the sight of your own blood, don’t run for anything, just buy a ticket and watch it from the stands.
(Laughter.) Because this is a full-contact sport. No doubt about it.
Leno: On Monday, you had a press conference. You were going to release an attack ad, which seemed a little unusual for you. Why were you going to do that?
Huckabee: We had been hammered. We had been outspent 20 to 1 in Iowa. 20 to 1. And that’s tough. And we had been hammered --
Leno: How much did you spend?
Huckabee: Oh, I think probably $3- to $400,000.
Leno: And how much did Romney spend?
Huckabee: $8- or $9 million. So I mean, you know, it’s a substantial difference. We just kept getting hammered with negative television ads, negative radio ads and mail pieces. And finally, decided "We had better answer this, or somebody is going to believe all this stuff."
Leno: So they work -- negative ads.
Huckabee: Well, they seemed to. Then he started hammering John McCain over in New Hampshire. John McCain may be a rival of mine in the presidential race, but I have nothing but respect for him. He’s a great American hero. I think he’s a great American and a wonderful man, and a great guy
Leno: So you were going to do an ad.
Huckabee: Right. So we put together an ad and taped the tape, got it all ready. We were going to release it at a press conference, and Monday I just didn’t feel right. We had gotten where we are by being positive and talking about what this country needs to be rather than what’s wrong with the other guys, and I just said --
Leno: As you were making it did you feel like --
Huckabee: I needed to go take a shower or something like that or give Romney a shower maybe. I don’t know. (Laughter.) You know, at the time you think this is what we have to do. You don’t like it, but you think it’s necessary, and at the end you just think --
Leno: So then you get a little conscience saying not to, but then why show it to the press at the press conference?
Huckabee: Well, they were very cynical about it, but the point is, if we hadn’t shown it, they would have said, "You didn’t have an ad. You’re just bluffing us." If I had really wanted to be disingenuous what I would have done is run the ad for three days and then said, "Oh, I have a conscience now. I think I’m going to pull it."
Leno: You did that very well. "Oh, I have a conscience." (Laughter.) That was a real good political --
Huckabee: I hope I have a conscience, which would be very unusual for politics to have a conscience.
Leno: I know. Now, you have some interesting positions. I was not aware of this one until just this week when I started to research you a little bit. You want to dismantle the IRS. Everybody cheers that.
(Applause.) Everybody loves that idea, but what is your alternative? You do away with the IRS, then what?
Huckabee: We would have a consumption tax rather than a tax on productivity.
Huckabee: It really wouldn’t be a V.A.T. It’s simple like a sales tax at the point of retail sales. Let me tell you why that’s different. You, first of all, eliminate the underground economy. So everybody is paying -- drug dealers, prostitutes, gamblers -- all those people pay like the rest of us.
Leno: There must be some legitimate work in there. (Laughter.) Boy, you really are in politics. (Laughter.) Now, what about a poor person goes and suddenly -- how much is this tax? 23, 24%?
Huckabee: It’s 23. But here’s the thing. Every person receives a "prebate" of the taxes that they would have on the level of the poverty, which means that what you really do with this fair tax, which is what it’s called, is you untax the poor. They don’t pay taxes, which means it’s really a progressive tax system. That’s why I love it because it would take the people least able to afford the taxes, and it virtually untaxes them. Here’s what it also does. It frees people up to earn as much as they want. You don’t get taxed on income, savings, investments, capital gains or debt.
I met a guy in New Hampshire. This is an interesting point. He’s working a second shift at a machine shop, trying try to help his daughter go through Cornell. She’s in grad school. $54,000 bucks a year to help her out. And he’s working a second shift. My first thing was, "Thank you, Lord. My daughter is not in grad school at Cornell because that’s a lot of money." But then he tells me, "I’m now in a new tax bracket because I’m working a second shift, and the additional taxes I’m paying almost takes away what I’m getting on the second shift." What we’ve done is we’ve told him that, if he really, really works hard, we’re going to make it really hard for him to help his daughter. Here is how he can get his daughter some help: Quit both shifts, stop working, and he could then qualify for his daughter to have some federal assistance. That’s nutty. We ought to have a system that encourages people to work, to think about the small-business guy that sketches out the idea on his kitchen table. He wants to go into business for himself, but his greatest competitor is not the guy across town or across the country. His greatest competitor is his own government that makes it real difficult for him to fill out the paperwork and pay the taxes. (Applause.)
Leno: Now, quickly -- the Democrats also seem to be gaining in Iowa. Let’s say you win. Who would you want to win on the Democratic ballot? Who would you want to run against?
Huckabee: I still want them all to drop out, and let me have a clear shot all the way to the White House. (Laughter.)
Leno: So you’re realistic about this.
Huckabee: Yeah, frankly, I think there’s some Democrats that -- I think they’re all sincere. I think there’s a fundamental difference between us in terms of whether we think taxes ought to go up or down, whether government ought to be more or less involved. Look, I have respect for anybody that runs for president. I have a great respect for Barack Obama. I think he’s a person who is trying to do in many ways what I hope I’m trying to do, and that is to say let’s quit what I call "horizontal politics." Everything in this country is not left, right, liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican. I think the country is looking for somebody who is vertical, who is thinking, "Let’s take America up and not down," and people will forgive you for being left or right if you go up. (Applause.)
Leno: I know you’ve got to get back to Iowa.
Huckabee: I do.
Leno: I love Iowa. Thank you, sir, Mike Huckabee. Emeril Lagasse is next. (Applause.)