The National Governors Association Winter Meeting comes to a close today. Chaired by Gov. Mike Huckabee, the first two days of the event were dedicated to his "Healthy America" initiative.
Huckabee (R.-Ark.), probably best-known for his dramatic 110-lbs. weight loss (which he later documented in a best-selling book, "Quit Digging Your Grave with a Knife and Fork"), spent over an hour last Friday before the big event with five D.C. bloggers to discuss everything from his new initiative to his views on embryonic stem-cell research and his possible candidacy for president in 2008.
Lucky enough to be one of the bloggers present, I provided a run-down of our discussion below:
Health reform: Americans are responsible
In order to correct the current eating habits of Americans, Huckabee said focus needs to be turned to the responsibility of the people — not the food industry.
He said government’s role in the matter is to disperse up-to-date information and provide incentives, allowing the public to decide for itself.
Huckabee listed three steps that would help Americans make healthier eating choices — attitude change, atmosphere change and later a regulation change. He said once Americans start thinking healthy, they’ll want to live healthy.
"It’s not just about feeling good and living longer," Huckabee explained.
He said this is the only way the economy will survive. Healthcare costs won’t improve until health improves.
At one point the 5’11 governor weighed in around 300 lbs. But he said he doesn’t blame the food industry, he blames himself: "It was my own faults…I made choices…eating too much and exercising too little."
He admits there are attributing factors to obesity such as genetics but said in the end "it all comes down to me."
At least he practices what he preaches — the governor has slimmed down considerably and ran his third marathon less than two weeks ago.
Federal spending reform: Merely a ‘cost shift’
Huckabee said he supports the prescription drug plan because in the long run it will lower the cost of drugs for seniors. "I think that there is going to be some real benefits in that program," he said, adding: "It’s arguable it could have been done differently to save more.”
He said Congress isn’t cutting spending — just spending reimbursement, forcing the states to pick costs that have historically been federal. Huckabee pointed out that states can’t balance budgets by shifting costs onto counties, cities or other countries.
"If it’s just a ‘cost shift’ that’s not government reform, that’s government evasion of responsibility."
He said one reason Congress continues its spending rampage it because it doesn’t have to balance its books every day.
"If I don’t, I’m going to jail," he said.
According to Huckabee, government is more polarized than ever.
But to the American people, he said, "Potholes aren’t Democratic or Republican issues." At the end of the day, they don’t care who fixes it, "it just needs to get fixed."
Religious perspective: God before politics
As a former pastor, Huckabee is asked often if his religious views affect his work ethics.
When quizzed by a blogger, he said he’d rather lose an election or friend, rather than lose his own sense of self worth or values. Huckabee said he answer to God, first and foremost.
At the end of the day, politicians will be judged "not [for] our rhetoric but our record," he said.
Embryonic stem-cell research: Too political
"To create a life with the sole purpose of destroying it creates some strong ethical problems for me," he said. "I’m steadfastly pro-life."
Now that the issue has turned political, Huckabee said people need to be careful not to name call. What’s needed is an open and honest dialogue.
"If we know there’s life inside a person, how can we be callous and cavalier about its destruction?," he said.
War in Iraq: No truth about lack of equipment, body armor
While in Iraq this past year, the governor said he questioned troops to find out what supplies they needed.
Not one, even in private, came forward to say they were lacking anything.
Not only are troops well stocked, they are making real progress.
Huckabee said even Iraqi security forces told him a difference is being made and they are grateful for U.S. assistance. Now it’s just time for America to complete the job.
"I think we need to be there to finish it and do it right," he said.
Democracies take a while to evolve, Huckabee said. The U.S. has had more than two centuries to come together and Iraq is making "great strides."
Presidential Race: 2-0-0-8
The discussion was brought to a close without a mention of Huckabee’s possible presidential run. As the other bloggers cleared out, I decided to inquire about it.
What I found out is that the governor isn’t ready drop that bit of information into the blogosphere quite yet.
"Well, yes," he said, "It’s good thing you asked."
He went on to explain that next week he’s running in yet another race — and his jersey will display the numbers 2-0-0-8.
At least we know the governor’s got a sense of humor.
As did Townhall.com’s Tim Chapman, I can say "I found the Governor engaging, thoughtful and instinctually conservative." This man is a people person with a gift for gab. While he still needs to defend tax raises in Arkansas and explain how he would stifle Congressional spending, he’s on the road to what could be the race of a lifetime.