BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Governor Mike Huckabee, Republican of Arkansas, what will it take to get you to run for president in 2008?
GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE (R), ARKANSAS: Oh! That's a big question. Probably a vision from above. I think it would take something extraordinary. Right now, my focus is on being governor of Arkansas. I've got two years left. I'm serving as chairman of the Education Commission of the state and vice chairman of National Governors. I'll become chairman of NGA this summer. I have a lot of things that I want to get done in those roles.
So when people even start speculating, I have two responses. One, I'm flattered and amazed that I'm even in the top 100 being talked about. But the other thing is that it's a little early. It's premature. Right now, I'm still celebrating that we elected a great president, someone I worked very hard to see reelected. I'm thrilled about the results of that election. And I want to savor the moment before me or I think anyone else starts hoisting a name.
LAMB: I'm not going to try to push you to say, I'm running or not running, but what I was getting at is that you're a Hope, Arkansas, native.
LAMB: You're a Republican governor eight-and-a-half years in the office. A lot of people mention all kinds of folks during this period, and I just wonder if you're -- I know you want to avoid saying yes or no on all this, but what kind of questions do you ask yourself in a period like this, when people start saying, Mike Huckabee should run for president?
HUCKABEE: I think the things that anyone has to ask. What do I bring to it? Do I bring ideas? Do I bring a world view, or something that maybe would be useful to the country? Is there some perspective that is -- that's helpful. I think if it's just this, Gee, I'd like to do that, that's not an adequate beginning for me. There has to be something. Maybe it's a focus on domestic policy, a focus on how we can improve our nation, but there's got to be something deep inside.
The big issue is, Do I want to go through what one must go through even to get to the starting line, much less the finish line? And I think those are questions that'll take a lot of deep, introspective thought, prayer and consultation with friends, families and perhaps even a few opponents.
LAMB: When did you first run for an office?
HUCKABEE: First time I ran was 1992, ran for the United States Senate. Seemed like a good idea at the time. I ran against a three-term incumbent, Dale Bumpers, who'd been governor twice. And '92 seemed like it was going to be a great time to run against an incumbent, and it was in many parts of the country. But in Arkansas, to be a Republican is a great disadvantage politically. But what really made it a disadvantage was that Bill Clinton was on the ballot running for president, so everyone who ever thought about voting went and voted. And it was an overwhelming year in voter turn out, and particularly for Democrat voter turnout. Did not prove to be a good year for me to be running for the Senate. I lost. But it was a great experience.
I didn't -- I didn't lose my fire, my zeal, I lost an election. But I've always said politics is a process, not a single event. And for people who run for office who run and lose and say, Well, that's it, I tried, I think it's probably best they lost because you have to look at this as something for the long haul, not necessarily that you want to stay in public office for the rest of your life, but that your goal is not simply to win an office, it's to effect the change in policy that you want to see happen. And you can't do that with one single election.
LAMB: What had you been doing right before that?
HUCKABEE: I had been in communications. I'd been a pastor. Started a couple of community television stations in Arkansas. I'd pastored Baptist congregations in the state, and I was president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. I'd really never intended to be a pastor. I wanted to be in Christian communications. I'd started in radio, since I was 14 years old and worked my way through high school, college and later grad school doing radio and eventually television. And I loved it. And I ran an ad agency in my early 20s.
Ended up kind of a back-door thing -- a church asked me to come and speak for them on Sunday, and I did. And they said, Would you come back and do it again? And I did. And would you come back and do it some more? And I did. And they finally said, Why don't you just stay and be our pastor? And I did. It was a great experience. And the thing that was most valuable to me in the 12 years that I served a pastor of a congregation -- and the most recent congregation, you know, is over 2,500 members, so it was a large church. It's really like running a fairly major enterprise.
But the most important thing that that experience taught me was how to see people in -- in the way they really live from -- literally from the cradle to the grave because I was there when their babies were born. I was there when they were burying their parents. I saw them when they were dealing with their drug-addicted teenagers and having to get them out of jail at 3:00 in the morning. And I was there with them. And I was there when the tubes were disconnected from an elderly parent who was terminally ill and they literally held their hand as the last breath ebbed out of their body.
You really get a sense about what life is about when you see people -- and one thing, Brian, that I learned -- when people talk about all the social pathologies that we confront in our society today, whether it's the incredible impact of broken marriages or what happens when you have someone who is chemically addicted -- every one of those social pathologies -- name any of them -- I could put a name and a face on it because those were real people to me. Those were people that I was dealing with every single week. And for me, it's not an abstract policy issue, it's deeply personal.
And frankly, I think it's one reason that I'm sometimes a little different, maybe even as a -- I consider myself a conservative Republican, but I tell people I have a different point of view, part from my own upbringing, coming up from, you know, just a working-class, poor family -- certainly didn't grow up with the silk stockings and, you know, the country club crowd. But between that, and then my experience dealing with everybody from the absolute homeless to the wealthiest donors in the community, I think it was great preparation to run for public office and to be in public office.
LAMB: How close did you live to the one or two homes that Bill Clinton had in Hope, Arkansas?
HUCKABEE: Oh, a few blocks.
LAMB: Did you know him?
HUCKABEE: Not in Hope because he's nine years older than me. I knew most of his family. My father and his mother actually were high school classmates. Didn't even know that he was from Hope until, gosh, late in his political career because we always thought of him as being from Hot Springs. And it was not until perhaps his national role began to change that he began to sort of embrace his early days in Hope. And of course, it sounds better. You know, I believe in a place called Hope, and Hope certainly embraced him from that, and he's very proud of those roots.
And I'm going to tell you something that you'll rarely hear a Republican say, so this may be the -- you know, the headline moment. But I've always been uncomfortable with Republicans who just found everything wrong with Bill Clinton and couldn't find anything right with him. I'll have policy disagreements with Bill Clinton, and obviously, there were the issues that he dealt with personally that were unpleasant to even talk about. But people need to remember that there was something that for all of us ought to be kind of special, and that is that a person growing up in a small town in Arkansas, from a very troubled childhood and broken home and all of the factors there, aspired to be president of the United States and made it, not once but twice. It's an affirmation of America.
And I was talking to one of my governor friends, Dirk Kempthorne, the other day, when we were at the inaugural activities. We were standing on the platform, looking about, and I'm saying, You know, as a kid growing up, it never occurred to me that I would be within miles of this event. And to sit on the platform and to watch a president being inaugurated -- what an incredible thing. What a country! And that's the way I feel about it, and I feel that way even toward the election of Bill Clinton. And I think it's -- it is something we have to celebrate. It's not necessarily what a person stands for, believes, or what they -- what they do, but the fact that this country affords opportunity at a level that no other country affords to its citizens.
LAMB: What did your parents do in Hope?
HUCKABEE: My father was a fireman. And as it is with most firemen, there's not enough money being a fireman in a small town to pay all the rent, so on his days off, he worked as a mechanic and rebuilt car generators. My mother worked as a clerk at a gas company. And between the two of them, you know, we still eked it out to pay the rent on a little rent house just a few blocks from the fire station where my dad worked.
LAMB: How many people lived in Hope when you were there?
HUCKABEE: About 8,000. It was a great little town to grow up in, wonderful community. It was the kind of place, Brian, that if -- if I was three blocks or six blocks from home and did something I shouldn't be doing, before I could get home, six people had called my parents and told them. And it really was a community where people looked after each other and after each other's kids. You know, it was not uncommon to get a spanking not just from your parents but by somebody else's parents if they thought you needed it. And if that happened, my only hope was, Please don't call and tell my parents because that'll mean I'll get another one. It wasn't like I'm going to go home and tell them what you did to me, and then they're going to be all mad. That's the way we grew up, and it was a good -- it was a good life.
LAMB: Anybody looking at the screen will not understand this question. When in your -- when in your life did you become obese?
HUCKABEE: Oh. I didn't really have that many battles in my weight until probably after I got married. I mean, I would maybe in my teenage years have a few pounds I'd gained, 10 or 15, that I had to get rid of. And obesity was very much a part of a long-standing family issue. But the older I got, and as my metabolism began to slow and my eating habits didn't and my exercise dwindled to essentially a second trip to the buffet from the table, it really began to take its toll.
LAMB: But did I read right that were at 280 at one time?
LAMB: And that you've now lost 110 pounds?
HUCKABEE: Yes, 110 pounds.
LAMB: What year were you at 280? And when did you lose the 110?
HUCKABEE: Two years ago, back in 2003, I really -- I think that was when I hit my peak, probably 280, 285, something like that. And...
LAMB: You're how tall?
HUCKABEE: Five-eleven. So you know, I had a body mass index that was not good, not good at all.
LAMB: How did you lose it?
HUCKABEE: The old-fashioned way. You know, my doctor said, Look, this isn't rocket science. You're going to have to change your eating habits and you're going to have to exercise. And I kept saying, Isn't there something else? Now, the truth is, Brian, I gained and lost weight all my life. I mean, I'd gain, I'd lose. But this time, I peaked out. I mean, I just gained more than I'd ever gained and lost before. And I think that happens so often with yo-yo dieting. You go on a diet and it fails, or it succeeds maybe early, then it fails because you go back to your old eating habits.
This time, the doctor sat me down and he said, If you don't change some things about your life, you're in the last decade of your life. And I did not like the sound of that. And so...
LAMB: Had you already been diagnosed with diabetes?
HUCKABEE: Yes, I'd been diagnosed...
LAMB: What year was that?
HUCKABEE: That was in, I guess, mid-2002. And I tried. I mean, I really was trying from that point up until 2003, but I was just miserably failing at trying to really get a grip on it. But again, I was trying to diet. And really, I had -- I call it an epiphany of sorts, when I realized that there were a lot of factors that sort of converged together. One of them was my faith. I said, you know, I'm not being a good steward of my body. I really do believe God made it, and I believe it's going to return to him, but I'm going to give it back to him a lot sooner than he had intended if I don't make some changes.
My fitness level -- I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I had friends, like former governor Frank White, a dear friend, who had gained a lot of weight and dropped dead suddenly in May of 2003, had a heart attack, just his wife came home, found him in the floor. I told my wife, If I don't make some changes, I won't live as long as he did.
LAMB: How old are you today?
HUCKABEE: I'm 49. And so as I put all that together, I realized that I had to make some changes. But diets don't work for most people because they have a starting point and an ending point. You say, I weigh this much, I want to weigh this much, and so you start, and when you get to that point, you say, Wow, this is great. I've completed my task. This time, I didn't set out to lose a specific amount of weight. I said, My goal is not weight loss, my goal is regaining my health. I want to -- I want to experience health and fitness. And here's what I found out, that if your goal is health and fitness, when you get to a place of being healthy, weight will have taken care of itself. But the only path to health and fitness is eating properly, putting the right fuel in your body, and it's giving your body the kind of vigorous activity that it was designed to experience.
So this -- this has not been some radical plan. You know, I didn't have surgery, and I didn't -- not that I'm against people who do. Some people find that's the only way that they can really head off a true medical disaster. But for other people, they have different diet programs and plans. I tried most of them. I could give you an evaluation of about -- all the major ones that are out there. And I think any of them will work as a part of your plan, but I'm convinced that what a person must do -- at least, what I had to do -- was to say, This is for the rest of my life. So I cut out eating refined sugar. I almost never eat fried foods. And for a Southern boy, to say I'm not eating fried foods -- that's a big deal. That's a really big deal. I cut out the junk foods. I don't eat gravies and white bread and things like that. I eat a wide variety of things. I eat meats and fish and poultry and lots of fruits and vegetables.
LAMB: Have you ever smoked or drank?
HUCKABEE: Never. Neither one. Never even tasted beer. And it's not because I'm some moral giant or because I'm -- honestly, it had to do with -- as a teenager, I was offered it, and to me, it -- it smelled so hideous. And I thought anything that smells that bad couldn't possibly taste good. And I'm allergic to tobacco smoke, so that was an easy one to not have an affinity for. As a result, my real vice was I was a foodaholic. And like some people are alcoholics or have other types of just obsessions, a lot of it was, I think, going back to, again, my background. When you grow up poor, one thing you experience, you tend to eat the foods that stretch your food dollar, but they're also the foods that stretch your waistline. And you also eat foods that -- that mess -- that are probably very bulky. Why do Southerners pour so much gravy on everything? Why do they bread and fry it? Because if you take a thin slice of meat, by the time you bread it, fry it and then pour gravy on it, you can feed a whole lot more people. I mean, it's a matter of survival in many neighborhoods, and that's what people don't understand when they say, Why don't these people just -- just make these changes? It does require some cultural change.
LAMB: But your parents -- they had a lot of jobs, though. Sounds like they were making money, both of them.
HUCKABEE: Yes, they were -- but you know, in those days, in the 1950s, they made enough to -- we never owed anybody. My father was one of these guys that believed you don't owe anybody anything. You pay cash. You don't go into debt. You know, you just -- you just do the best you can. But -- and that's something that I -- I feel like was a great lesson that they taught me. You know, don't be obligated and deeply indebted.
We didn't lack -- I didn't know I was poor until I got in high school. I mean, it never occurred to me that we were underprivileged. I don't think I was. I think I was incredibly privileged. Privilege is not about money. Privilege is about being loved. It's about having two parents who would sacrifice their very lives to give my sister and me all the things that they didn't have. But like so many, I was one of those folks in my family, first generation college grad. You know, my parents didn't have the opportunity to go to college. so for my sister and for me to be able to go to college, that was a big deal.
LAMB: Where's your sister now?
HUCKABEE: She's a school teacher in Bryant, Arkansas. Teaches middle school English, has been a drama teacher in her early career.
LAMB: Are your parents alive?
HUCKABEE: Both of them are deceased, and you know, I only wish they could have lived longer. My mother didn't live long enough to see me sworn in as governor. My dad missed it by about five months, and I wish he could have seen it.
LAMB: The state of Arkansas has how many people?
HUCKABEE: It has 2.7 million, just under right now, is our latest population.
LAMB: What kind of tax do the folks there pay?
HUCKABEE: They think it's pretty ominous. I think it's probably more than I wish it was. The problem we have in Arkansas is that our state has a relatively low per capita income, which means that we have a moderate tax rate, but we have a relatively shallow tax base because...
LAMB: What's the rate?
HUCKABEE: Sales tax is right now at 6 percent. We have a maximum 7 percent income tax. Property tax in Arkansas is very, very low. It's assessed by each county. But compared to other states, it's really low. Now, the people in Arkansas think it's very high, but if you take a chart, it's one of the areas where we really have a low threshold of pain, in terms of property tax.
LAMB: What year did you marry?
HUCKABEE: In 1974, May 25, which is a date I better got to remember, by the way.
LAMB: Is it Ouachita...
LAMB: That is...
HUCKABEE: That's like Wash-it-taw.
LAMB: Ouachita Baptist University.
LAMB: What's the -- what's the name Ouachita?
HUCKABEE: Ouachita's an Indian word, and it's -- there's a Ouachita River in Arkansas. There was a Ouachita Indian tribe that was a part of the South at that time. And it was named after -- after the river, which the campus is literally on the banks of the Ouachita River in Arkansas, so it's a beautiful, beautiful campus. A real life-changing experience for me to be a part of that great experience
LAMB: How big is the school?
HUCKABEE: Small, on purpose, 1,600 students. It's a private Christian college. They purposely keep the student enrollment contained so that there's a very low student-to-teacher ratio. But it's a great atmosphere...
LAMB: Do you have to be a Baptist to go there?
HUCKABEE: No, no, no, no. There's kids from every kind of faith, and usually, there's, on any given year, kids from 50 foreign countries who are studying there, as well.
LAMB: When did you think that you wanted to be a minister? And where did you get your training to be a minister?
HUCKABEE: Well, in my teenage years, I really wanted to do something significant with my life. I felt like that, you know, I didn't want to just live a life where I made money and that was my goal. And I wanted to do something that was going to impact others. I was a person of deep faith. I had a conversion experience at the age of 10, but as a 15-year-old, I really had a real deepening of my faith, led in part by a couple in my home town of Hope who took a group of us teenagers over to their home on Wednesday evenings and would just talk to us about the practicalities of living out our faith. It was really impressive to me that here were adults that -- they weren't just Sunday believers, they were all-time about it. And that -- that touched me, really had an impact on me.
LAMB: Were your parents religious?
HUCKABEE: Somewhat, nominally. Like so many people in the South, they -- my mother was pretty good to take us to Sunday school. My father did not become a church-goer until after, really, I'd started into ministry. And that was a real big thing for him, but he had not been up until that time. But they certainly had a reverence for God, and we would have never been allowed to use profanity in our home, those kind of things.
LAMB: The experience you had at age 10. What was it?
HUCKABEE: I went to a vacation Bible school. And I have to be honest, I didn't go for spiritual reasons. I went because my sister had told me that if I went, they would let me have all the cookies I could eat and all the Kool-Aid I could drink. When I got there, I found out they didn't think I could eat more than two cookies or drink more than one cup of Kool-Aid, but by then, I was already there, so there it was.
But the pastor at the church where the Bible school was taking place talked to us about what it meant to personally embrace Christ. And this was something that, for reasons that I guess, you know, one never knows, it spoke to me as if I was the only person in the room. And when he talked about what it meant to know Christ personally, I realized that's something I didn't know. And so that day, you know, I prayed a prayer that I know millions of people have prayed though the ages, and it doesn't matter whether you're 10 years old and in a little town of Hope or whether you're, you know, on the streets of Manhattan, it's an honest prayer that -- it doesn't say, I'm better than everyone else, it says, God be merciful to me, a sinner. And God hears that prayer, always hears that prayer.
LAMB: So that's age 10. And then these friends introduced you to more of the religion at age 15.
LAMB: And then when was it you said, You know, I want to -- I want to -- I want to do the pulpit thing on Sunday for a parish?
HUCKABEE: Well, you know, even at 15, I thought maybe that's the only direction I could go. I grew up in a very small Baptist church in Hope. And at that time, it was kind of like the options were you could either go to the mission field and be a missionary or you could be a pastor, and that was about it. And I really wanted to go into broadcasting, Christian broadcasting. And again, the reason is, is because I started in radio. And I thought that's a good fit.
LAMB: Where in radio?
HUCKABEE: Hope, Arkansas, a little 1,000-watt daytime radio station...
LAMB: Doing what?
HUCKABEE: ... KXAR. Everything. That was the great thing about small-town radio. You did news. I was the sports director. Now, think about that, sports director, a big title, 14 years old. That meant I did all the play-by-play of high school football, basketball, baseball. Had a blast. Had an absolute blast.
LAMB: But it wasn't a Christian station or it was?
HUCKABEE: No, it was a secular station. We played, you know, all kinds of music formats, everything from country Western to pop and the standards and -- a lot of local community stuff.
I learned more than just radio. I learned community service. I worked for a remarkable human being named Haskell Jones , my first boss. He was the manager of the radio station. And he was the most evolved -- I call him a communitarian because he really was. He was this guy that believed in doing the Lions Club broom sales to help the blind. He did the Red Cross blood drives to get blood donated, putting together needy -- baskets for the needy at Christmas. And the radio station was sort of a center place of all of those activities for community effort.
And he really instilled into me that when you live in a community and you're blessed, that you owe something back, so you must be involved in civic endeavors. So it was more than an indoctrination into how to turn on the tape machines and make the turntables spin, it was an -- it was being indoctrinated into the idea that one owes back to the others who may be less fortunate. And what a great lesson. I didn't even realize what a tremendous education I was getting at the time I was receiving it.
LAMB: What year did you become -- was a Baptist minister?
HUCKABEE: That would have been in 1971, '72 -- 1972, I suppose. I was still in high school. In those days, if you said, You know, I think I might like to -- you know, to be a minister, they'd say, Well, great. Here, speak at our church next Sunday.
HUCKABEE: Literally, yes. I mean, I -- I did my first sermon when I was -- yes, I wasn't even 16 years old.
LAMB: You remember what you spoke about?
HUCKABEE: I spoke on the power of the blood of Christ. And I do remember that. I pastored my first church as a college student. I was 18. I look back and I think, What were those people thinking?
LAMB: How many were there in the church?
HUCKABEE: Oh, there were 40. It was a tiny, little church. It was in the college town where I went to school.
LAMB: And where's that?
HUCKABEE: Arkadelphia, Arkansas, where Ouachita is. And you know, it was a part-time thing. I spoke on Sundays and preached the sermons and -- but I visited people in the hospital and I did all those other things. But I'm looking back and I'm thinking, I'm 18. My youngest child is 22. I wouldn't turn much of anything -- I mean, I just -- I'm amazed. I'm truly amazed.
LAMB: Do you have any sense of why it worked? Can you remember -- I mean, people tell you today -- do you ever run into anybody who was in your church then?
HUCKABEE: I do, all the time. I have wonderful friends that I made from those days, way back, and it's nice to know that I still have great, great friends and connections and ties with those folks and they still speak with me. That's always good.
I think a lot of them -- I didn't know I couldn't do it. That's a lot of it. I just -- I felt like, Well, if they asked me, I must be able to do it or they wouldn't be asking me. And I've always had this sense that if an opportunity comes to you that you evaluate it, but it's not about just, Do I have the ability or the experience, but if others have the confidence, then maybe God has a reason for this. And so give it a try.
LAMB: You met your wife, Janet, in -- did you say '74?
HUCKABEE: Well, we married in '74. We knew each other as kids.
LAMB: Oh, you did?
HUCKABEE: She's from Hope, as well. So we had known each other all the way through elementary school, junior high, started dating in our senior year of high school and continued to date in college and got married after our first year of college. We were -- we were all of 18 years old, a few months shy of our 19th birthdays, when we got married.
LAMB: For the moment, I want to jump to 2002.
LAMB: And you ran for governor in 2002 again...
LAMB: ... and won in Arkansas. Your wife also ran for secretary of state.
HUCKABEE: Right. She did.
LAMB: Why? And she lost.
HUCKABEE: She did, and I was very disappointed that she did. She would have made a wonderful secretary of state. She ran in large part because she had personally tried to recruit people to be candidates. She's very politically active, as part of not only my campaign but believing in public service. Her mother had served as the county clerk of Hempstead County back in Hope, where we grew up. And so she had this real sense about people ought to run for office. They ought to vote. You know, that's just part of life.
And so when our party, the Republican Party in Arkansas, were looking for people who would run and be on the ticket with Win Rockefeller and me -- Win's the lieutenant governor -- we met with a number of people, she and I both did, and said, Why don't you run for it? And we'd, you know, talk about a various office. Oh, I can't tell you how many hours we spent with people, encouraging them. Many of them would think about it, talk about it, and then they get right up to the point, said, Boy, I don't think I can do that. That's just too brutal.
And finally, she said, Well, if no one's going to run, I guess I'll have to. And the party -- the party chairman said, Well, then, why don't you? And that's all the kind of challenge my wife needs, so she said, OK, I will. So she did. It turned out to be kind of tough because I think there was a lot of -- interestingly enough, the Democrats had several father-son, brother-brother on the ballot. But for some reason, they targeted this as a power grab, which it wasn't. It wouldn't have really empowered us. But I think it did not -- people did not think that that was a good thing, to have both the governor and the first lady in office at the same time, so...
LAMB: She won 37 percent of the vote. What was your percentage?
HUCKABEE: Mine was right at 54.
LAMB: And you -- her opponent got more votes than you did, Charlie Daniels.
HUCKABEE: Her opponent got more votes -- I guess -- yes, I guess it would be by percentage, unless fewer people voted than the governor's race.
LAMB: The only reason I mention it is that there were several articles that I read that were not very kind to your wife.
HUCKABEE: Oh, I can almost tell you where the publication was that wrote them. I...
LAMB: Said that she was arrogant and, you know, all that.
HUCKABEE: Now I know the publication you're talking about.
LAMB: Not true?
HUCKABEE: No, no. It's not true. She's a likable person. I mean, the thing is...
LAMB: She's jumped out of planes...
HUCKABEE: Oh, she's jumped out of airplanes and -- my wife is unique. She's a very different kind of personality. She's not the typical -- I don't know what the typical first lady is. Maybe I should begin there because I know most of the first spouses -- let me be more inclusive -- and I don't think that any of them are -- are somehow able to fit a profile. But there is this image. It's kind of like the pastor's wife or a first lady or first spouse. There is this image.
She's her own person. That's what I respect about her. She loves the outdoors. She's on the international board for Habitat for Humanity. She doesn't just go to do a photo op for them, she'll go and spend a week on top of a roof, nailing and putting things together, things I couldn't do. But she -- she's also a very honest person. So when people ask her questions, she gives them pretty honest answers, and sometimes that comes across as being harsh.
LAMB: Why was she jumping from airplanes?
HUCKABEE: She loves doing things like that. She's bungee-jumped. She's -- the airplane jump was with the Golden Knight parachute team from the United States Army. She flew onto an aircraft carrier deck. She's done -- flown in F-16s. Any time she gets a chance to do something that's an adventure, a thrill, something that's sort of beyond the norm, she's going to jump at it. She just loves that kind of stuff.
And you know, I'm more the cautious type. I mean, I've flown in an F-16 and I've done a few things -- no parachutes, no bungee-jumping. Brian, if you ever hear that I've jumped out of a parachute, please make a phone call and tell them to check into it because someone pushed me out of that plane. I did not jump on my own.
LAMB: How did she deal with your weight problem? And we didn't complete the story...
LAMB: ... on how you eventually lost weight because there's exercise involved in this and a routine that you now have.
HUCKABEE: Right. She was certainly concerned about my health and would talk to me about it, but anybody who's been overweight knows that people jumping on them about it doesn't help. In fact, even sometimes it just makes it worse because then, in addition to already knowing you're overweight and you're out of shape, then the guilt of having people pile it on doesn't -- doesn't really help.
But she was concerned. And when I finally told her, Look, I'm going to make some changes, she certainly was very encouraging and did everything she could to be accommodating, both in terms of not, you know, saying, Well, I'm going to eat three pieces of pie while he'll sit over there and watch me -- again, she was very helpful in that.
I started exercising, and she was very encouraging toward that. She'd been very athletic -- I mean, obviously, the kind of things I've described her doing. But she was an athlete and an all-star basketball player. And so she, I think, was a big part of helping me to understand the importance of it.
LAMB: What's your daily routine? What time do you get up?
HUCKABEE: I get up at 4:30 every morning, at least by then, and typically, I'll get out and I'll run four days a week. I get on an exercise bike, a recumbent bike, every day, seven days a week. I do weight-lifting on the days I don't run. I usually exercise for anywhere from an hour to an hour-and-half a day. And during that time -- it's a great, refreshing time. It's my favorite time of the day because I'm -- I'm finding myself physically refreshed, but mentally, I'm preparing for the day. All my speeches, the great stuff I've ever said, if I've every said anything -- that's when it starts flowing. And you know, I used to just think exercise had to be the biggest waste of time, and now I find that it's an extraordinarily valuable part of my day.
LAMB: Of all the regimen you have, then -- the eating and exercise -- is there any one of those that's more important than the other?
HUCKABEE: I think it's like the wings of an airplane. Somebody ask me when I get on one which is the most important, the one on the left or the one on the right, I'd ask them, you know, Take one off and how far are you going to go? I really think that is the whole essence of good health. It's not just saying, I'm going to eat certain things and avoid certain things or, Hey, I'm going to go out there and exercise. What we put into our body, it's like what we put into our automobile. If you pour -- pour very contaminated fuel into your car, it's not going to run. And I think on the same token, you have to keep your car literally running and moving or it sets up and things settle in it and it won't run very efficiently. I think the same thing is true of our body. It's both exercise and nutrition.
LAMB: You told us that in '92, you ran for the Senate and lost. How did you get into the lieutenant governor's job? And what year?
HUCKABEE: This was 1993. Bill Clinton had just become president. He moved to Washington, and then Jim Guy Tucker, the lieutenant governor, moved up to become governor in late '92. And that would throw Arkansas into the necessity of having a special election for lieutenant governor.
Asa Hutchinson, who was then our party chairman, a good friend and now deputy director of Homeland Security, former congressman -- Asa came to me and he says, You know, Mike, there's going to be a special election for lieutenant governor. We need a candidate. Why don't you run? And I thought, You got to be kidding. I don't want to be a lieutenant governor. He said, But you know, you just finished an election. You got a statewide organization. You've got the experience. You're the only person that's sort of really out there, conditioned for a statewide race. And why don't you do it?
And I said, Well, let me think about it. And I did, and I thought, Well, why not? So I did. And it was an amazing race because the person I ran against was really the fair-haired boy of the Democrat Party, the hand-picked candidate from the entire Clinton operation, had been Bill Clinton's former legal counsel in the governor's office.
HUCKABEE: Nate Coulter, Harvard-educated attorney, very, very bright man and a very formidable candidate.
LAMB: You're talking about a state that has a two Democratic senators. How many Democratic -- how many Republican congressmen?
HUCKABEE: We have one out of four Republican congressmen.
LAMB: And your house is overwhelmingly Democrat.
HUCKABEE: Overwhelmingly Democrat. It's -- we have 28 Democrats out of 100 -- I mean, excuse me, 28 Republicans out of 100.
LAMB: And the senate?
HUCKABEE: In the senate, we have 8 Republicans out of 35.
LAMB: How big did you win in '92?
HUCKABEE: Oh, by this much, 5,000 votes.
LAMB: Did you know that Jim Guy Tucker, the governor, was going to go to jail?
HUCKABEE: No. In fact, I never thought he would. I got to tell you, I was in the middle of a Senate race. By '96, I'd been lieutenant governor -- elected '93, reelected in '94, because I was only serving out the remainder of the term. In '96, I was in the middle of my term as lieutenant governor, and David Pryor announced he was going to be retiring from the Senate. And I thought this was a great chance, open Senate race. How often does that happen?
I got into that race. I was 20 points ahead in the polls. I mean, I really believe -- and I'm not just saying this -- I would have won that race. I think even the Democrats acknowledge that. But something funny happened on the way to Washington for me. Jim Guy Tucker not only went to trial, he got convicted. And I never thought that would happen. It never, ever crossed my mind that an Arkansas jury would convict a sitting Democrat governor, particularly when a Republican would be taking his place if, in fact, he got convicted.
LAMB: Convicted of what?
HUCKABEE: Convicted of felonies related to Whitewater investigations from the special prosecutor. It related to some allegations of bank fraud and inflated, I think, loan guarantees that had been done through some business partners of his.
LAMB: When did he go to prison?
HUCKABEE: Well, he didn't. The judge, because of some health concerns, gave him home sentencing and put him in home detention for, like, 18 months and suspended the rest of it, fined him quite a bit of money. I don't remember the exact amount. But you know, I thought that was adequate because, frankly, when a person of profile like that is convicted and has to give up his law license and his public office, the humiliation is such that I'm not sure that there's any great value of trotting a person off to do extensive time. And so it was never something I thought, Well, gosh, he should have had to do hard time.
LAMB: Do you ever see him?
HUCKABEE: I do. I've see him on a number of occasions since that time, and you know, we have a cordial relationship. And you know, it's a tough thing. I don't have any harsh things to say about him or what he went through because I don't walk in his skin. And I would only say that, you know, I would want to be gracious in it because I think there was plenty of deep pain and trouble for him and his family. It was a tough time for our state. Quite frankly, to have a governor of your state convicted, to have to go through that whole process, it was a very painful time, not something that any of us could celebrate. Even -- even though I was becoming governor and it meant the Republicans, you know, had a -- you know, a new opportunity, you don't hardly have much of a feeling of celebration.
LAMB: What year did you become governor?
HUCKABEE: In 1996, July the 15th.
LAMB: When did you first run for it?
HUCKABEE: In 1998.
LAMB: How big did you win?
HUCKABEE: Substantial, largest victory in the history of the state by a Republican, 60 percent of the vote. And interestingly, four years later, when I got 50 -- just under 54 percent, I actually had more votes than I did four years before. But we had this enormous turnout in 2002, just incredible, off the charts, so the percentage was less, but the actual number of votes was the largest in the history of Arkansas for any candidate for governor, including any time Bill Clinton ever ran.
LAMB: You know, you've been involved in and around professions with high visibility, but there've been lots of criminal activity in the last, you know -- I don't know, my lifetime, since I've been here, presidents have resigned because of it. Governors have gone to jail or been sentenced, the former president from your state impeached and all that. Why do you do this?
HUCKABEE: That's a great question.
LAMB: How do you protect yourself? I assume you've had all kinds of offers from people who come up to you and say -- everything from money to -- you know. You know what I'm talking about.
LAMB: How do you protect yourself?
HUCKABEE: Well, you know, I think we -- first of all, we live in a very, very vicious environment. I think there are a lot of people who get even accused of and maybe even thrown out for things that -- maybe deserved, but in some cases, I think it's the result of just the tenacity with which sometimes people use prosecution as the political weapon instead of goals, ideals, policies.
But there are certain vulnerabilities that come with public office and visibility. First of all, people play to your ego. I mean, let's be honest. When you get a title, there are people who suddenly treat you differently than they've ever treated you before.
LAMB: Your friends?
HUCKABEE: Your real friends don't. Your real friends -- your real friends know who you really are, and they treat you the same as before. And they're the best friends you have because you know that they were your friends before you ever got the title, they'll be your friends when you don't have one. But you have a lot of new friends -- a lot of new friends. And...
LAMB: How do you know when somebody's pulling your chain?
HUCKABEE: I hope that you can sense it. I hope you can sort of sense that there's some string attached. But I think, quite frankly, there are times when we don't know, and that's when it hurts the most, is when you think someone is your friend because they just like you, and then it turns out that they really wanted an appointment to something or they wanted to be close to you because it gave them a sense of empowerment to tell their friends, Oh, I had lunch with the governor last week. You hope that's not the case, but you know deep down it is.
LAMB: How much money did you spend in 2002 to win?
HUCKABEE: That race was -- I believe it was $2.3 million.
LAMB: What kind of restrictions do you have in Arkansas about money given to candidates?
HUCKABEE: A thousand dollars per individual contribution. We can take corporate money in Arkansas for state races.
HUCKABEE: We can, yes.
LAMB: How much?
HUCKABEE: A thousand dollars. A thousand dollars is the limit. It doesn't matter whether it's a corporation or an individual or an LLC, any entity can give a thousand dollars.
LAMB: We've just been through an inauguration of a president in which corporations spent $250,000 to support it, which, if you look at it, it's nothing but a political contribution. It -- most people think it gets you access. Is this the way we think things ought to be run in this country?
HUCKABEE: Well, there's always going to be the criticism that -- here's the thing I've always believed. Prohibit nothing but disclose everything, whether it's about the inaugural committee or about an individual office holder. I believe in disclosure. You know, let me list out there everyone who did anything for me. Don't prohibit it because the prohibition is what creates sometimes the trap, and it may be that a person failed to report or the intention of what was done was different than -- from the donor's perspective from the donee's perspective. I think the best system, and to me the most American, is don't create a lot of prohibitions but create full disclosure. And then if it appears that someone has gotten a special treatment or favor, you know, beat me over the head with it.
LAMB: Well, let me just pose this. This is such an incredibly complicated world, and the political world, especially in this town, with so much money being thrown around, the average person can't track it. And so people buy access, and then it's under the radar. It's small things, compared to the big things people are worried about.
LAMB: And so we have a government that is really -- you're buying access all the time. You're buying ability to get a small amendment passed.
HUCKABEE: And I don't know what the answer is because, you know, on one hand, you say, Well, let's just ban all these things, but then how would we finance election campaigns? A great case in point is this. Let me -- let me speak to it from a different perspective, in terms of why don't we ban large contributions. The one thing I don't want to see this country move toward is a country where only the very, very wealthy can afford to run for office.
And currently, the law is that if you have great personal wealth, you can write your own check and you become an instantly credible candidate by virtue of your bank account, not your public service, not your resume, not your education, not your personal experiences, but because you've got more money in the bank than the other guy. That's not a valid basis on which to run the country or a state or a city, for that matter.
So it would appear to me that maybe a better approach is to make sure that a person of limited means could get his or her views in the marketplace, find people who believed in supporting those views, just like advertisers would sponsor a program, and -- and to create a level playing field. Quite frankly, Brian, a guy like me would never have been able to run for office had it not been for people who made contributions because I've never had personal wealth. Still don't.
So I would hate for our society, our political system, to become one of only aristocracy and the elite. And we easily could move there with some of the so-called campaign finance reforms. But if they -- if they end up squeezing out a person from being able to gather support, then what you've done is you've really created this system where the most likely candidates are the wealthiest ones.
LAMB: You have something special planned for Valentine's Day in Arkansas.
LAMB: What is it?
HUCKABEE: It's a covenant marriage celebration. It's really a celebration of marriage in general. But we're going to focus on the covenant marriage law in Arkansas. We're one of three states that offer couples the option of what's called a covenant marriage. And it's really not mystical at all. It really simply says that because of the skyrocketing divorce race, because of the incredible costs that are associated with divorce, not only the fiscal cost but the deeply emotional cost that families go through, we should do everything we can to try to preserve marriage as much as we can.
The covenant marriage simply says that the couple who marries in a covenant marriage relationship agree to have counseling prior to getting married, and they will seek counseling -- the state, the law doesn't define what that has to be. We don't say you have to go to a minister. It could be a secular counselor. But you have to get some type of premarital counseling.
Then you also agree that before you were to go get a divorce and go see a lawyer, you see a counselor. You will try to sit down and work out the issues of your marriage. Now, there are exceptions to that because if a person is abusive, the person has a spouse who's convicted of a felony or is drug or alcohol-addicted or has been abandoned for a period of time, then you don't have to go try to get counseling. But otherwise, you would. If it's just the -- it essentially, to be blunt, it challenges the no-fault divorce concept, where you just say, We're tired of each other. Let's go get a divorce.
LAMB: Where are you going to do this?
HUCKABEE: It's going to be at Alltell Arena, which is the large indoor arena in North Little Rock, Arkansas, just across the river from Little Rock there in the area.
LAMB: Who'll be there?
HUCKABEE: Well, we hope several thousand people from all over the state. We have quite a bit of interest in this. And it's been amazing to me. The interest has been from both the people who think it's the greatest thing they've ever heard of and the people who think -- they can't tell me what's wrong with it, but they just figure, There's got to be something wrong with this, and we're against it. We don't know why.
LAMB: Well, isn't there some controversy over the amount of money that it would cost to get the hall?
HUCKABEE: There was. And the money for the hall, the money for the promotion of it is being raised privately, but you know, I told the reporters in Arkansas, when the keep asking me about, Are you going to be spending any taxpayer money, I says, Well, you know, I'm promoting the event, so my salary and some of my staff's salary. But it's the law in Arkansas. A covenant marriage is our law. We passed that four years ago. It's always appropriate for a governor to support the laws of his state. I actually took an oath to do so. And there's been an interesting sort of, to me, inquiry about that because I support things that are a part our state's constitution, our state's law, faithfully and regularly.
LAMB: Are you going to participate in this?
HUCKABEE: Yes. My wife and I actually are going to convert our own marriage of soon to be 31 years to covenant marriage. There are really two ways that a person can have a covenant marriage in Arkansas. One is when they're going to get married, they can fill out the appropriate marriage license for that. My son, who just got married a few weeks ago, he and his new bride did that.
The other option is that if you've already been married for a period of time, then you can convert your existing marriage license to a covenant marriage. So my wife and I are going to do that. It sort of is way of saying, you know, We really realize how tough it is to keep a marriage together. Doesn't matter who you are, whether you're the governor. We know it's tough. And we're going to take this step to try to say to each other and maybe to others that because marriage is very important, because holding one together is the right thing to do, then we'll take this step so that we ourselves will not be asking others to do what we're unwilling to do. And that's what we'll be doing that evening.
LAMB: In your spare time, you have a band.
LAMB: What do you play?
HUCKABEE: I play bass guitar.
LAMB: How long have you done that?
HUCKABEE: I started playing when I was 11 years old. Like most kids, you know, I wanted to be a rock-and-roll singer. We've got some -- there we go! There...
LAMB: What's the name of the band?
HUCKABEE: Capitol Offense. That's because most of us work at the state capitol, and we figure that our music pretty well offends everybody by the time we finish playing. But we have a blast. We -- this year alone -- well, within the last year, we've opened for Willie Nelson, .38 Special, Grand Funk Railroad, Percy Sledge. We played at the New Orleans House of Blues, New York City at the Republican convention.
LAMB: We don't have a whole lot of -- let's listen to just a little bit...
LAMB: ... see what it sounds like.
(VIDEO CLIP OF "CAPITOL OFFENSE" PERFORMANCE)
LAMB: Now, that's an organization called the Free Republic inaugural ball...
LAMB: ... and anybody that follows this stuff knows that Freerepublic.com is a very conservative group.
LAMB: What is it? And why were you playing at the Free Republic inaugural ball?
HUCKABEE: Well, because they invited us. That's why. We played there four years ago for their inaugural ball, and we were invited back, which for us, we always say that getting invited the first time is pretty great, but if you get invited back, that's really the honor.
The Freepers, as they like to call themselves -- people may know them as the group that on their blogs and through the Web site helped expose some of the fallacies in the CBS reporting of President Bush's National Guard record. They're really -- my experience with them is that they're a delightful group of people who are very politically motivated, pointedly conservative, but they love to have fun. And they have a great sense of humor. Sometimes it's biting and satirical humor, but I think there's a lot of room in politics for that.
LAMB: Would they exist without the Internet?
HUCKABEE: Probably not. I mean, they really are a Web site. They sort of network. I wouldn't even call it an organization because they're not organized. You don't have a president and a -- you know, all these officers. They're a network of like-minded people who believe very deeply in America and believe very deeply in conservative principles, and they talk to each other by way of the Internet, and they share information and all sorts of research with each other, some of which has proven in this last year to be pretty potent.
LAMB: As you know, people that are listening to you who are liberal or Democratic, or maybe not followers of a church -- we hear them all the time on our call-in show -- are offended by all this -- these connections. If you were ever to step out of the state of Arkansas and to try to gather attention from others for your leadership capabilities, how would you -- how would you bridge this -- the red/blue state thing? How would you -- how would you find -- how would you talk people who don't think like you into coming over to your side or at least –following --
HUCKABEE: You know, I would hope that people would be open-minded enough to realize that it's always dangerous to sort of peg people and to say, He's a Republican, therefore I know exactly where he stands on all the issues. People are shocked to find out, for example, that I'm one of the strongest supporters of the arts that the country has. I just received an award from the American and Arts (ph) foundation this past week. My theme as chairman of the education initiative of the states (ah) is "Arts in the schools." And people look at me, and they will even come and say, Are you sure you're a Republican? Are you sure you're a conservative? I say, Yes. Well, why do you ask?
When I started a program to provide health insurance to the uninsured kids in my state, called the Our Kids First program, it kind of created that same kind of reaction. Are you sure you're a conservative Republican? I said, What, you don't think Republicans like kids? Of course we do.
There's -- I mean, even playing in a rock-and-roll band, there are people who think that somehow that doesn't fit in with my Christian faith or something else. And maybe to them it doesn't, but to me, it's a perfectly normal fit. I'm a pretty relaxed person.
LAMB: But you know what people are worried about that don't think like you is that there'll be a clamp-down on the free speech that you won't be able to say and think whatever you want to and that they'll -- you know, especially with television. I mean, what's your attitude about what's on television? Do you want to -- do you want to change it?
HUCKABEE: No. My attitude is you have 150 choices, if you have a satellite, and cable gives you, you know, anywhere from 30 to 150 opportunities. If you don't like what you're seeing, it's called a dial. You know, use it.
LAMB: But you know a lot of people that have your same politics don't think that way. They want...
HUCKABEE: Yes, and I think it's dangerous when we start talking about -- particularly preemption of certain programs. I think the marketplace is a great way to control -- and there are some things that offend me. I'll be honest. I'm a pretty -- pretty conservative guy when it comes to my own personal mores, et cetera. But I'm not -- I'm not prudish.
But my attitude is, is that there are certain things that may be offensive to me, but the best way for me to deal with it is not to ask somebody else to turn off the television, but for me to turn it off and to explain why I think it's offensive, hopefully, influence others. I mean, I can see putting certain things in front of children. I understand that, that we may need to be careful. And so I think whether it's a V-chip or certain restrictions in hotel rooms to pornography.
But I don't want the government coming in and starting to say, This is what you can watch and this is what you can't watch. I get a little uneasy about that because I am one of those who believe that just as some people say conservatives want to clamp down, there are others of us who are conservatives who believe that we want limited government, not a government that's so intrusive that it -- it starts dictating to us all of our choices.
LAMB: How are you doing with the war in Iraq?
HUCKABEE: The tough part for me has been that we've had at least 20 of our National Guard personnel who've been killed in Iraq. And I call the families as soon as I learn of a death. And it's tough. It's very tough.
LAMB: Should we be there?
HUCKABEE: I think we should. I think the president acted on the information that he had and on the deep conviction that if we didn't do something Iraq, that it was only going to be a seedbed of terrorism, and that if you want to -- if you want to kill the snakes, you've got to go to where the snakes live.
LAMB: How concerned are you about your National Guard and using up the National Guard over in Iraq for the future?
HUCKABEE: Well, that's a concern I think every governor -- and it's not that our guys aren't prepared and willing. I've never seen any wonderful -- more wonderful group of people in my life. The men and women who serve in our National Guard -- and this is true, I think, of every state -- these are remarkable people. And they're remarkable because, you know, they signed up to be citizen soldiers, and many of them -- they were always prepared, always willing and ready, but I don't think that it was really sort of in their plans they would be gone for a year or more at a time, away from family and jobs and responsibilities
But Brian, I got to tell you, I don't hear complaining. I -- you know, a lot of the soldiers back in forth from the Middle East, when they come home for leave or when they get finished with their deployment, I try to visit with some of them and talk with them. I'm amazed at their attitude. I would think that they would just say, Boy, I couldn't wait to get out of there. It's always about, I'm concerned about those guys. What we did was valuable. What we did was important. And I hope that people can see more than maybe they see on the evening news. And so I want to believe that their version of things is really more accurate than sometimes the protesters.
LAMB: We only have a minute-and-a-half left. Let me go back to what I started with, whether you'd ever run for president in 2008. Would it matter if Hillary Clinton ran?
HUCKABEE: You know, what would matter is, frankly, whether I thought it would be a valid pursuit of a goal. And I just don't know. And I'm not trying to be coy, I just honestly don't know.
LAMB: How do you do with -- you know, you go back to the weight you put on. How much of that was stress-related?
HUCKABEE: I think a lot of it was because, certainly, eating was -- maybe -- it was an acceptable way for me to deal with stress. You know, I wasn't going to go out and get drunk because I didn't drink, and I didn't really -- you know, I wasn't, like, a nightclub person or a party person or a bar person. So I guess eating was very much a way that I could relieve it. And hopefully, I won't be doing that in the future.
LAMB: One last question. The National Governors Association -- you're going to be the chairman...
LAMB: ... starting in July of this year.
HUCKABEE: In July.
LAMB: Why are you doing that?
HUCKABEE: I think, actually, I'm the second longest serving governor in the country now, second only to George Pataki. But the real reason I want to do it is because I feel like the NGA's a great opportunity to create the laboratory in which practical solutions to national problems can be worked on. One of the things I want to work on is health care. It's broken. We spend all our money treating disease. We need to spend more money preventing that disease.
LAMB: That's another conversation we'll have. Thank you very much...
HUCKABEE: Thank you, Brian.
LAMB: ... Governor Mike Huckabee.