LITTLE ROCK, Ark – The governor of Arkansas says staying “fresh in faith” everyday is the key to surviving in the ruthless world of politics.
Gov. Mike Huckabee, as a former pastor in Texarkana, Ark., has experienced “unfair comments and evaluations.” He says however, that church gossip is nothing compared to his experience in the political arena.
"When you wake up every day knowing that there are people who woke up a little before you did with the sole purpose of destroying you -- not just getting you defeated in an election, but literally destroying you and not caring what it does to your family or to your friends -- that is a very unsettling kind of experience," Huckabee said during a recent interview.
"The press was so eager to publish everything that was negative and to be absolutely indifferent to a balance of truth. ... That's what it was like. It was like a very brutal contact sport in which fouls were never called, so the other team felt free to foul."
During the gubernatorial campaign last November, Huckabee’s opponent, according to Huckabee, "served up more 'whoppers' than Burger King.” However, despite these attacks, Huckabee secured another four-year term as governor, through his sound character and reputation.
Throughout the ruthless election process, Huckabee was remanded of the importance of faith.
"The greatest spiritual challenge is remaining fresh in my faith every day, not coasting on yesterday's devotion to get through today [and] to remind myself that I can't assume that because I had a relationship and fellowship with the Lord last week that somehow that's going to carry me through today."
Huckabee relies on friends and pastors to hold him accountable; they all “feel empowered to confront” their governor as a friend.
"If all else fails," Huckabee said with a laugh, "my wife is probably the boldest of all to tell me how it ought to be. She has the gift of correction. I'm not sure it's a New Testament gift, but she's added it to the list of spiritual gifts."
Huckabee says the accountability between his friends and family makes it easier for him to feel “fresh and vibrant” in his faith; to Huckabee, faith is an important aspect of governing Arkansas.
"I think there's an overwhelming sense in which my Christian convictions drive a lot of my policy decisions," he said.
One such policy, adopted during Huckabee’s term, allows the church to provide social services to supplement the government’s programs.
"You don't just create economic models and tell people, 'If you work harder you'll prosper.' You realize that some people have worked really hard and they still haven't prospered, and what they need is not just a handout but a true 'hand up,'" he said.
In 2002, Huckabee sat beside President Bush at the Church at Rock Creek; Huckabee introduced the church’s Welfare to Work program, which successfully brought many welfare recipients back on their feet.
"I guess one of the greatest thrills I've had in six years as governor was sitting on the platform with President Bush at my church in June 2002. Tommy Thompson, the health and human services secretary, was to my left and the president of the United States, who I'd just introduced, was at the microphone speaking.
"I looked over and there was a young, single mother -- African American -- Vivian Webb. And I thought, 'Three years ago she was on welfare, a single mom, no job, no hope, no income, no future. Today she works for the governor of the state, and she's sitting on the stage with the president of the United States of America on live television across the world. What a great country.'"
Huckabee said that Webb, a Welfare to Work participant, had come because of the church’s willingness to lift her out of her hopelessness. Huckabee noted that he was proud to be part of her spiritual pilgrimage.
However, Huckabee says that some are still fearful of faith in government. When he took office, several people assumed he would "replace the capitol dome with a steeple and start holding prayer services every Wednesday night." Criticism was even harsher when he and his wife discontinued the serving of alcohol in the governor's mansion. "You'd have thought we turned off the water for most of central Arkansas," Huckabee said.
"I find that because I take stands, whether it's a stand on that or on gambling or a stand for the sanctity of human life, sometimes I also then find it necessary to show that it doesn't mean that I'm a bigot or that I'm close-minded about other people," he said.
Huckabee says that openness is important, especially in faith. Though he avoids validating or accepting as equal non-Christian beliefs, he still seeks to build relationships with non-Christians in order to be a witness; His position as governor allows him to testify more significantly than as a pastor.
"When I got up to the pulpit and I delivered a sermon, first of all, most of the people who heard it already believed in what I was saying, and the ones I might have influenced still have this perspective of saying, 'Yeah, but you're supposed to say that stuff. After all, you're getting paid for it.'
"When, as a governor, I share my faith or I give a true witness of my relationship with Christ and how it has affected me or impacted me, whether it be in the aftermath of a tornado or when I talk with a family who has just lost everything -- maybe even a loved one -- and I can as governor play a pastoral role, sometimes I really believe that has a more dramatic impact than had I walked through that same debris as the pastor of the church."
By Pauline C.