Saturday, December 22, 2007

Huckabee's legacy as Arkansas governor included closing scores of small, rural school districts

"Mike Huckabee produced a legacy like few other Republican governors in the South, surprising even liberal Democrats with his willingness to upend some of Arkansas' more parochial traditions," including small, rural school districts, two reporters for The New York Times write from Little Rock, apparently having been dispatched after the surge in Huckabee's presidential campaign.

"He drove through a series of changes that transformed education and health insurance in Arkansas, achievements that were never tried by most of his predecessors, including Bill Clinton," write Adam Nossiter and David Barstow. "But he is also remembered in the state for a style of governing that tended to freeze out anyone of any party who disagreed with his plans."

They add: "Mr. Huckabee is a son of small-town Arkansas, yet he deeply angered many in his rural constituency, touching the third rail of the state’s politics by shutting down money-draining, redundant school districts in the hinterlands. Protesters rallied at the state Capitol, fearful of losing schools, football teams, and age-old identities, but the governor insisted his way was the best and the schools were closed."

The reform was prompted by a state Supreme Court decision that found the Arkansas school system to be inequitable. Closing dozens of small districts, which Clinton had avoided, was "the path of greatest resistance," Nossiter and Barstow write. "The fight went on for over a year, and Mr. Huckabee’s staunchest allies proved to be the most liberal Democrats in the Legislature." He had proposed cutting the 310 districts "by well over half," and refused to sign or veto the resulting law, which cut his plan by almost two-thirds. (Read more)

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