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From Hope To Higher Ground12 STOPs to Restoring America's Greatness
By Mike Huckabee
CENTER STREETCopyright © 2007 Mike Huckabee
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHOPE IS WHERE IT STARTS
For me, "hope" is more than a word that describes the American spirit. Every time I hear it I think of home. I was born August 24, 1955, in Hope, Arkansas, a tiny town of about eight thousand people. Except for its claim to fame as Home of the World's Largest Watermelon, Hope had pretty much escaped notice until it became known as the birthplace of Bill Clinton, forty-second president of the United States.
My ancestors settled in Hope in the early 1800s and every male in my lineage before me lived his entire life there. I, too, was raised and educated there, and was the first male in my family bloodline to graduate from high school. When I left Hope to go to college, I became the first male to leave except for the occasional short stint of those who served in the military or who worked in the shipyards temporarily during World War II.
In many ways I wish every American could have had a childhood like mine and could have been raised in Hope. It was a wonderful community. A child could leave his house in the morning on a bicycle and not return until after dark, and it caused no one alarm. It was the kind of place where I could misbehave eight blocks from home, but by the time I pedaled back to 509 East Second Street, six people would have called my parents to report my behavior. I am not sure thatit took a village to raise a child, but I am quite sure that an entire village did its part to help raise me!
My job at the local radio station as a teenager led me to believe that I would have a career in some form of broadcasting or communications and eventually to become active in politics and run for public office. Because of my deep personal faith, it seemed logical to assume that my life would be immersed in applying those communication skills to an evangelical organization.
By the time I was twenty-one, I was the director of a full-service faith-based advertising agency in Texas and involved in producing television programs, publications, advertising, and public relations for one of the nation's fastest-growing evangelical organizations. I supervised a staff of twelve artists, writers, and production specialists and was responsible for a multimillion-dollar budget.
By the time I was twenty-five, I was ready to come back to Hope, Arkansas, to operate a communications business and start laying the groundwork to run for public office. I ghostwrote books; wrote, produced, and placed advertising; and designed publications for churches, Christian ministry and mission organizations, and even some commercial businesses. Things were falling into place for me to begin taking my first political steps when I encountered a detour that took me down a road I wasn't planning to travel.
A church in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, asked me to come and speak on a Sunday because they were without a pastor. Their pastor had recently resigned and they were looking for various people to fill in during their search for a new minister. Following that Sunday, they asked me if I could come to speak for a week-long series of services. They then asked me to serve as the interim pastor for a few months while they searched for a permanent replacement. Three months later, they asked to remove the "interim" label and I spent six of the most wonderful years of my life as pastor of the Immanuel Baptist Church of Pine Bluff. In addition to the church work, I led the launch of a twenty-four-hour-a-day local community television channel.
Involvement in the community was something I not only preached but practiced. I served as president of the local unit of the American Cancer Society, worked in United Way, served on the board for the local multi-church outreach to combat homelessness and poverty, and was active in the local Chamber of Commerce.
Somehow running for public office while simultaneously serving as a pastor seemed incompatible so I gave up that notion. After six years in Pine Bluff, the Beech Street First Baptist Church of Texarkana, Arkansas, invited me to lead that congregation, which I had the joy of doing for an additional six years. As in Pine Bluff, I also led in the creation of another community television channel for the Texarkana area, which broadcast everything from high school football games to talk shows to church services. In Texarkana, I again became active in the community, serving on numerous boards, including the Chamber of Commerce, United Way, and Friendship Center, an area philanthropic organization that assists the unemployed and families with food, rent, and clothing.
During this time, I was elected as the youngest ever president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, a denomination that represented one in every five Arkansans.
Running for office had ceased being an option for me during those years as a pastor, but friends from several directions began asking me if I'd ever thought of running for office, not knowing the long suppressed dreams from nearly a dozen years ago.
By now, my wife, Janet, and I had achieved a level of comfort neither of us had ever dreamed. We were both thirty-six years old, had three children, a good dog, and lived in a nice five-bedroom home with a pool on a cul-de-sac. We were involved in the community and had wonderful friends, a good salary, and a fine reputation. Why on earth would we leave such a pleasant and comfortable life to get involved in politics?
I vividly remember the long walk in the neighborhood we took one winter night. We decided that if we indeed were put on earth to become "comfortable," then we had hit the target. Ours was an enviable life in many ways, but as we walked and talked and prayed, we decided that the purpose for being on earth is not our personal comfort but to strive to make the world better for our children than when we found it.
Our journey had begun in Hope, but it was about to be anything but higher ground!
I resigned my position with the church and, in early 1992, announced my candidacy for the United States Senate. My opponent would be a former governor and three-term U.S. senator. Despite all odds, I was convinced I could and would win.
I didn't. Instead of feeling the whole effort had been a mistake, Janet and I both felt that it was simply the beginning of a long and uncertain process. We had spent our entire savings down to our last dime to make the Senate race. I was without a job or a regular paycheck. We had started our marriage with nothing but enough used furniture to barely fill a tworoom apartment we rented for a grand total of $40 a month, and here we were, eighteen years later, starting over.
With a mortgage, three school-age children, and nothing in savings left, my wife and I were truly tested. She went to work as a unit clerk in the ICU unit at St. Michael Hospital in Texarkana, working the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. overnight shift. I restarted my communications business, consulting other communities on developing local television stations, and also picked up some writing and advertising projects. I even served as an interim pastor in a small church on weekends. In spite of overwhelming odds, we never missed a payment or were even late for our obligations, although to this day, I count it as nothing short of a miracle that we made it through those months.
I was asked by then state Republican Party chairman Asa Hutchinson to consider running for lieutenant governor in a special election in 1993. Bill Clinton's election as president placed Jim Guy Tucker in the governor's office and created a vacancy for lieutenant governor. The organization from my unsuccessful Senate campaign was still intact, and I agreed to do it, though at the time I wasn't sure why anyone, including me, would want to be lieutenant governor!
Building an army of grassroots volunteers, we overcame a huge money disadvantage and disproved political conventional wisdom by winning in the special election in July 1993.
My victory wasn't celebrated at the Democratic State Capitol (I was the only Republican constitutional officer and only the fourth elected statewide since Reconstruction). The doors to my office were spitefully nailed shut from the inside, office furniture and equipment was removed, and the budget essentially spent down to almost nothing prior to our arriving. After fifty-nine days of public outcry, the doors were finally opened for me to occupy the actual office I had been elected to hold two months earlier.
After being reelected in 1994 to a full four-year term as lieutenant governor by the highest margin of any Republican in the state's history, I became governor on July 15, 1996. My predecessor, Jim Guy Tucker, had been forced to resign due to felony convictions in federal court on issues related to a financial scandal he was involved in prior to being governor. For a while, partisan critics called me "the accidental governor" until I asked them whose accident had cause me to be governor? I never heard that again.
My becoming governor clearly incensed those on the left, who throughout my tenure loved to label me the "Rev-Gov" or the "Huckster," obviously thinking that attacking my background as a person of faith and a pastor would scare people. Those who wrote letters to the editor and sent them anonymously to me feared I would replace the Capitol Dome with a steeple and legislative hearings with Wednesday night prayer meetings!
Rather than feel my background was a detriment, I felt it was a tremendous asset. My experience dealing every day with real people who were genuinely affected by policies created by government gave me a deep understanding of the fragility of the human spirit and the vulnerability of so many families who struggled from week to week.
I was in ICU at 2:00 a.m. with families faced with the decision to disconnect a respirator on their loved one; I counseled fifteen-year-old pregnant girls who were afraid to tell their parents about their condition; I spent hours hearing the grief of women who had been physically and emotionally clobbered by an abusive husband; I saw the anguish in the faces of an elderly couple when their declining health forced them to sell their home, give up their independence, and move into a long-term-care facility; I listened to countless young couples pour out their souls as they struggled to get their marriages in survival mode when confronted with overextended debt, sudden and unexpected unemployment and loss of income, or the anxieties of having a child with severe disabilities.
My experiences helped me to better understand that good government is not about policies, but about the people whose lives are going to be touched.
From my teenage years working at the J. C. Penney store in Hope, where I cleaned windows and floors and stocked shelves, I learned that hard work tends to give one a softer heart for others. To this day, I am careful not to touch the glass on the door when I enter a store, knowing someone will have to wipe the fingerprints and smudges later. I can remember my frustration when immediately after scrubbing a glass door, I would watch helplessly as someone with grimy hands bypassed the door handle and pushed on the glass, voiding my work and prompting a call from the manager to clean the doors.
For many Americans, life is hard. Certainly even Americans at the edge of poverty still live better than most of the world's population, but that doesn't mean life for them is easy or without risk and struggle. Most mothers and fathers have great hopes for their children to live a better life than they themselves have lived. Parents often make great sacrifices and work extra jobs to provide opportunities for their children because they truly hope that their efforts will boost the chances and choices for their kids and their descendants. As long as that hope exists, parents will work an extra job, take a sandwich in a paper sack instead of eating out at lunch, and forgo new clothes or cars to save for their child's opportunities.
Should circumstances become so overwhelming that the parent feels he or she is "below sea level" with the floodwaters rising, that parent is in danger of giving up hope, and when that happens, the sacrifices stop and the excuses and desperation take over. When hope is lost, all is lost, and generations can be subject to settling for mediocre existence.
Below Sea Level
In the final days of August 2005, Hurricane Katrina, a category five storm, ravaged the Gulf Coast of the United States, striking hardest against the shores of southern Mississippi and at the heart of one of America's truly unique cities, New Orleans, Louisiana. The impact of the hurricane itself was devastating enough, shattering windows, ripping roofs from homes and commercial buildings, and sending hundreds of thousands of Gulf Coast residents fleeing for their lives out of the path of one of the most ferocious hurricanes to be charted by the National Weather Service. In a matter of hours the "Big Easy" became the "Big Mess." For New Orleans, however, the worst was yet to come.
New Orleans is not only unique for its culture of spicy food, authentic Dixieland jazz music, all-night bars, and nonstop entertainment. It is set apart by the fact that it was established as a city below sea level, protected by a series of levees that surround the Crescent City. Engineers and hydrologists had predicted devastating floodwaters should anything ever breach those levees.
While America watched, courtesy of twenty-four-hour news channels eager to bring the most sensational and epic pictures to viewers, the levees did in fact seep and then pour water. Within hours the once bustling streets of New Orleans turned into raging rivers that forced those citizens left behind into a desperate search for a spot of dry ground. Tens of thousands sought what was thought to be temporary shelter in the Louisiana Superdome, home to some of the great sports and entertainment spectacles of the past generation from Super Bowls to megaconcerts, as well as of the nation's largest conventions.
Not too far away, the New Orleans Convention Center also became a refuge as the ravaging waters continued to rise. Thousands upon thousands of others were unable to make it to the designated shelter areas and were forced to cling to chimneys and vent pipes on rooftops or to try to find safety camped out on the bridges of Interstate 10.
For the next several days, Americans watched in horror, then disgust, and ultimately in anger as they saw their fellow citizens stranded and, for all practical purposes, abandoned without food, shelter, or even water, and with very little hope of response from any level of government. Over the coming months much debate would center on why the response to this tragedy seemed so inept. A long line of critics waited their turn to point fingers at local, state, or federal officials. Armchair analysts offered confident and conclusive summations on what had gone wrong, who was at fault, and what should be done to prevent such a disaster in the future.
I had been with the Southern Governors' Association at Mercer Plantation in Georgia when I received news of the impending hurricane. After ten years as governor I knew a hurricane on the Gulf Coast (or even the threat of one) meant thousands of anxious people would be fleeing their homes in Mississippi, Louisiana, or Texas, and heading as far north as necessary to find shelter, food, and a place to get away from the assault of the hurricane. I cut my trip short, arriving home in Little Rock just before the Hurricane hit the coast, to begin preparing our state for what would certainly be an extraordinary influx of evacuees escaping the coastal areas to get to higher, and hopefully dryer, ground. Being an inland state, Arkansas doesn't experience hurricanes, so when they threaten to strike our nation's coastline we don't brace for property damage but we do brace for "people damage." Those who cross into our borders often come filled with the trauma of having barely gotten ahead of the storm, or at the very least filled with anxiety as to what will await them upon their return.
As we coordinated with our usual partners for these type events, such as the Red Cross, and began stocking up facilities and supplies, I was kept abreast of the situation like other Americans by watching the news reports on television. I literally wept as I saw the desperate faces of children, elderly people, and frantic parents waving at rescue boats or passing helicopters. The rescue vessels were pushed way past capacity as brave first responders sought to pluck victims from danger, and stage rescues in the flooded waters of neighborhoods. Some people held on to nothing more than parts of ice chests, which served as their makeshift flotation devices and life-saving instruments.
Excerpted from From Hope To Higher Ground by Mike Huckabee Copyright © 2007 by Mike Huckabee. Excerpted by permission.
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