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January 16, 2008

Federalism Gets Around, But Not Understood

Mike Huckabee has apparently learned the value of federalism on the campaign trail. Once a proponent of a federal smoking ban, Huckabee reversed himself in a letter from his campaign to The Hill. While not completely renouncing his previous stance, Huckabee now says that he would not sign a smoking ban under current circumstances (via Hot Air):

At an August 2007 forum on cancer hosted by cyclist and activist Lance Armstrong and moderated by MSNBC host Chris Matthews, Huckabee said he supported a federal smoking ban.

“If you are president in 2009 and Congress brings you a bill to outlaw smoking nationwide in public places, would you sign it?” Matthews asked.

“I would, certainly would. In fact, I would, just like I did as governor of Arkansas, I think there should be no smoking in any indoor area where people have to work,” Huckabee responded, triggering applause from the crowd. Part of the interview has been posted on and viewed over 2,500 times.

Calling it a “workplace safety issue,” Huckabee added that the “same reason that we regulate that you can’t pour radon gas into a workplace is the same reason that we shouldn’t allow people to pour the toxic, noxious fumes of a cigarette into a place where people have to work.”

Huckabee’s campaign, however, is backtracking. In its statement to The Hill, the campaign stated, “At a Lance Armstrong cancer forum last August, Governor Huckabee said that if Congress presented him with legislation banning smoking in public places, he would sign it, because he would not oppose the overwhelming public support that such a congressional vote would reflect. However, since such sentiment for federal legislation doesn’t exist at this time, and since he has said that the responsibility for regulating smoking initially lies with the states, the governor believes that this issue is best addressed at the local and state levels.”

Huckabee had two problems with the Republican base in this issue, and he hasn't really resolved either one. His initial response gave him a reputation as a nanny-stater, someone who would use the power of government to remove personal choice in the name of protecting people against themselves. Smoking bans have begun to create animosity from private-property advocates who feel that the owners of establishments such as bars and restaurants have the right to serve smokers if they desire.

He didn't really address the federalism issue, either. The retreat from his August 2007 position doesn't say that the previous statement was wrong, but just that the conditions do not exist for the imposition of federal authority on private property. A federalist would say that such conditions rarely exist at all, and only when the interest comes directly from the federal government's attempt to meet its Constitutional duties for national security and interstate commerce. Saying that "sentiment for federal legislation doesn't exist at this time" clearly implies that Huckabee would ignore federalist limitations on action if he could gin up enough sentiment to extend federal power far beyond anything imagined at present.

This response does not address the key problems with Huckabee's earlier stance. It's a flip-flop with only minimal repositioning, which would seem to be the worst of both worlds in this case. Huckabee and his team need to seriously rethink the entire issue and try again.


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