Stateline Story

Arkansas Gov To Call Modular Mansion Home

The structure is in place. The plumbing and wiring are being tested. The exterior decking is near completion. And if everything proceeds as scheduled, Arkansas's First Family will move into the nation's first modular governor's mansion on Wednesday.

"It is NOT a trailer," declares Mrs. Janet Huckabee, wife of Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee, though it was she who initially teasingly cautioned reporters against calling the home a double-wide.

"It's a triple-wide," Mrs. Huckabee joked.

House trailer or modular home -- and the Arkansas Manufactured Housing Association, which donated the $110,000 house, insists that the latter is accurate -- the Huckabee's move to temporary quarters on the grounds of the Arkansas Governor's Mansion has been a windfall for talk show hosts and late night television comedians.

At 2,100 square feet, the modular home is "big enough for your chin," Mr. Huckabee joked on-air with the Tonight Show's Jay Leno. The Huckabees and their provisional quarters have also been featured on the Today show, NBC Nightly News and the Don Imus radio program in addition to countless mentions in local media across the country.

Temporary housing for the Huckabees was made necessary by a $1.4 million renovation of the Governor's Mansion, the first major refurbishing since its completion in 1950. And Mrs. Huckabee is attempting to raise still more money from private sources -- as much as $4 million -- to significantly expand the stately Georgian brick residence.

Should she succeed, the Huckabee's could remain in the modular residence for as long as two and a half years. The renovations now beginning will require them to live outside the Mansion for ten months.

Every Arkansas governor in recent memory has complained of the inadequacies of the state's executive residence -- usually after leaving office. Its plumbing and electrical circuitry are hopelessly, even dangerously outdated and functions involving more than a hundred people can be accommodated only by erecting tents on the rear lawn.

At three stories and 11,000 square feet, the structure would seem more than spacious. However, one floor consists of administrative offices and meeting rooms, another of "public" spaces and a third, the smallest, is the private quarters of Arkansas First Family. And with no fewer than three official events per week and 16,000 visitors each year, the Governor's Mansion "has become more a small convention center than a home," Mrs. Huckabee told Stateline.org.

Given Arkansas's reputation as a backwater, it probably was to be expected that a modular home would be dismissed as a house trailer in the national consciousness, to the chagrin of many of the state's commercial and cultural elite. But their complaints about the state's image have been muted.

In a Stateline.org interview, Gov. Huckabee said he did not believe his family's living arrangements would embarrass the state.

"I've had dozens of letters and e-mails from across the country from people who appreciated that we were doing this with a sense of humor," Huckabee said.

Nor did he believe accepting a trade association's donation would compromise his adminstration.

"Even if they have some legislation pending, they'd have to deal with the 135 members of the legislature," Huckabee said.

Huckabee contended that the state would realize substantial savings by using the modular house since the Mansion's administrative and security elements would not have to be relocated to a rented property.

The modular home will include three bedrooms, two bathrooms and two living areas, and will provide Mrs. Huckabee with something she said she does not now enjoy in the larger Mansion -- a measure of privacy.

"I'm looking forward to being able to go get a Coke from the refrigerator without getting dressed," Mrs. Huckabee said. "I'll be happy to be able to walk downstairs in my nightgown if I want to and throw myself down on the couch and watch television without wondering what tour is coming through."