Governors discussed weighty issues at the winter meeting of the National Governors Association this weekend, but the gathering had its lighter moments too.
Presidential perks - Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) of Arkansas (left), the NGA chairman, got a closer look this weekend at a piece of property he might be interested in: the White House. Huckabee and Alabama Gov. Bob Riley (R) were invited by President George Bush to stay overnight. Huckabee, whose term as governor ends in January 2007, has acknowledged he's contemplating a presidential bid in 2008 but hasn't committed to the race.
Huckabee got to sleep in the Lincoln bedroom, Riley said. Riley, who faces a potentially difficult re-election battle this year, reported: "The beds were soft, and the people were nice."
Birthday perks - Newly elected Gov. Tim Kaine (D) of Virginia enjoyed a warm welcome from his fellow governors Sunday, as the ballroom crowd sang "Happy Birthday" to celebrate Kaine's 48 th birthday. "I can't think of any better way to really initiate you into the National Governors Association than to … publicly humiliate you," Huckabee said.
Lost in translation - During a health care hearing, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) introduced Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) as the "governor of ruby slipper land."
Sebelius wasn't fazed. "I have to tell you, you all missed a wonderful opportunity to hear Gov. Barbour speak Arabic as I did in Kuwait on Thanksgiving night. And if you haven't heard that, just imagine Gov. Barbour. It's quite a treat," she said.
The next time Barbour spoke, he started, "Assalamu alaikum," Arabic for "Peace be with you."
Muppet fans - Speaking of foreign languages, who knew Sesame Street characters Elmo and Rosita (already versed in Spanish) were so well versed in state government lingo?
The two, in a guest appearance at the NGA, said they were big fans of Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack's (D) "budget recommendation," Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen's (D) "executive order No. 30" and Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano's (D) "quantitative contracting agreements."
Over the weekend, governors had a chance to film publicity spots with Elmo and Rosita promoting healthy living, the major theme of the winter meeting. The TV characters also talked to the entire gathering with Huckabee playing the straight man as they impersonated him, running by flailing their arms and gyrating wildly before collapsing. They repeated his last name incessantly in a high-pitched "Huuuuck-uhhhh-be."
Mr. Universe - California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), a body-building movie star, took umbrage at being out-publicized by another governor when it comes to his passion for fitness.
"All of a sudden a few years ago, no one was writing about it any more. Nobody. All of a sudden they were writing about Gov. Huckabee's body, how he's changing. … And all of a sudden he's running marathons, and I'm reading about it in marathon magazines and in the running magazines. He's going and stealing my show," Schwarzenegger said.
Doggone good - It's too early to tell whether Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) got a political boost from a Sunday evening profile on the CBS television news magazine "60 Minutes" that discussed his promotion of new coal technologies. But Schweitzer's border collie, Jag, appears to have gained a large following. "I got a thousand e-mails today from people wanting to mate their dog with my dog. My dog's more popular than I am," Schweitzer announced before a meeting of the NGA's Natural Resources Committee on Monday.
Food for thought - It seemed logical enough: After a weekend of talking about healthy eating at the NGA meeting, the Republican Governors Association gave out a book of recipes from the spouses of GOP governors at a fund-raiser Monday night.
Although Huckabee chose healthy living as his signature issue for his year as NGA chairman, the two recipes from his household are for a fudge pie and a fat-loaded Christmas corn casserole that calls for butter, sour cream and shredded cheese.
Nebraska's offering, not surprisingly, also focuses on corn — also with butter, heavy cream, salt and pepper. "Creamed vegetables always taste extra special and easy to make," First Lady Sally Ganem, wife of Gov. Dave Heineman (R), explained.
Alabama First Lady Patsy Riley serves up a little homespun match-making advice with her recipe for "Mama's Fried Chicken." She wrote: "I'm dedicating (this) recipe to my three daughters. This one is promised to 'catch a man!' If he doesn't take this bait, he's not worth having!" Mrs. Riley wrote.
Other highlights: New York First Lady Elizabeth Pataki's entrée is called "Bull Moose Chili." Never mind that the Bull Moose Party was started in opposition to Republican policies. And you won't find a recipe from California First Lady Maria Shriver, Schwarzenegger's wife. Guess the Republicans won't get a glimpse of the Kennedy family cookbook.
Staff Writer Eric Kelderman also contributed.