Leader Blues

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

EDITORIALS >> Huckabee in Frisco

Gov. Huckabee pops up nowadays in the most unusual venues, newspaper offices, as he plies his unofficial campaign for president.

Last month, we learned of a favorable impression left by the governor in the editorial offices of the Dallas Morning News.

A visit with editorial boards and staffs of big-city papers is a key for obscure presidential candidates because it will soften up editorial writers for favorable comments later. Or not.

It turns out that the governor got a good visit in last week with the opinion people of the San Francisco Chronicle, which prints in perhaps the most liberal precincts in the country.

You wonder what tack a self-described conservative Southern Republican takes when he schmoozes with opinionators in San Francisco.

Obviously he stays away from gay issues.

We might never know except one of the editors wrote about it. She was impressed by what Huckabee said but turned off by what she learned about him independently.

Huckabee was boasting about his compassionate stance on pardons and commutations.

Liberating criminals who have served a measure of punishment and turned their lives around is the right thing to do but earns him no political credit, the governor said.

Specifically, he was talking about pardoning Keith Richards, the brash Rolling Stones guitarist, for a 31-year-old reckless-driving conviction at Fordyce.

The pardon last month got Huckabee lots of publicity, especially in entertainment capitals, and a charge that he was grandstanding from the mayor of Fordyce.

The governor joked to the San Francisco editors that he would pardon them for their crimes, too, if they played guitar as well as Richards did. (Which is not extremely well.)

Debra J. Saunders, who writes a column for the paper, wrote yesterday that she left the meeting intending to write “a gushing French kiss of a column” about the Arkansas governor for his courage and compassion but added, “when I researched the issue I found that the less you know about his record the better Huckabee sounds.”

On that issue, she happens to be right. But let her tell it.

“Huckabee is a brave and good politician when he commutes sentences for nonviolent offenders and pardons for ex-cons who have turned their lives around.

"It is possible he was a paragon of virtue when he shortened the prison terms of some violent offenders.

“Too bad Huckabee has commuted sentences for violent offenders — without appearing to have done his homework.

"In 2004, Huckabee commuted the sentence of convicted murderer Denver Witham — after Saline County Prosecuting Attorney Robert Herzfeld revealed that Witham had omitted some of his convictions on his clemency application. (Also, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported, the former Saline County sheriff testified that he had been threatened on Witham’s behalf.)

"No governor should pardon a murderer so unrepentant that he lies on his clemency application.

“Herzfeld cited other questionable commutations — the three-time drunk driver who served nine months of a six-year sentence, won a Huckabee commutation, then parole, and then his fourth drunken-driving conviction.

"Huckabee advocated the release of a convicted rapist who was then paroled, and later found guilty of murdering a Missouri woman.” [She refers to Wayne Dumond.]

She concluded:
“There is a place for redemption in the criminal-justice system. Governors and presidents have a duty to find that ground and shorten sentences that far outstrip the crime or an inmate’s guilt.

“A good leader wants to correct the system’s excesses, while recognizing a duty to protect the public. My wish for 2008 is a presidential candidate who shares Huckabee’s ideals, but not his rose-colored glasses.”

The writer had one thing wrong. Excessive optimism has not been the governor’s problem.

More often than not, Huckabee’s repeated blunders were not born of compassion but of politically calculated misjudgments.
Even the basest of criminals have connections, and connections work with Mike Huckabee.