Leader Blues

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

EDITORIAL>>Huck fails honesty test

Minnesota has a law that mandates punishment for politicians who lie provably when they are running for office. Arkansas could emulate the Gopher State but, alas, a politician in Arkansas may lie with complete impunity unless the voters catch on and defeat him.

This election season has been particularly low on truth telling, but it reached its nadir when Gov. Huckabee entered the lists in the final days to campaign for Asa Hutchinson, his old enemy but a member of his own party. For all his good traits, Huckabee has a tendency to rewrite history in his own favor. Everyone remembers his claims to have opposed parole for the rapist Wayne Dumond, whom he had arranged to release from prison in time to kill two women in Missouri.

Huckabee was only misleading last week when he insinuated that Attorney General Mike Beebe was not a genuine supporter of repealing the sales tax on groceries. Beebe voted consistently to remove the tax in his years in the state Senate. Huckabee might have truthfully recalled that he had himself opposed removal of the tax not once but twice during his 10 years as governor after saying publicly that he favored removing it.

But the governor was not merely deceptive in the days before the election when he tried to paint Beebe as a consort of Nick Wilson, the Pocahontas senator who spent a spell in the federal penitentiary for conniving to enrich himself with state funds earmarked for legal assistance for children in divorce disputes. Huckabee was flatly untruthful.

Hutchinson had stretched the Wilson-Beebe connection as far as he could by suggesting that Beebe, although he was Wilsonís mortal enemy in the Senate, had not tried to expel Wilson from the Senate before he could resign after his conviction.

Huckabee said that Beebe and other senators all knew in 1997 that Wilson would use a bill to create the attorney-ad-litem program to enrich himself and his cronies. That is why he vetoed the bill, Huckabee said. Then Beebe and the other senators passed the bill again over his veto, setting the stage for Wilsonís thievery. Thus Huckabee characterized himself as the hero in the episode.

Everyone else connected with the events, including his own chief cabinet member, disputes Huckabeeís account, and so do the public records. The Republican leader of the Senate said the governor was wrong. He said the bill was a good one and that no one had an inkling that Wilson would abuse the program. Richard Weiss, the director of the Department of Finance and Administration, the governorís chief fiscal adviser, recalled the events in detail and his memory does not match the governorís account. They do match the official records.

First, the bill was an appropriation for the operations of the Administrative Office of the Courts, which is under the supervision of the Arkansas Supreme Court. Huckabee did not veto the bill, and it included money for the childrenís legal program. Huckabee vetoed only Section 15, which funded the Administrative Office and its programs from the state Central Services Fund, one of many accounts in the state treasury.

Weiss recalled how it happened. Sen. Wilson sidled over to him in budget hearings one day and asked if the Governorís Mansion Fund was funded through the Central Services Fund. Weiss replied that it was, and Wilson walked away. Knowing Nick Wilson, Weiss was suspicious. Wilson and others were miffed at the governorís misspending from the mansion fund, using it for personal items for himself and his wife.

Sure enough, Wilson had the appropriation for the Administrative Office of the Courts amended so that it would be funded from the same fund as the governorís mansion expenses. Weiss thought Wilson was trying to reduce funding for the mansion by piling other government expenses on the Central Services Fund. He told Huckabee that and advised him to veto that section and force the legislature to appropriate money for Wilsonís ad-litem program from another fund. Huckabee vetoed the little section but left the whole program intact. Instead of funding it from another account, the legislature overrode Huckabeeís veto. As it turned out, it did not jeopardize mansion funding.

That reveals Huckabee not as a watchdog against skullduggery but as a man looking out only for his own pecuniary interest, a fat account for operating his official home. Weissí account is plausible and his bossís is not because the official ledger on SB 286 in the secretary of stateís office shows that the governor vetoed only the section that directed spending on the childrenís legal program from the Central Services Fund. He left Wilsonís legal program and its $4.8 million biennial appropriation intact. The governorís short veto message verifies that, too.

All of this is complicated and baffling, which is why the governor knew that he could get away with fudging about his own actions as well as Beebeís in the moil of a confounding electionís last days. Gov. Huckabee was not on the ballot yesterday, which is why the media largely gave him a pass.

If Huckabee were governor of Minnesota, the state ethics commission would be conducting an investigation, and a censure and a fine would be forthcoming. People in Minnesota apparently take their elections and the truth seriously.
Donít you wish we did?