Leader Blues

Monday, January 22, 2007

EDITORIALS>>Huck picks our pockets

Mike Huckabee’s unstylish leavetaking from the Capitol, in which he almost literally took everything with him, seems almost calculated to make him unmissed by the body politic. On the other hand, there’s a loud claque that wants to form a posse and go bring him back.

The Arkansas Democrat Gazette’s Capitol reporters Friday expounded on still another siege of outrages by the ex-governor in his last days in office. Huckabee completely emptied the state fund for emergencies by distributing its $500,000 among a bunch of pet projects, not one an emergency, leaving the new governor shorn of any way to help in a real emergency the next months.

To keep prying eyes from his official activities as governor, Huckabee paid (from the same emergency fund) to have the hard drives of 83 state computers yanked out and hammered into pieces, then spent $335,000 from his successor’s office budget to replace a few of the computers. He dismantled lights, sound equipment and some furniture from the governor’s offices and conference room and took them with him, or somewhere.

The week before he left office to go promote sales of his book and to campaign for president, you will remember, Huckabee directed his fiscal agency to illegally transfer money appropriated to University of Arkansas campuses to a couple of pet projects at the medical sciences campus, including a richly endowed chair for the doctor who told him that he needed to diet and exercise to avoid an early death. When his own state fiscal employees and the universities demurred, Huckabee rescinded his orders and gave money instead to his friend, the president of the University of Central Arkansas, which did have legal authority to spend any money that it got.

Huckabee did not want his successor, Mike Beebe, to take office with anything to spend if he could help it — not from the governor’s emergency fund, not from his office budget and not from the General Improvement Fund that was allocated to the governor’s office for fiscal 2007. Mike Huckabee is not the first bitter officeholder to act so spitefully upon his leavetaking. Secretary of State Bill McCuen did the same a few years ago, almost depriving his elected successor of a place to sit in the secretary of state’s suite. He sold the furnishings. McCuen subsequently went to prison for some of his fraud. County and municipal officeholders have been known to empty the fisc on their departure to reduce their successor’s chances for success. Cabot Mayor Stubby Stumbaugh, like Huckabee, had the hard drives of the office computers crushed on his way out.
But Huckabee’s behavior was especially churlish and costly. He had the hard drives of 83 computers and four servers not simply wiped clean of their memories but destroyed so that no one could find something embarrassing or incriminating. Among them were the computers at the Little Rock airport where the State Police operates its fleet of airplanes.

The Arkansas Times, the weekly public affairs newspaper that has dogged Huckabee’s personal spending and fund-raising habits, had been critical of the frequent use of law-enforcement aircraft for his political travel and his family’s personal jaunts. The last $13,000 expended from the governor’s emergency fund was to supervise the destruction of the 83 hard drives. That seems a little exorbitant, too. Destroying a computer hard drive is a simple and inexpensive labor. You hit it until it falls into pieces. All that is required is a hammer and a hard surface.

The media observed the missing lighting and sound equipment. At Gov. Beebe’s first press conference reporters noticed that it was dim in the conference room and the sound tinny. Inquiries revealed that Huckabee or his staff had taken the equipment because, one aide said, it belonged to them or the Republican Party. The executive director of the Republican Party said he was unaware that the party had ever furnished any equipment or furniture to the governor’s office.
Depleting the emergency fund was more than wasteful and spiteful. It was mean. Gov. Beebe asked lawmakers last week to appropriate a new emergency fund in case there happen to be real emergencies before the fiscal year is out; they said it was not their problem that Huckabee had spent it.

Here is how the governor spent the rest of the fund, according to the Democrat Gazette examination: He gave $10,000 to the Hot Springs Documentary Film Institute to buy a car. He gave the state Game and Fish Commission, an agency that is flush with tax funds from a special sales tax, $97,000 for its “Hooked on Fishing, Not Drugs” program. He gave $100,000 to a program to provide used musical instruments to youngsters. He gave the Arkansas Chapter of the American Red Cross $15,000 to “help prepare young people to deal with disaster situations.” It was a feather in the cap of his wife, Janet, who recently went to work for the Red Cross. (Good hire, Red Cross!) And he gave $10,000 to help develop a Mexican consulate office in Little Rock. (Is that a state obligation?)

All those, and thousands of others we could list, are worthy causes. But they are not emergencies. But Gov. Huckabee considered the appropriation “his” money to spend as he wished. A better alternative no doubt would have been to take the cash with him, but it cannot be done. If Huckabee wanted to leave in such a way that Arkansas hearts would not be yearning for him, he succeeded wildly.