Leader Blues

Monday, February 26, 2007

EDITORIALS>>Huckabee wore out plane

Gov. Beebe wants the legislature to appropriate $4 million from the state surplus to buy a new jet plane for the State Police or else fix the one that former Gov. Mike Huckabee grounded. Lawmakers have little practical choice but to go along, but it should take the chance to lay down a few ground rules to halt the abuses of the past 10 years.

Huckabee used State Police aircraft, primarily a Beechcraft King Air 200 turbo-prop, as his family air force. State Police pilots flew him to the Republican National Convention and to political events around the country to promote his national ambitions. Sometimes they were sandwiched around a quasi-public event.

Altogether, according to an analysis by the Arkansas Democrat Gazette a year ago, he logged some 1,500 hours on the plane. His wife used it often, too.

Now the plane is effectively grounded because it has nearly reached the limit of its airworthy hours under federal law. It will have to be extensively reconditioned if it is to continue flying, and buying a new plane may be safer and more economical.

Beebe says he does not intend to use the plane for anything but official travel he has made trips to five Arkansas cities since inauguration but that if he does take it for personal or political travel, he will reimburse the state at commercial rates.

Those terms and they should be tight ought to be spelled out in law, along with record-keeping that provides a good audit trail. The records of Huckabee travels do not even list the purpose. Still, he had the hard drive of the State Police computer at the airport crushed when he left office to destroy records on the trips. States that permit governors and other officials to use government craft impose restrictions and record-keeping, and Arkansas taxpayers deserve that much.