Leader Blues

Saturday, November 03, 2007

EDITORIALS>>Huck distorts DuMond Fiasco

Alas, Mike Huckabee did not learn the most salient political lesson of the last 50 years, one that Richard M. Nixon and Bill Clinton grasped too late: Confronted with an embarrassing lapse in judgment or behavior, tell the unvarnished truth right away and put it behind you. Lies are apt to be exposed and prolong the agony.

Huckabee had to know from the outset that the Wayne Dumond Affair would follow him on the presidential campaign. Every governor who runs for higher office fears the Willie Horton in his past, and nearly every chief executive has one if he has ever exercised his clemency power. Horton was the convict furloughed by the state of Massachusetts who went on to commit fresh crimes. Republican commercials on Horton helped defeat Gov. Michael Dukakis and elevate the first George Bush to the presidency in 1988.

Dumond, the rapist whom Huckabee fought to release from prison and who then went on to murder in Missouri, need not have hurt Huckabee much. The former governor could say, as he at least implied on an occasion or two, that he was deeply saddened by the mistake and the horror it caused. All governors exercise some mercy from time to time, and few there are whose judgment have been unerring.

For a year into his long-shot presidential campaign, Huckabee was given a bye by the media and the other candidates. He was free to make what he could of his 10-year record as governor because he would not be challenged and no one but locals cared to test his claims against the truth of his record. His climb in the polls and the sudden ardor for his candidacy by media commentators changed that.

Last week, they began to ask him about Dumond and he took the course of Nixon and Clinton and so many others. He stretched the truth and then flat-out lied. This week, as the issue gained momentum, he blamed his predecessors, Jim Guy Tucker and Bill Clinton. Yes, Bill Clinton, who became the object of a right-wing furor because he would not commute Dumondís sentence. They said he wouldnít do it because Dumondís victim was a distant cousin of Clinton.

When Tucker became acting governor, he did reduce Dumondís sentence but made no effort to free him. Even before he became governor, Huckabee publicly took up Dumondís cause and promised the rapistís wife that one of his first acts would be to see justice done for the poor man. He doubted Dumondís guilt but felt anyway that he had been punished enough.

Then this week he blamed Dumondís release and his crime spree in Missouri on Bill Clinton! He went on Fox News to lay out the story. Governors donít parole people, he explained, but parole boards do. ďThe people who made that decision were all appointees of Jim Guy Tucker and Bill Clinton, who, in fact, commuted his sentence and made him eligible for parole.Ē

He admitted this week that he had met with the parole board ó an unprecedented occurrence ó but he did not remember what he or they said. Two parole board members said Huckabee pressured them to parole Dumond. He gave one of the board members a big state job.

The Associated Press reported Thursday that Huckabee acknowledged having once favored Dumondís release but said ó this is astonishing ó that when he found out that Dumond would not be supervised on parole he changed his mind, opposed his release and tried to stop it by refusing to further commute the sentence.

Never tell a story in public when your own written words put the lie to it.

On the day of Dumondís parole in 1997, Gov. Huckabee issued this statement: ďI concur with the boardís action and hope the lives of all those involved can move forward. The action of the board accomplishes what I sought to do in considering an earlier request for commutation ....Ē

He was opposed to parole?

Huckabee also sent this letter to Dumond, which became public: ďDear Wayne, I have reviewed your applications for executive clemency, specifically a commutation and/or pardon.... My desire is that you be released from prison. I feel now that parole is the best way for your reintegration into society .... Therefore, after careful consideration ... I have denied your applications.Ē

Now he seeks to use the denial of commutation as evidence that he opposed Dumondís release when the fact was that he had achieved the goal in another way, by persuading the state board to parole him.

Once more: Do not run from your record or the truth, governor. There is much good in that record, and people will not hold the bad against you if you are honest about it.