Leader Blues

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

EDITORIAL >> Huckabee self-destructs

A few days ago, Republicans were more apt to view Mike Huckabee as a suitable candidate for president than any of the other prospects, including Sarah Palin, whose book tour was eclipsing his own. Today, that is mere history.

He will not be Arkansas’ second president or even his party’s nominee.

That is a crass way to think about the tragedy in Tacoma, Wash., where an ex-convict from Pulaski County who had been freed from a life sentence by Huckabee executed four young police officers who were having coffee before beginning their patrols.

But there is an insatiable desire to assess accountability when these things happen, and our former governor cannot and did not escape his large share of it.

Huckabee survived Wayne Dumond’s murders and made himself the knight of the powerful religious wing of the Republican Party, but the blood of six innocent people cannot be charmed away.

(You remember Wayne Dumond, who murdered two women in Missouri after Huckabee made him eligible for immediate parole from Cummins Prison.)

Huckabee’s boss, Roger Ailes, the president of Fox News, can explain to him how this works. Ailes, the media consultant to Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, came up with the Willie Horton ads, which doomed the presidential campaign of Gov. Mike Dukakis in 1988.

William Horton (Ailes changed his name to “Willie” so that people would know that he was a black man) committed rape and robbery while he was on a weekend furlough from a Massachusetts prison.

They tested that knowledge in focus groups and found that it turned voters against Dukakis, so they saturated the airwaves with ads of a black man walking through swinging cell doors.

Dukakis didn’t personally furlough Horton. Huckabee personally granted clemency to Dumond, Maurice Clemmons and others who resumed their criminal careers. There is a sympathetic and tragic side to Huckabee’s own fall. He never wanted or expected the men he liberated — 167 in his 10 years as governor — to resume their crime sprees.

He acted always out of Christian charity, he said. He said he knew that the politically safe thing to do was to rarely use his clemency power, as Bill Clinton, Jim Guy Tucker and Mike Beebe seldom did, but the Bible instructed him to be compassionate and to forgive.

We never quarreled with his compassion but with his judgment. If a convict could get the governor’s ear and convince him that he had found Jesus and turned his life around or he could get a preacher to intercede with the governor, he was apt to go free.

Clemmons, who killed the four officers in Tacoma, wrote Huckabee in 2000 that he had discovered Jesus and he prayed that God would move the governor to reduce his 108-year sentence to time served.

Huckabee never said whether he sought God’s guidance, as he often did, or whether he assumed that Clemmons had gotten through to God. Cell conversions have a magnificent history in Arkansas.

Many will remember James Dean Walker, Arkansas’ most celebrated criminal before Dumond. Walker, a Las Vegas thug, was in Pulaski County on some criminal errand in 1963 when he killed a cop after a chase down Hwy. 165 toward England.

He found Jesus in prison, developed a big ministerial following and while on a prison furlough to witness for Christ he escaped and started a new life of crime in California.

We would be more sympathetic if Huckabee had followed the biblical injunctions about bearing false witness and accepting blame as devoutly as he did those about charity and forgiveness.

Instead, as he did with Dumond, he blamed everyone else: the boards he appointed that recommended clemency for Clemmons and carried out the governor’s wishes, prosecutors, the Pulaski County judge who supported Clemmons’ plea over the objections of victims, the prosecutor and the parole administrator, and judges in the state of Washington who let him go free in the midst of a crime spree.

To tell his side, Huckabee on Monday arranged to go on the Bill O’Reilly show, where his friend questioned him ever so gingerly. He fudged the details, claiming that Clemmons had gotten those 108 years in prison for only two crimes (there were eight).

He explained that he had been moved by Clemmons’ account that he was only 16 when he did some of the stuff and that he had turned his life around. He said he grieved for the families of the dead officers, but O’Reilly would not let him accept responsibility, not a bit.

O’Reilly said it was the fault of prosecutors and the judges in Washington who let him go free on bond. He was furious with them. It was the failure of the criminal justice system in two states, Huckabee said.

That’s it! The system is to blame. So now Huckabee can wash his hands of it and continue his book tour.