Leader Blues

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

EDITORIAL >> Huckabee’s Chutzpah

Whatever you think of his record as governor and politician, you have to admire Mike Huckabee’s chutzpah and acknowledge his unmatched gifts for propaganda. Monday, the former governor landed space in some of the big prints in the country, including the Washington Post and the New York Daily News, painting over his culpability in the death of four policemen in a Tacoma, Wash., suburb 10 days ago.

When he was governor of Arkansas in 2000, Huckabee commuted sentences totaling 108 years for young Maurice Clemmons, making him eligible for immediate parole rather than in 2021. Clemmons, after a frighteningly prolific criminal career, murdered the four officers over their morning coffee and was killed a couple of days later. That brought to six the number of innocent people slain by men who had received clemency from Huckabee. He embarked on a campaign to stanch the political hemorrhaging from the revelations, first on his national television and radio shows and now on the op-ed pages of newspapers across the country.

He is very, very good, if you can overlook his sly distortions of the record.

Look, he explained in the op-eds, his role was not that big. The Post-Prison Transfer Board recommended that Clemmons be granted parole eligibility. The circuit judge said he thought Clemmons was rehabilitated. He sent notices to the secretary of state, attorney general, the prosecutor’s office and the media and no one objected, he said. Huckabee had appointed the board. Prosecutors had twice objected to parole.

The Post-Prison Transfer Board clears many inmates for commuted sentences. What made Clemmons’ case so different from all those he denied?

It was the fellow’s youth (16, Huckabee said) and the fact that the lad had received 108 years in prison (though some were concurrent) for only two felonies, burglary and robbery. That was the governor’s explanation. Earlier, he had said he was impressed with the young man’s letter to him, saying how he had found Christ and was asking God to intercede with the governor. Jailhouse conversions and the intercession of preachers always had a big effect on the governor. That and an inmate’s family contributions to the Republican Party.

Sixteen does sound awfully young. Actually, Clemmons was 18 when he finally was convicted and sent to prison. And it was not for merely two felonies. There was a string of trials for a long crime spree. He was convicted of robbery on Aug. 3, 1989, burglary, theft and probation revocation on Sept. 9, aggravated robbery and theft on Nov. 15, burglary and theft of property on Feb. 23, 1990 and firearm possession in a school on Nov. 19, 1990.

Prosecutors noted an unusually brazen and violent bent. He robbed an elderly woman in a hotel parking lot, punching her in the face. He burglarized the home of a state trooper. He carried a pistol in Hall High School. During one of his trials, the judge had him shackled in leg irons and seated next to an officer because he thought Clemmons had threatened him. Another time he hid a hinge in his sock to use as a weapon. Another time he took a lock from a holding cell and threw it at the bailiff, hitting instead his mother, who had brought him some clothes. Still another time he tried to steal a guard’s pistol on the way to the courtroom. In prison, he hadn’t been a model either. He got into trouble for battery, sexual assault, theft, drugs and weapons. That is all in the record.

Huckabee wrote this week that he granted clemency only after personally reviewing Clemmons’ record very thoroughly. If he did, he knew all that. He said that he grieved for the policemen’s families, but that even today “if I only had the same information I had then, I would make the same decision.”

Soon after his parole, incidentally, Clemmons was arrested for aggravated robbery and theft in Pulaski County and then later for a robbery and beating in Ouachita County, which landed him back in prison. Huckabee’s parole board set him free again in 2004 on condition that he go to Washington state.

Mercifully, for once, Mr. Huckabee didn’t say that he had prayed and asked God’s guidance before granting clemency. The Lord is off the hook.