Leader Blues

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

EDITORIAL >> Huckster revisited

We can’t keep doing this, but someone has to clean up when Mike Huckabee goes on the record. The former governor was in Little Rock on Monday to promote his latest book and told more whoppers about Maurice Clemmons, the young man whom he freed from prison and who embarked on a crime spree that ended last month in the murder of four police officers in Tacoma, Wash. The day before, Huckabee appeared with Greta van Susteren, a sister commentator on the Fox TV network, in one of the year’s most baffling and misleading discussions of health-care reform.

Huckabee’s distortions and errors on van Susteren’s show might be forgiven because van Susteren exhibited no clue about health-insurance issues herself — she confused Medicare with Medicaid — and Huckabee obviously has been too busy to inform himself about the legislation before the U. S. Senate. But the mistakes about Clemmons’ clemency do not beg for understanding. It is a record of his own actions and he has insisted that he reduced the young man’s multiple sentences only after carefully researching all of Clemmons’ criminal history. He has no excuse for getting the facts all wrong.

He said he set Clemmons free not out of a sense of mercy or because he believed Clemmons’ jailhouse conversion to Christ or the sincerity of his prayers but because he thought the judicial system had treated the fellow unfairly. Clemmons was guilty only of youthful indiscretions — a burglary and a robbery at the age of 16 — and if he were a white boy, Huckabee said, he would have been put on probation, fined $1,000 and given 20 hours of community service. Instead, the judges and juries handed him 108 years in prison for two minor felonies. Given the same array of facts, he would make the same decision every time, Huckabee said.

It is certainly true that young black men tend to be treated more harshly than whites for the same offenses and Clemmons’ race might indeed have been a factor, but Huckabee’s recounting of the history is worse than misleading. Clemmons was 17 and 18 when he committed most of the crimes. He did not get 108 years — a life sentence — for burglary and robbery. He was tried five times and convicted for multiple felonies each time. Some of the sentences were concurrent and others consecutive.

He would have been eligible for parole for the last of his crimes in 2021. The judges and juries might have been influenced by his violent behavior in the courtroom and in jail awaiting his trials. He had not been a model prisoner either when Huckabee turned him loose. Clemmons’ prison record, which Huckabee has said he thoroughly researched, included battery, sexual assault, theft, drugs and weapons. Just more youthful indiscretions. As soon as Huckabee freed him, Clemmons returned to violent crime and soon to prison again. Still, Huckabee’s parole board, the same one that had done his bidding seven years earlier on the rapist and murderer Wayne Dumond, set Clemmons free again in 2004.

Huckabee invited you to say what you would have done with the same facts — but his facts, not the facts.

Where do you start on the bewildering repartee on health insurance? The only thing that was clear was the couple’s objective, to make the Senate health-insurance bill frightening. Van Susteren had Huckabee on her show to describe the dangers to the states of the health bill, particularly the latest (and now abandoned) proposal for the extension of Medicare to uninsured people as young as 55.

She did not know the difference between Medicare, the insurance program for the elderly and permanently disabled, and Medicaid, the government insurance program for the poor, and Huckabee was only mildly helpful on that, but then he muddled the issue hopelessly.

Because some people are eligible for both Medicaid and Medicare and the government coordinates their coverage, Huckabee announced that the extension of Medicare to people as young as 55 would practically bankrupt state governments because it would mean that the states would have to pay a big share of the extra costs. Medicaid, for which states bear a small share of the cost, would have to pay for the coverage for low-income people in that age group, the governor explained.

Huckabee was wrong. Only uninsured people could buy into Medicare and they would have to BUY into the program with full premiums, not Medicaid help. Even if he were right about that, he was wrong. The federal government will pay the full cost of all expanded Medicaid coverage through 2016 and the states after that will pick up less than 10 percent (Arkansas currently picks up 24 percent) — a huge economic bonanza for states like Arkansas. Even when the state share was far less favorable, Governor Huckabee leaped at the chance to expand Medicaid. He added 100,000 to the government rolls and said it was his proudest accomplishment.

Van Susteren didn’t ask him, as she should have, whether like the Clemmons case, he would do it again today.