Thursday, December 3, 2009

Huckabee's Political Career On Life Support

I feel sorry for Mike Huckabee. Nine years ago as governor of Arkansas he commuted the sentence of a man who this past week killed four police officers in Lakewood, Wash., and the next day was gunned down by police.

To hear Huckabee tell it, Maurice Clemmons was not the murderer and rapist he commuted but an impoverished black at the age of 16 unjustly sentenced to 108 years in prison for burglary and robbery charges.

News of Huckabee's involvement was cheered by a few die-hard liberals who figured that he would be a dead man walking if he entered the 2012 presidential race after placing second in the Republican primaries to John McCain in 2008. Conservatives of the ilk of Rush Limbaugh and Michelle Malkin trashed Huckabee for being weak on crime. Other conservatives said religion of the compassionate Baptist minister clouded his thinking.

Huckabee described the criticism against him by conservatives as "disgusting." He refused to apologize. "It really does show though how sick society has become when we're more interested in the political consequences of an election that's three years away," he said.

According to CNN, Huckabee told reporters Wednesday that "You're looking at this nine years later and trying to make something as if I can look in to the future." "I wish I could have. Good Lord, I wish I had that power. I wish I could have done that. But I don't know how anyone can do it," he added. Huckabee said that "nobody at that point was saying he's a cop killer."

Huckabee defended his commutation in an article he wrote for Human Events. Here are his key points:

Despite news reports, there are no records that the prosecutor, law enforcement, the Attorney General, or victims objected to the commutation. The only responses my office had record of during the public comment period were support letters from the trial judge, and members of the community.

He was back in prison by 2004 and would have remained there until 2015 due to his parole violations had the prosecutor chosen to properly file the paperwork.

The Clemmons of 2000 did not exhibit traits of psychosis and the kind of behavior that he would later express during several arrests in Washington state during the past year.

Religion had nothing to do with the commutation. It’s been erroneously expressed that my own personal faith or the claims of faith of the inmate factored into my decision. That is simply not true and nothing in the record even suggests it. The reasons were straightforward -- a unanimous recommendation from the board, support from a trial judge and no objections from officials in a case that involved a 16 year old sentenced to a term that was exponentially longer than similar cases and certainly longer than had he been white, upper middle class, and represented by effective counsel who would have clearly objected to the sentencing.

Here's an opposing account by Timothy Egan writing for the New York Times' Opinionator:

Trying to explain how such a man could have been on the streets, despite five felony convictions in Arkansas that should have kept him locked up for life, Detective Ed Troyer of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office said, “Some people have to answer to that.”

At the top of that list is Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and current host at Fox News. Huckabee granted Clemmons early release nine years ago, against the objections of prosecutors and victims.

If this case does not sink the presidential aspirations of Huckabee, a leading Republican candidate, it should. By the standards that Republicans launched almost 20 years ago, Huckabee will be Willie Hortonized. But this case also shows, as with an earlier episode in Arkansas, that Huckabee’s judgment is seriously flawed.

Instead, he’s been allowed to get away with issuing a passive, blame-shifting statement. In the release, issued Sunday night, Huckabee takes no personal responsibility for letting Clemmons out early. Instead, he cites “a series of failures in the criminal justice system in both Arkansas and Washington.”

If Huckabee's version is accurate -- that there was no protest for commutation by the prosecutor and victims -- then he is being unfairly treated by his right-wing pals.

I don't know whom to believe, Huckabee or the prosecutor. Either one or both are lying.

Of course, I could get cynical here and claim everyone involved is out covering their butts. Such is the course public officials select when the best of intentions turn to tragedy.

Still, I like Mike. He's a decent human being and far from the worst governor the state of Arkansas has seen. I would never vote for him nor do I watch his Fox show, but that's another story for another day.

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