A Rough Commute

For the record, I’m not a natural Huckabeen or Huckabeest or whatever supporters of Mike Huckabee like to go by. I generally find the man amusing—it’s hard not to crack a smile at someone whose resume reads “author, ordained minister, bassist, former-governor, talk show host”—but we just don’t see eye-to-eye on a lot of important issues.

All that said, in the wake of the alleged murder of four police officers Sunday in Washington by Maurice Clemmons, an Arkansas man, whose sentence Huckabee commuted in 2000, I was (relatively) impressed to learn of his commutation and pardon record.

During his 10-years as governor, Huckabee issued more than 1,000 commutations and pardons. To provide some context, even if you added up together all of the commutations and pardons of the three governors who preceded him, Huckabee would still win.

I was even more impressed to see him, this week, defending his decision in the Clemmons case. Speaking on “The Joe Scarborough Show,” Huckabee explained the unfairness that he confronted as governor: “a 16-year-old kid [who] commit[ted] crimes of which normally, there would have been a few years. And if he’d been white and middle-class with a good lawyer he’d have gotten probation, a fine and some counseling. But because he was a young black kid, he got 108 years!”

Acknowledging that race can result in inequitable judicial outcomes? Taking into account the youth of the convict at the time the crimes were committed? Suggesting that situation and not disposition might matter? It all sounds rather like, dare I say it, what a “bleeding-heart liberal” would say . . .

And sure enough, conservative interests have been lashing out at Huckabee just as they did during his 2008 campaign for president when it was revealed that, while governor, he had elected to release Wayne DuMond, who was later convicted of rape and murder.

I guess what really shocks me is that any governor with broader political dreams ever commutes or pardons a criminal. There are such minimal incentives and such immense potential costs. (If you have any doubt about that, consider that yesterday Jason Tolbert, the Arkansas coordinator for Huckabee’s PAC resigned, in part, because of the commutation mess.) In the eyes of the public, if you fail to stop an execution, you make an omission; if you commute someone’s sentence, you take an action. Despite the fact that, in both cases, the governor is making a decision that results in a terrible death, when an innocent man is put to death, the governor is usually way down on the list of blameworthy actors, and when a pardoned man kills, the governor is one of the first to be called out.

Perhaps if the media did not get so whipped up about matters like this or reported stories about the subsequent positive contributions to society of people whose sentences were commuted, it wouldn’t be such a politically-foolish thing to do, but given the current climate, we should expect many more governors like George Bush and way fewer like Mike Huckabee.

All of this pushes me towards supporting moves to place the power of the pardon in a panel of appointed judicial officials who are not politically accountable. Yes, that has its own set of problems, but I just don’t see how the current approach in Arkansas and elsewhere is going to result in equitable outcomes.

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5 Responses

  1. A.J. Sutter says:

    While remaining agnostic about whether the Clemmons commutation was appropriate, I agree with you that the deeper problem is with the way political discourse has degenerated in the US during the past 30 years, and on this front specifically since 1988. Nonetheless, if Huckabee is casting his lot with Fox News, there is some justice in that he who lives by the sword should at least get pricked by it from time to time. I’m sure he had other career options.

  2. Alan says:

    I can’t even begin to understand how anyone can be impressed with such a liberal record on clemency. It’s wrong as a matter of principle to gamble so recklessly with the public safety. Handing out clemency at the rate Huckabee did is no different from playing Russian roulette with the gun pointed at total strangers. Act like he did, and you’re pretty much guaranteeing that someone’s going to die. What a shocker that that actually happened. Repeatedly.

    Playing the race and poverty cards in a case like this, as Huckabee did, can be charitably described as dishonorable and stupid. Clemmons didn’t just make one stupid mistake. He had several felony convictions before he was old enough to buy cigarettes. He was a violent thief. A degenerate. A person who made the world a worse place to live in.

    “And sure enough, conservative interests have been lashing out at Huckabee just as they did during his 2008 campaign for president when it was revealed that, while governor, he had elected to release Wayne DuMond, who was later convicted of rape and murder.”

    Those damn conservatives! Making a political issue out of the decisions of a governor whose mercy to the guilty resulted in cruelty to the innocent. How dare they! Stupid demagogues. They’ll never understand that the “the subsequent positive contributions to society of people whose sentences were commuted” are somehow worth the buckets of blood shed by other people whose sentences were commuted. Sure, it’s a gamble with innocent people’s lives, but we’ve got to be compassionate here!

  3. Bruce Boyden says:

    “Act like he did, and you’re pretty much guaranteeing that someone’s going to die.” That would also be true if you just locked up everyone in the country and started letting them out, one by one.

  4. Jack S. says:

    I found the prosecutor’s arguments quite weak for why clemency should not have been granted. Sure the guy committed aggravated robbery and got 2 30 year sentences. But what were the aggravating factors? He cites the conviction of the jury but for all we know it was a bunch of angry white people wanting to throw the book at a black man.

    I’m sure there are some very good arguments of why this man should have never been back on the street, but this prosecutor came across very poorly (see CNN site for video and judge for yourself)

  5. Alan says:

    “That would also be true if you just locked up everyone in the country and started letting them out, one by one.”

    And thus was defeated my argument that giving out clemency every two or three days is unjustifiably reckless. Brilliant!

    If you locked up everyone, you’d have to let them out. There was no need to give clemency a thousand-plus times.