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.