Huckabee, Palin and the Tough Job of Governing



Being a governor is a tough job.  Mike Huckabee is taking all sorts of heat for his decision to commute the sentence of Maurice Clemmons who shot and killed four police officers in Washington, and was killed today by a Seattle Police officer.

He made a tough decision ten years ago, and it’s going to hurt him politically.  I also think it’s easy to point to decisions like these with our 20/20 hindsight and say, “See! See!”  We weren’t in his shoes, and we don’t always know the background behind the decisions that were made and the process by which they are made (and they differ state by state).

Governor Huckabee in a statement yesterday, said the following:

I take full responsibility for my actions of nine years ago. I acted on the facts presented to me in 2000. If I could have possibly known what Clemmons would do nine years later, I obviously would have made a different decision. But if the same file was presented to me today, I would have likely made the same decision.

Each state is different, but in Arkansas, a governor doesn’t initiate a parole—the Post Prison Transfer Board does after it conducts a thorough review of an inmate’s file and request. The board then makes a recommendation to the governor, who decides to grant or deny.

If the decision is made to grant any form of clemency (the broad term for a commutation or a full pardon), the governor gives notice of intent and the file is sent to the prosecutor, judge, law enforcement officials, the Attorney General, and the Secretary of State as well as to the news media. A period of 30 days is then started for there to be public input as well as response from the above named officials. At the end of the public response period, the final decision is rendered.

Between 1,000 and 1,200 requests for some form of clemency came to my desk each and every one of the 10 ½ years I was governor. Ninety-two percent of the time, I denied the requests. When I did grant them, it was usually based on the recommendation of at least five of the members of the PPTB, with consideration given to the input from public officials.

Maurice Clemmons was 16 years old when he was charged with burglary and robbery. He was sentenced to a total of 108 years based on the way in which the sentences were stacked. For the crimes he committed and the age at which he committed the crimes, it was dramatically outside the norm for sentencing. The PPTB recommended in 2000 by a 5-0 vote for his sentence to be commuted.

He had served 11 years of his sentence. A pardon would have set him free and cleared his record. A commutation to “time served” would have set him free and released him from any parole reporting. As per the recommendation, I commuted his sentence to the term of 47 years, still a long sentence for the type of crime he had committed, but it would make him parole eligible. It would not parole him, as governors do not have that power in Arkansas. He would have to separately apply for parole and meet the criteria for that.

Despite news reports to the contrary, the only record of public response to the notice to commute was from the trial judge, who recommended the commendation in concert with the board. There were letters of support, but no record of letters of opposition.

Following the commutation, he met the criteria for parole and was paroled to supervision in late 2000. When he violated terms of his parole by participating in additional crimes, he was returned to prison and should have stayed there. For reasons only the prosecutor can explain, charges were not brought forth in a timely way and the prosecutor ended up dropping the charges, allowing him to leave prison and return to supervised parole.

Hindsight is always 20/20, and I believe that Governor Huckabee at the time, with the information that he had available, made a good decision.  There are times when governors can and should commute sentences and even offer pardons.  They shouldn’t do so without input, feedback and facts and Governor Huckabee didn’t in this case.  I fear that by the reaction that cropped up on the right we may be seeing the death of compassion for political gain.  That is wrong.  Sometimes sentences are not just.  Sometimes people do change.  What happened in Washington was incredibly tragic, but Governor Huckabee is not to blame.  Maurice Clemmons is, and perhaps the Washington judges that allowed him bail with eight felony charges against him.

He may suffer politically, but let’s not paint him as culpable.  In defending Governor Huckabee today, Steve Deace of WHO Radio, took a shot at a former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin for a judicial pick that she made earlier this year, as well as, a swipe at former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s record.  In his op/ed at The Iowa Republican today he said:

Predictably, the Republican establishment and its various media cronies who hate Christians more than the Democrats do have pounced on this story.

The exact same people who said nothing while Palin put a Planned Parenthood official on the state supreme court where she could kill babies from the bench with little difficulty, or still haven’t come clean about Romney’s far left record in Massachusetts, now suddenly can’t wait to expose Huckabee’s poor judgment and the tragedy that at least partially resulted from it.

First, I agree with him regarding Mitt Romney.  His record in Massachusetts was horrible, and I did not support him 2008 for that very reason.  He wanted to run as a conservative, but he governed like a liberal.  Then there’s RomneyCare in Massachusetts.

With Governor Palin, however, like Governor Huckabee, you need to understand the situation in Alaska and Alaskan constitutional law.  I covered it pretty extensively at the time it happened, because when I first heard about it… I was disappointed as well.  Knowing that she is pro-life I wanted to learn more.  You can read the fruit of my homework here.  I’ll summarize below:

  • Governor Palin did not have the authority to appoint any judge she wanted to, but only those who are recommended to her by the Alaska Judicial Council, which is the constitutional process.
  • She took the unprecedented step of asking for everything the Council had on the two finalists that they presented to her.
  • Neither candidate was ideal.  She couldn’t ask for more candidates, her predecessor, Governor Frank Murkowski tried to do that and failed.
  • Governor Palin’s choices were choosing a liberal (the one she didn’t choose) or the independent (which she chose).  Also, the person she picked was no longer on the Planned Parenthood board and was off of it long before Planned Parenthood offered abortions in Alaska.  She also didn’t list it on the application given to Governor Palin or on a 2001 application with then Governor Tony Knowles (who is a liberal Democrat).  Maybe she didn’t want to appear to be taking sides on the issue?
  • Tom Minnery of the Alaska Family Council admitted the problem is the process, not Palin.  Bob Flint, an Anchorage attorney (who is pro-life) said that nothing short of a Constitutional amendment will fix it.

I left a comment on Deace’s post, and he responded via Facebook (and my reply).  He said she should have fought it, and that she violated God’s law.  I think she didn’t want to abdicate her role as Governor and also had other issues to consider.  Instead of smearing Palin and Governors in positions like these (Matt Blunt faced a similar circumstance in Missouri) we should work to change laws that box Governors in.

Oh and Steve, when has the establishment ever protected Governor Palin?

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  • http://www.beckyhull.com becky

    okay…i care nothing about palin. she’s ridiculous. laughable. no comments on her. but i do care to comment about mike huckabee. (only because i somewhat respect him.) i know that there’s no way huckabee could have known what would have happened in the future–years after he commuted the sentence of this freak named clemmons. however, the fact that he states he’d make the same decision again makes me cringe. we are teaching (rather making concrete in the minds of americans) that no one can be held responsible for their actions until they’re 18 years of age. we’re continuing to not let people (children & teens) take responsibility for their actions. i was within two hours of being shot by one of my students, a TEN-YEAR-OLD fifth grader IN THE SCHOOL. i firmly believe we need to watch/observe children and become familiar with their “patterns.” this is what teachers are trained to do–especially when we are trying to see who is beginning to bully others. we are fools if we repeat mistakes made in the past and learn nothing from them. if huckabee is unable to see a pattern in someone’s life no matter what the age, he should not choose to commute their sentence. yes, teens can be convincing. however, we’re not doing ourselves as a society any favors by looking the other way when we are creating criminals and allowing them to behave as such right under our noses. i agree that mike huckabee doesn’t know what the future holds. however, i can fairly confidently predict in order for him to have a chance in 2012, he’ll have a lot of explaining and apologizing to do between now and then. it was HIS sole decision that let this hateful murderer go. and yes, at the young age of 17.

    • http://www.caffeinatedthoughts.com Shane Vander Hart

      @becky, I don’t know all the specifics in the case that Huckabee had to look at, but since I do work with juvenile offenders… I can say that the sentence that a 16-year-old received (essentially a life sentence for robbery) was pretty extreme.

      All that Huckabee did was commute his sentence to like 47 years so that he could be eligible for parole. He still had to go through that process.

      Now regarding your non-comment comment about Palin, you voted for Obama right? He’s not laughable? He’s making a mess of our economy and can’t talk without a teleprompter. She’s ridiculous how? She was a Governor for crying out loud, and a pretty effective one until the lefties started abusing the ethics law & FOIA requests in Alaska. Most of which was instigated by the Obama campaign.

      • http://sailorette.blogspot.com Foxfier

        @Shane Vander Hart,

        It wasn’t “just” burglary. (Which is bad enough– you know what can happen if someone happens to wake up when the burglar is in the room–or if a woman doesn’t.)

        http://www.arktimes.com/blogs/arkansasblog/2009/11/maurice_clemmons_record.aspx

        Sentenced to 5 years for robbery in Pulaski County, Aug. 3, 1989.

        * Sentenced to 8 years for burglary, theft and probation revocation in Pulaski County, Sept. 9, 1989

        * Sentenced to an indeterminate amount for aggravated robbery and theft in Pulaski County, Nov. 15, 1989

        * Sentenced to 20 years each for burglary and theft of property in Pulaski County, Feb. 23, 1990.

        * Sentenced to 6 years for firearm possession in Pulaski County, Nov. 19, 1990.

        Dude was 16…when he was caught with a .22 he’d taken to school to shoot “dopers” if they chased him again…he also threatened one of his judges and went for the guns of the cops escorting him at the trials before the commutation.

        Huck screwed the pooch, again. He had LOTS of company, true, but he was the first.

        (baby blogging, sorry not formatted)
        .-= Foxfier´s last blog ..Pepe Lobo? =-.

      • http://www.caffeinatedthoughts.com Shane Vander Hart

        @Foxfier, Ok, I don’t mean to make it sound that his charges weren’t serious, but let’s up this into perspective. He was sentenced for 108 years. I’ve seen murders, child molesters and rapists get less time than that.

        You are also looking at this with 20/20 hindsight. Sure if one could look into the future and determine whether somebody would re-offend that would be great.

        He needed jail time, but to run the sentences concurrently was not just. He spent 11 years in prison prior to having his sentence commuted to 47 years (it isn’t like Huckabee sprung him, he just made him parole eligible and the parole board then determined… they could have denied him parole. They sprung him again after a parole violation in which he should have done the rest of his sentence.

        Then there is his age, I work with juvenile offenders (for 10 years), and have worked with teenagers for 17. You can’t simply treat them the same as you do adults. They need accountability, but the trend to just throw kids in with adults just leads to more adult offenders down the road.

  • http://www.ericgoranson.com Eric Goranson

    Good post, Shane. I fully agree with your assessment. It’s easy to arm-chair quarterback on these things years later. I think Huckabee and Palin have plausible explanations for their actions and the only thing I’d like to think I would have done differently in Palin’s position (or any number of other governors put in similar circumstances) is to scream about it (loudly).

    • http://www.caffeinatedthoughts.com Shane Vander Hart

      @Eric Goranson, I agree, I would have screamed about it to, and try to initiate getting it changed.

  • Jim Glover

    I know Mike Huckabee which your defenders do not. I graduated with him at Ouachita Baptist University with the same degree; B.A. Religion 1976. We were both Southern Baptist preachers. I campaigned vigorously for him both in his 1992 U.S. Senate race and his run for Lt. Governor. After his election, he began to appoint those who had campaigned against to state boards and committee’s, ignoring the county committee’s. I was a member of the Cleburne County Republican Committee at the time. Huck turned me against Republicans, period.
    He appointed Lu Hardin a Democrat state senator as director of higher educatio. I e-mailed the University of Central Arkansas board president about the mistake they were making when Huck appointed Hardin as UCA president. Now, UCA has been through hell with Lu Hardin. He stole some $300,000 without board approval. Resigned with a claimed eye cancer amidst the investigation.
    The mess is still unfolding. The FBI is presently in Conway investigating. Rumors are the school is $21,000,000 in debt and can’t pay.
    Huckabee served while the state suffered more bankruptcies than most previous governors combined. He was responsible for setting up a Mexican Counsulate in Little Rock, a clearing house for alien workers to keep Arkansas meat processiong companies profiting. Huck is doubtless the bigest alien importer this side of Mexico.
    In 2002 when he came up for his first election as govern, I wrote a critical letter to the editor in our local paper. I was pastoring a small rural church at the time and my relection came up in October. Three members objected to my writing letters to the editor about the governor. I resigned saying I did not want to be a stumbling block to anyone. A year later, members of the church came to me asking me to come back and be their pastor. They said the three that objected to my criticism of Huckabee had not been back since I left. I took the church back for two more years.
    I could go with event, after event. Bribe after bribe this huckster has inflicted on Arkansas. He’s a rich man’s whore. We can expect Rupert Murdock to do everything possible to save Huck’s hide, but it appears Huck is for the first time getting a taste of justice.

    Jim Glover
    Heber Springs, AR

    • http://www.caffeinatedthoughts.com Shane Vander Hart

      @Jim Glover, You were a former Baptist pastor, but yet you are ok with rumors and gossip?

      “Bribe after bribe” – proof? You don’t think this would have come out during 2008

      “Huck is doubtless the biggest alien importer this side of Mexico” – really have you seen what is going on in California? Did he establish Arkansas to be a sanctuary state? Is this why he got the Minutemen’s endorsement back in 2008?

      The state suffered more bankruptcies… exactly how are personal bankruptcies any governor’s fault?

      “He’s a rich man’s whore” – again nice rhetoric coming from a pastor.

      Why would Rupert Murdock do anything “to save Huck’s hide?” It’s in his best interest that he doesn’t run in 2012 anyway.

      I think you’ve got a chip on your shoulder and need to let the bitterness go. Seriously, if you want to see an incompetent Governor, look at the one we have here in Iowa.

      Also you resigned because three people complained about your writing a letter to the editor? Sorry, having been a pastor and still in full-time parachurch ministry that seems fishy to me.

  • http://lisagraas.com Lisa Graas

    The reason I think this damages Huckabee’s prospects for 2012 is not because of the singular act of commutation of this one person’s sentence but because it had the effect of throwing up an alarm flag for a lot of people which makes more and more people examine his overall record; a record that is very bad, in my view. HotAir played a video that had been used against him in a primary election that highlighted all of the instances where he’s granted clemency. His philosophy on granting clemency seems to be that if you have turned your life over to Christ, that’s good enough for him. Whether or not that is, objectively, his actual core philosophy remains to be seen, but that’s the Huckabee that I am seeing now. I’m open-minded, but it is becoming more clear to me that this is his philosophy…..and if that sort of philosophy would free a lot of people who should not be free. Extreme examples would be Manson Family murderers Susan Atkins and Tex Watson, both of whom have ostensibly become faithful Christians. It just seems far too problematic for Huckabee to explain away.
    .-= Lisa Graas´s last blog ..Book Review: Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue – Strength in Adversity =-.

    • http://www.caffeinatedthoughts.com Shane Vander Hart

      @Lisa Graas, I think there’s more to it than that, and remember that these cases are brought to him after they are vetted by a board.

      Regarding conversion, I wouldn’t bank on that alone (from personal experience working with juvenile offenders). However, Prison Fellowship’s InnerChange Freedom Initiative program has seen incredible recidivism rates in the prisons they have worked.

      So there is something to it, but yes you can’t universally use that as a criteria.

  • T Mackenzie

    I support Huckabee and Palin in both decisions.

    Although I have read some opposition commentary criticizing Huck for being ‘blind’ to and ‘inordinately influenced’ by the faith conversion of Clemmons – which I think deserves some thoughtful discussion – rehabilitation by faith has for hundreds of years been recognized as an effective force in our penal institutions.

    I suspect that the number who are thus rehabbed and who go one to lead productive lives (in and out of prison) far outweigh those that are recidivists. Nope, no data. Just gut.

    Huck was right at the time he made the decision, given time served and the age of the convict at time of offense. Plus, I would suspect there are just as many other pardons done by governors out there that have the potential to ‘go wrong’. Huck’s number just came up.

    Regardless of criminal background, any of us who have been transformed by faith know the dangers of backsliding, doubt and being tested/tempted. . .or just our own knarly characters bubbling up again from seemingly nowhere (Satan) and rejecting God. Who of us does no do this on a daily basis, even, to a far lesser degree?

    As badly as I feel for the victims, I can never shake a deeper sense of despair for the perp in cases like this. No, that does not translate into softer treatment of the guilty, just a sympathy that eats away at me, at what it must be like to be that person.

    Awful. Awful stuff. Although I consider myself to not be capable of such a crime, I am keenly aware of the help and grace I have received from God and Christ in averting worse behavior than I have already committed in my lifetime, large and small.

    And I do not take it for granted that I still have the potention to fail miserably before my life is done, even for those I love.

    What a gift to not have to walk in this man’s shoes. What a gift, also, to not have to have been crucified as Christ was, to not have to have gone through that hell, that He did this for us, for our salvation.

    • http://www.caffeinatedthoughts.com Shane Vander Hart

      @T Mackenzie, Regarding data, the InnerChange Freedom Initiative that is part of Prison Fellowship have documented a much lower recidivism rate. I don’t remember what it is exactly other than it is impressive.

  • Daniel Middleman

    Where do I start with Mike Huckabee. First I will say that I watch his show and like it. Why, I don’t know, because as a politician I have no use for the guy. For one thing, he commuted more sentences than all of the surrounding states combined. That should at least tell you something. I especially didn’t like his behind the scenes dealings with the McCain campaign to knock Romney out of the compaign. Another thing that really cemented it for me was an article I read that talked about how when the liberals in the Souther Baptist Convention, back in the 80′s I believe, were trying to take it over and Mike Huckabee did nothing. I mean, you have got to be kidding me. For me, that would be a declaration of war and I would take no prisoners. In my opinion Huckabee, like Clinton, is just another fast-talking Arkansas politician. On tv, he’s fine. The last thing we need in the White House are more fast-talking Arkansans.

    • http://www.caffeinatedthoughts.com Shane Vander Hart

      @Daniel Middleman, With the SBC, are you talking nationally or in Arkansas? What was he supposed to do? What position was he in at that time… a small church pastor or was he the President of the Arkansas Baptist Convention at that time?

      He rejected over 92% of communtation requests that came before him. Commuting sentences isn’t necessarily pardoning people. You also have to consider Arkansas prison population, as well as, their charges. Plus considering the states surrounding Arkansas that doesn’t tell me much… how did he measure up nationwide?

      And knocking Romney out of the campaign, in my mind, was a good thing. Sorry, I’d much rather have had McCain as President than Romney. Talk about somebody people can’t trust.

  • http://iowadefensealliance.com/ Iowans Rock

    Thank you, Shane. The only thing I would have requested is not to link to National Romney Online for their take on 2012 or given that vile woman Michelle Malkin one hit on her blog. She has spewed hate about Huckabee from Day 1 and is the most guilty out there of politicizing this tragic event for her and who knows who else’s benefit. She has ignored the facts and I am ashamed that someone like that is even remotely connected to the GOP. I hope she sleeps well at night knowing four people had to die in order for her to get her claws deep into Huckabee.
    .-= Iowans Rock´s last blog ..What is the Value of a Woman’s Life? by Pat Bertroche =-.

    • http://www.caffeinatedthoughts.com Shane Vander Hart

      @Iowans Rock, Ok, I never got that vibe from her even back in 2008 when I was “stumping” for Huckabee. There are a lot of conservatives (even those who have supported him) who are criticizing him on this.

      Oh, and Michelle Malkin is not a Romney fan. I’ve seen her criticize him as well.

      Whether we like or not, fair or not, Huckabee will be hurt politically. I think that’s unavoidable, but we’ll see, I could be wrong.

      • http://iowadefensealliance.com/ Iowans Rock

        @Shane Vander Hart, The least of my worries is the political ramifications of this. My only prayer for Huckabee was that he handle this situation with integrity and humility and would own up to his part of this tragedy in order to be an example on how politicians should take responsibility for the decisions they make. He has delivered on this and it has been nothing less than remarkable.
        .-= Iowans Rock´s last blog ..What is the Value of a Woman’s Life? by Pat Bertroche =-.

      • http://www.caffeinatedthoughts.com Shane Vander Hart

        @Iowans Rock, I completely agree.

  • http://nukegingrich.com Nuke

    Thank you for putting some research and perspective into the Palin judicial appointment.

    I wondered about it at the time.

    It is interesting to see the same group of republicans doing the victory dance at the political demise of Huck. They’re popping champagne corks at CfG, no doubt. The bastids.

    I’m pleased that Mike and Janet have achieved some financial security with the TV gig. His greatest attribute, other than his faith in Jesus, is his ability to communicate. Hopefully he will continue to use his forum to speak to America in his unique way.

    Thanks for the post Shane. Drop by and see me some time.
    .-= Nuke´s last blog ..Guess who’s coming to dinner =-.

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