Clemency call seen haunting Huckabee

— A jury won’t determine the fate of Maurice Clemmons, the man who police say gunned down four Lakewood, Wash., police officers Sunday before being shot by a lawman Tuesday.

But for several people close to the man who granted him clemency in Arkansas nine years ago, the political verdict is clear: The bloodshed over the weekend has dimmed former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s political hopes.

On Tuesday, Jason Tolbert, the Arkansas coordinator of HuckPAC, Huckabee’s political action committee, resigned.

“The recent news of the last two days along with the response did play a role in this decision but was not the sole factor,” Tolbert said in a statement posted on his Web log,

Other former staff members and campaign volunteers vented their frustration on Tuesday.

Huckabee’s justifications for the clemencies he granted as governor were “inadequate,” wrote Joe Carter on a Web site run by First Things, a publication of the Institute for Religion and Public Life, which describes itself as an “interreligious, nonpartisan research and education institute whose purpose is to advance a religiously informed public philosophy for the ordering of society.”

Carter was Huckabee’s director of opposition research early in the 2008 presidential campaign. He said that Huckabee, a preacher and former president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, placed too much faith in “restorative justice” and should have denied more requests for leniency.

“The unfortunate reality is that for politicians, unlike pastors, there are limits to compassion.”

Even some supporters say the weekend violence has undermined a potential 2012 Huckabee bid for the White House.

David Schmidt, director of an online grass-roots organization dubbed Huck’s Army, is among them.

“I’m still with him,” he said. “But I’m not saying this doesn’t hurt him, because clearly it does.”

Tom Forbes, who was Huckabee’s campaign coordinator in Whitman County, Wash., wrote on the Red County Web log that when he found out about Huckabee’sconnection to Clemmons, he “cringed.”

“For Huckabee to punt on his personal responsibility is beyond the pale. Let’s face it. No matter what Huckabee says or doesn’t say, his shot at the presidency is gone.”


Huckabee’s first statement on the killings did not mention his role in Clemmons’ release.

“He was recommended for and received a commutation of his original sentence,” Huckabee said in a statement released Sunday. The resulting reduced sentence - from 108 years to 47 years - made him eligible for parole and he “was paroled by the parole board once they determined he met the conditions at that time.”

On Tuesday, Huckabee, a Republican, followed up with another statement.

“I take full responsibility for my actions of nine years ago,” it said. “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 were presented to me today, I would have likely made the same decision.”

Huckabee, who hosts a television show on Fox News and a radio show on the ABC Radio Network, has not said whether he will take another shot at the Republican presidential nomination.

Over the weekend, shortly before the police officers were killed, Huckabee had suggested on Fox News that he was leaning toward skipping the 2012 race.

He has trailed other Republican politicians, notably former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, in raising money. But he has scored well, leading the field in several early polls, and conservative Christian voters demonstrated their support for him in September, when he won the Value Voters Straw Poll.

Ed Rollins, Huckabee’s campaign chairman last year, declined an interview request Tuesday.

He said in an e-mail “I still like him and admire him and would not rule out helping him in the future.”


Huckabee’s record on granting clemencies was an issue during his failed 2008 presidential run.

During his 10 1 /2 years as governor, Huckabee commuted the sentences of 163 prisoners, including 12 murderers.

In December 2007, Romney, one of Huckabee’s rivals in the race for the Republican nomination, criticized the Arkansan for granting pardons and commutations in an “arbitrary or capricious manner.”

Much of the attention on the clemency issue during the campaign was focused on Wayne DuMond, a Forrest City resident convicted of rape in 1984.

Huckabee, who had said he would like DuMond to be paroled, spoke with the state Parole Board in late 1996. Some of the members later said they had felt pressured by Huckabee to release Du-Mond, a claim Huckabee denied. DuMond was paroled in January 1997. Three years later DuMond, who had moved to Missouri, sexually abused and suffocated Carol Shields in a Kansas City apartment. Critics say Huckabee shoulders the blame for working to free DuMond and Clemmons.

“This isn’t Huckabee’s first Horton moment,” wrote Michelle Malkin, a conservative commentator on her Web log on Tuesday. Malkin referred to Willie Horton, a convicted murderer who was released from custody in Massachusetts on a weekend furlough in 1986 and disappeared. Nearly a year later, he raped a woman in Maryland.

Former President George H.W. Bush used Horton’s story prominently in his successful 1988 presidential campaign, when he defeated former Massachusetts Gov. Mike Dukakis, who supported the weekend furlough program.

Bush’s opposition researcher, James Pinkerton, first got wind of the issue when reading transcripts of the Democratic primary debates. Al Gore had raised the issue to suggest Dukakis was soft on crime.

During the 2008 race, Pinkerton was a senior adviser to Huckabee.

“That’s ironic, isn’t it?” said Paul Brountas, who served as Dukakis’ campaign manager.

Brountas said the Horton issue helped cement in voters’ minds the perception that Dukakis was soft on crime. He doesn’t think the issue will stick with Huckabee.

“This is early for Huckabee,” he said. “By the time he announces, much of this will have worn off.”

Pinkerton did not return calls Tuesday. Nor did former Sen. Tim Hutchinson, the former U.S. senator from Arkansas who campaigned heavily for Huckabee.

Arkansas state Sen. Gilbert Baker, an announced candidate for the U.S. Senate, campaigned for Huckabee during his 2008 presidential bid.

“Politically, it is very difficult,” Baker said. “It gives folks an opportunity to make political points.”

He added that he is still a “strong” Huckabee supporter, saying he’d be “favorably disposed” to supporting him again, should he decide to run in 2012.

Gary Glenn, president of the American Family Association of Michigan and another Huckabee supporter, said he’d support him in 2012.

“I don’t think this one decision is going to define Mike Huckabee as a man, a Christian or as a political candidate,” he said.

Schmidt, the director of Huck’s Army, said that it is not fair to compare Clemmons to Horton. Horton was a murderer at the time of his furlough, Schmidt said, and Clemmons was convicted of burglary and robbery.

“It would be comparable if you could see a pattern, or if there were known serious offenders getting out early when they shouldn’t have.”

Does that include Wayne DuMond?

“That’s a fair question,” said Schmidt. “It does open it up for discussion.”

Front Section, Pages 1 on 12/02/2009

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