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December 22, 2007

Why is Huckabee now trying to seem tough rather than compassionate?

This piece from the Quad-City Times reveals that Mike Huckabee in trying to talk tough now that Mitt Romney has attacked him for his clemency record:

During an appearance Friday in Davenport, Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee confronted criticisms he was soft on criminals while governor of Arkansas, pointing out he’s the only one in the race who’s put people to death.

“If somebody tries to tell you that I’m soft on crime, that would be real news to the 16 people whose executions I carried out,” Huckabee told a packed room during a campaign swing through eastern Iowa. “They didn’t think I was being very soft.”

I find this response extremely disappointing given that, as this new New York Times piece highlights, Baptist minister Huckabee has risen "to the first tier of Republican presidential candidates on the strength of his Christian bona fides."  Wouldn't it be more fitting, given his campaign themes, for Huckabee to say that he genuinely believes in the human potential for redemption and that he used his clemency power to help those who seemed to achieve genuine rehabilitation after criminal transgressions? 

As the faith-based prison and re-entry movement highlights, religion and progressive criminal justice policies can fit together quite well.  Moreover, I believe a truly compassionate conservative would not only grant a lot of clemencies, but also look for ways to reduce spending on "big government" criminal punishments that may produce more human suffering than societal benefits. 

Significantly, as this new Houston Chronicle article details, religious beliefs and concerns about fairness apparently were central to Huckabee's clemency record as Governor:

Driven by a religious belief in redemption and questions about the state's legal system, Huckabee paid close attention to clemency petitions, former aides said.  He insisted on reviewing every single application, though they came in by the hundreds most months.  "He would take these files home with him to the governor's mansion," recalled Rex Nelson, Huckabee's communications director for nine years. "He would read them, study them.  He took it very seriously, the political consequences be damned."

Most of Huckabee's clemency decisions were unremarkable; in the vast majority of cases he simply followed the recommendation of the Arkansas Parole Board.  But in a small though significant number of cases, he commuted prison sentences for murderers and other violent criminals over the pleas of victims' families, prosecutors and judges.  As his reputation for granting clemency spread, applications surged. "We had tons of them," said Cory Cox, who worked for several years as Huckabee's aide in charge of clemency matters.  "People, they'd call and say, 'Please, let the governor look at this. We don't know who the next governor is going to be.'"

By every account, Huckabee's approach to clemency was heavily influenced by his religious beliefs.  As John Wesley Hall, a Little Rock defense lawyer who filed numerous clemency petitions with the Huckabee administration, put it: "He's a Baptist preacher who believes in redemption and second chances." 

But it also reflected Huckabee's broader concerns about the criminal justice system in Arkansas, one of the few states where juries rather than judges impose sentences, which defense lawyers say can produce arbitrary results.  Dana Reece, another defense lawyer, told of one client who received a life sentence for selling six grams of crack cocaine. "He'd still be in prison today if it weren't for Governor Huckabee," Reece said. "How many politicians, she asked, would stick their necks out for a crack dealer?" 

"This was a political hot potato, and he knew it," Cox said of his former boss. "But he had a conviction that people could better themselves, and he was open-minded to the idea that a poor black man from east Arkansas convicted by an all-white jury just may have been a victim of injustice."

It is sad and ironic that Huckabee was willing to "walk the walk" as a compassionate conservative when Governor of Arkansas, but now he seems to be afraid to "talk the talk."  Not only is this a shame for the broader political conversation, it might backfire on Huckabee.  Remember how well it worked in 1988when Mike Dukakis tried to look tough by driving a tank.

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December 22, 2007 at 09:16 AM | Permalink


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Huckabee has a rapist-murderer problem, just as Dukakis did. The short version is that Huckabee pushed for the release of rapist Wayne Dumond, and Dumond raped and murdered two other women after his release. You can read the long version here:


In fact, Huckabee's problem is worse than the one Dukakis had, because while Willie Horton did commit rape and armed robbery during his furlough, he didn't kill anybody.

Posted by: William Jockusch | Dec 22, 2007 11:27:56 AM

So though dead for over 2 years, Wayne Dumond is in control of the country and may decide the next election despite the fact that he couldn't vote even if still alive.

Could it be that those who go on school rampage shootings crave the same blood lust power over the country?

Posted by: George | Dec 22, 2007 11:50:49 AM

It is absurd to evaluate a chief executive's clemency decisions on an anecdotal basis. I have no doubt that any chief executive [gov., pres.] who has exercised this power has, in the course of this power exercise, released persons who have subsequently committed crimes. Does this mean that the power never should be exercised? This power is among the oldest granted executive authority [emperor, king, president, etc.]. Huckabee should be congratulated on his practices. I find more disturbing his obsession with religion and Christianity as a basis for governance. But, this is not the blog to survey that issue.

Posted by: bernie kleinman | Dec 22, 2007 1:02:16 PM


What leaps out at me in this story is how little evidence there is that religion did play role in his clemency decision making. I see one vague quote from one attorney in the article. That isn't much. I think this all more fuzzy PR than substance.

Posted by: P.S. Ruckman, Jr. | Dec 22, 2007 2:09:17 PM

Absurd or not, a lot of politics in this country is carried out on an anecdotal level. Now, Prof. Berman's post was asking why is Huckabee acting tough all of a sudden. My original comment was getting at my belief that damage control is the reason.

Posted by: William Jockusch | Dec 22, 2007 5:52:57 PM

Huckabee is the fellow who made a statement to the National Rifle Association that he was certain that there is duck hunting in heaven. Seems a bit unfair to those poor ducks who earned their way into heaven.

There is something about this former Governor that shows depth and compassion. The better issue on sentencing policy came up in the past month when he was chastized on the Sunday Morning talk show, by a Clinton former press secretary, for signing into law a statute to change mandatory minimum sentencing in Arkansas. He stepped up to the plate. His response to the sleazy loaded question was remarkable.

I reckon that he gave some considered thought and attention to those sixteen human beings who were put to death under his watch as Governor. I will bet that he was not at the ball park throwing out the first pitch to the Texas Rangers when the state was pulling the switch--like some former compassionate conservative from Texas. People should not underestimate former Governors who were raised in Hope, Arkansas. They can go a long way in politics.

Posted by: M.P. Bastian | Dec 23, 2007 6:31:56 AM

Why would anyone consider the release of Dumond as "compassionate"? Any cursory review of his history would show that releasing him would endanger others.

Posted by: federalist | Dec 23, 2007 4:45:10 PM

Huckabee signed off on an Arkansas police commission for a convicted felon with a history of impersonating law enforcement officers. The felon wasn’t even from Arkansas and his record was available to Huckabee but not checked out?

Posted by: Kyle | Feb 6, 2008 4:15:12 PM

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