Wednesday, December 26, 2007

EDITORIALS>>Huck should tell the truth

Every politician, like most of the rest of us, has a terrifying secret that he fears would turn the public against him if the word got out. In Mike Huckabee’s case, it is his record.

Aside from a few very lamentable lapses in judgment, Huckabee’s scorecard for 10 1/2 years as governor actually is not one that should turn too many voters off.

He was an obliging follower when Democratic lawmakers came up with progressive solutions to the state’s manifold problems in education and healthcare and he sometimes offered his own, like school consolidation.

The record contrasted remarkably with that of almost any Republican governor in the region.

But our favorite son runs from that record on every occasion when one of his opponents cites some part of it, always unfavorably.

That was the case last week when Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson, who have fallen well behind Huckabee in the first presidential contest of the season in Iowa, attacked him on his record on fighting crime. He returned again to his weakest suit, truthtelling. His replies were either lies or clever deceptions.

The truth was not so bad that people could not have handled it. At any rate, no revelation of his record in Arkansas, even though it may counter the image he has fashioned for himself in the early caucus and primary states, seems to hurt him.
Republicans in Iowa seem to like him, and it is hard to cultivate warmth for any of his hard-edged opponents.

Romney ran TV commercials castigating our man for pardoning or commuting the sentences of more than 1,000 criminals, which was far more than his three predecessors combined. Among them were 12 murderers.

The list does not include his most famous beneficiary, Wayne DuMond, the rapist for whom he interceded with the state parole board to obtain the inmate’s freedom.

Huckabee answered the charges in a talk to a big crowd last Thursday. “Nobody walked out that door who was a murderer, and I unlocked the door,” he said. What could he have meant by that?

Literally, of course, he was truthful. He did not personally go down to the Cummins or Tucker units and unlock a cell door a single time. He only commuted their sentences to make them eligible for parole. Five of the murderers were made eligible for immediate release.

The truth was that unlike his predecessors, particularly Bill Clinton, Huckabee looked for ways to exercise compassion for prisoners. If an inmate made a case for redemption, especially if a fellow Baptist preacher assured him of it, Huckabee was apt to give the man another chance.

The other evidence that Huckabee was “soft on crime” was a 2005 law that cut the portion of a prison sentence that methamphetamine cooks had to serve before qualifying for release for good behavior. Before Huckabee signed the law, methamphetamine convicts had to serve at least 70 percent of their sentences. That act reduced it to half their sentence.
Romney contrasted that with his own record in Massachusetts, where he said he got the methamphetamine laws toughened, not weakened. Romney lied only a little. He supported strengthening the law but the bill failed.

Huckabee’s response was literally truthful if not very revealing. He said Arkansas still had tougher methamphetamine laws than Massachusetts and that he indeed was tough on crime.

But the greater Truth is that Huckabee favored more lenient punishment for many drug infractions, particularly for simple possession.

He had not been governor long before making a profound conclusion about the state’s correctional system. Too many people were spending far too long in prison for drug crimes that were not horrifying, and it was costing the state far too much money to warehouse them, money that could be spent for education and other services.

He acknowledged that it was hard for legislators to vote for anything that could subject them to charges that they were soft on crime.

Over the ensuing years he did not offer any legislation to carry out the reforms that he said were so badly needed, perhaps realizing that legislators would be fearful of voting for them and that he might pay a price himself in the next campaign if an opponent cared to play the “soft-on-crime” card.

Not until 2003 and 2005 did a couple of small efforts, led by Rep. Jim Luker of Wynne, make their way through the legislature, with Huckabee’s support. One was the meth bill.

Reducing the jail time for meth cooks, like so much else in Huckabee’s record, seems singularly unRepublican in Iowa and much of the rest of the nation. Even Republican voters are looking for something different in the year of our Lord 2008.

Honesty just might be it, and Mike Huckabee’s incredible surge will relapse into inertia if people discover that he is simply not being truthful.

So let’s make this our little secret.