Wednesday, December 09, 2009

TOP STORY >> Beebe is granting fewer clemencies

Gov. Mike Beebe speaks to Joan Zumwalt at the Pathfinder Preschool.

Leader staff writers

Gov. Mike Beebe is distancing himself from his predecessor, who issued a record number of pardons and clemencies.

While visiting the dedication of the newest Pathfinder pre-school in Jacksonville on Tuesday, Beebe told The Leader, “In three years, I’ve granted one commutation and shortened one sentence.”

He said only rarely would he consider “shortening someone’s sentence that the court and jury have decided.”

“My philosophy is probably different,” he explained, referring to Gov. Mike Huckabee, who signed more than 1,000 clemencies and pardons during his 10 years in office.

Maurice Clemmons, whose sentence Huckabee commuted in 2000 to time served, killed four police officers Nov. 29 in Washington state. Before that, Huckabee pushed for the release of Wayne Dumond, a convicted rapist, who later killed two women in Missouri. He was convicted of one of those murders and died in prison.

Beebe said he would consider pardoning those who have served their time, especially if they were young at the time they committed their crimes.

He says he “rarely, if ever, balks at the idea of pardoning someone” who has served out their full sentence.

Beebe sounded optimistic about the chances of a health-reform bill that would help Arkansans. He was concerned about an additional $220 million Arkansas would have to pay for higher Medicaid costs. But as the Senate continues negotiating a bill, the governor was hopeful the state wouldn’t be stuck with a higher bill.

“I’m encouraged about what they’re talking about,” Beebe said.

He does favor some kind of public option that offered “a good blend and balance,” he said.

“But we have to make sure that whatever you provide, there’s still a private-sector option,” Beebe insisted. He said the state’s economy “is in better shape” than many parts of the country. Although the state has lost more than 26,000 jobs, 23,000 new jobs have also been created.

He continues to work toward bringing new businesses to industry and expected to make an important announcement soon.

Beebe has made education his top priority, followed by improving the economy.

“Jobs and education go hand in hand,” the governor said.

Arkansans must have a good education if they want good jobs, he said. Without an educated workforce, new industries will not move to Arkansas, Beebe said.

He’s pleased that the new state lottery is doing better than expected, which will mean more money for college scholarships — as much s $100 million a year. But he cautioned that ticket sales could level off, which would mean fewer scholarships.