Tuesday, January 17, 2012

EDITORIAL >> Governors a lot alike

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour are such good friends, you have to wonder if they ever got together before they pardoned dozens of killers, rapists and murderers and other violent criminals.

Huckabee and Barbour are the heavyweight champions when it comes to pardons and commutations. No other governors come close. Huckabee issued clemencies to hundreds of felons — more than all of his predecessors combined going back to the Faubus years, according to our reckoning. Barbour was not far behind in Mississippi.

Arkansas and Mississippi are usually ranked together near the bottom when it comes to education, health and income, but this dubious achievement when it comes to pardons is something both states would do well without.

There are now more limits on the governor’s powers to issues pardons in Arkansas after Huckabee’s abuses became a political issue. Mississippi, amazingly, still gives the governor a free hand. But that will change when the Mississippi legislature convenes and checks the governor’s powers on pardons.

Fortunately, both governors were both term-limited and are finished politically.

Gov. Beebe, meanwhile, has issued a fraction of Huckabee’s pardons, and almost never for violent criminals. The pardons are usually for selling marijuana, writing hot checks, an occasional burglary and shoplifting. Pretty mild stuff, and never for a serial rapist and murderer like Wayne Dumond. That’s the thug Huckabee thought was framed by the Clinton machine and had him freed. Dumond, a convicted rapist, later killed two women in Missouri, where he died behind bars.

The similarities between Huckabee and Barbour are striking: Like Huckabee, Barbour favored killers who worked at the governor’s mansion. Before he left office on Jan. 9, Barbour pardoned 193 criminals, including five killers, which is a record for Mississippi but is up there with Huckabee’s pardons.

Barbour freed a killer who served less than 10 years for murdering his estranged wife. He also pardoned a teacher who pleaded guilty in 2004 to having sex with a student.

Several murders involve wives, ex-wives and girlfriends, but one pardoned murderer had robbed and then shot and elderly man. All were pardoned as if they had done nothing wrong.

A year earlier, Barbour released two sisters from prison on condition that one of them donate a kidney to the other sister. The sisters, who were convicted of armed robbery, are now upset because they didn’t get an unconditional pardon like the more serious criminals who were released for serving a lot less time.

A Mississippi judge has issued a temporary halt to 21 of Barbour’s pardons because they were not published as legal notices in local papers. The idea was to give victims’ families time to object. That’s what Beebe does when he announces his intent to issue pardons.

But Barbour, like Huckabee, didn’t think the families deserved notice from the governor.

The judge noted that Barbour has pardoned criminals who were convicted of “murder, manslaughter, rape, armed robbery, aggravated assault, sexual assault, kidnapping, burglary, domestic violence, etc.”

Some of those criminals are on the loose and may not be caught. Let’s hope they’re not headed for Washington state. That was where Maurice Clemmons moved to after Huckabee pardoned him in 2000. In 2009, Clemmons killed four police officers in a coffee shop outside Seattle and then shot himself before he could be arrested.

Huckabee tried to pardon Glen M. Green, but was stopped after negative publicity. Green was convicted of kidnapping 18-year-old Helen Lynette Spencer of Gravel Ridge from Little Rock Air Force Base and brutally murdering her on Graham Road just over the Lonoke County line.

Scores of other violent criminals went free. Huckabee got away with it for so long because the Little Rock media ignored most of the clemencies and pardons. He was a popular governor, like Barbour, both law-and-order types. Unlike Huckabee, who issued clemencies throughout his 12 years in office, Barbour started issuing his pardons in his second term, almost all of them on the last day in office.

The Arkansas Legislature finally tied Huckabee’s hand and wouldn’t let him issue any more pardons without adequate advance notice to victims’ families. Huckabee stopped issuing pardons and ran for president and did pretty well despite his record. Barbour also considered running for president, but thought better of it.

They still talk a good game, though. Huckabee is doing well on Fox News. His audience doesn’t care that he’s responsible for the deaths of six innocent people.

Barbour is back in the lobbying game and making speeches. He’d better pray that those murderers on the run don’t have a chance to kill four cops on a coffee break or kill a couple of women after raping them.