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Opinion: A Mike Huckabee I could vote for

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A Times editorial today defends then-Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s decision in 2000 to commute Maurice Clemmons’ outrageous 108-year prison sentence for a string of robberies and burglaries committed when he was 16 years old. Clemmons, who was shot to death by police Tuesday morning, is believed to have killed four police officers in Washington state earlier this week.

Huckabee defended his actions (quite effectively, in my view) during an appearance this morning on ABC’s ‘The View’:

Though Huckabee, R-Ark., stressed the fact that he only made Maurice Clemmons parole-eligible, and did not grant his release, he said: “He got out, and now here we are nine years later, and this horrible, senseless, savage thing happens. And I feel awful about it. Of course I do.” “I was just going to say that I wished like anything that I had vision into the future, that I could have known that a person whose file I looked at nine years ago was going to end up doing something like this.”

But Huckabee defended his decision: “I take responsibility for the commutation that I did nine years ago, but the commutation before me was not of a cop killer or a child rapist. It was a person who at age 16 was sentenced for 108 years, and that is a disproportionate sentence in my state for anyone who had ever done a crime like that. And he already had served 11 years of hard time.”

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He also engaged in an interesting discussion about the importance of executive clemency: “The easy thing to do, and frankly the political expedient thing to do, is to say no to every last one of them. That’s the easy thing. And you’ll always cover your rear end if you do that. Because nobody will ever say, ‘Oh you should have let these people out.’ ‘

Huckabee brushed aside any political implications, calling them “immaterial” in the context of the four slain officers.

It’s no surprise that a politician seeking higher office would offer an ‘I didn’t do anything wrong’ defense despite such catastrophic consequences. Nevertheless, here Huckabee demonstrates an admirable capacity for self-reflection, and I genuinely believe there’s no cynicism behind his cautioning against gleaning the political implications of this tragedy.

So my question is: Where was Huckabee’s pensive side in 2008? Who was that shoot-from-the-hip, good ole boy who answered complicated policy questions with vacuous one-liners that ran for president?

-- Paul Thornton


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