Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has been in the news of late, because (a), the former Baptist minister is eying a run at the White House in the 2008 GOP primary and (b) he recently signed an order to pardon Rolling Stone guitarist Keith Richards for a 1975 reckless driving rap for which Richards pleaded guilty and paid a $162.50 fine.
The only reason he is doing it is "for the publicity," charged the mayor of the town where Richards and his entourage were stopped. Shameless self-promotion? Huckabee has a great response. If you played guitar as well as Keith Richards, he would pardon you, too, Huckabee told The Chronicle when he was in town Friday. The governor is clearly enjoying the notoriety -- especially because stories report the fact that he plays bass for his own rock band. If I recall, another Arkansas guv used an instrument -- a saxophone -- to serenade the public on the road to the White House.
What Huckabee says about pardons certainly is music to my ears. Yes, he says, he will continue to issue pardons and commutations, "knowing full well that there's no political upside, zero."
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette investigated Huckabee's record in July 2004 and found that Huckabee had commuted 111 sentences for prisoners in his first eight years in office. That number far exceeds the total commutations from the three governors (including Clinton) who preceded Huckabee over 18 years. The paper also reported that former Govs. Winthrop Rockefeller and Orval Faubus issued more commutations than Huckabee -- and for smaller prison populations.
Zero upside? Note that President Bush has issued some 82 pardons. That's a measly sum considering that federal prisons house more than 10 times the number of inmates in Arkansas, that draconian federal sentencing practices can land nonviolent first-time low-level drug offenders behind bars for decades, and the paucity of sentences cut short by Dubya.
Both Huckabee and Bush have pardoned men and women who served their time and wanted a clean slate for their new lives. Think of a teenage check-kiter who served her time, repented and now wants to work as a nursing assistant. Huckabee asked, "Are we going to put a heel to her face for the rest of her life?" No, you grant her a pardon.
Huckabee beats Bush on commutations even though he knows, when you cut sentences to give people "a second chance," some will re-offend.
I liked that Huckabee rejects how people in politics these days "want to make the whole process robotic." They embrace policies that say, "no pardons to anyone," thus stripping the art and human element from governing.