Debra J. Saunders

I left that meeting planning to write a gushing French kiss of a column, but when I researched the issue, I found that the less you know about his record, the better Huckabee sounds.

Let me be clear. Huckabee is a brave and good politician when he commutes sentences for nonviolent offenders and pardons for ex-cons who have turned their lives around. It is even possible he was a paragon when he shortened the prison terms of some violent offenders.

Too bad Huckabee has commuted sentences for violent offenders -- without appearing to have done his homework. In 2004, Huckabee commuted the sentence of convicted murderer Denver Witham -- after Saline County Prosecuting Attorney Robert Herzfeld revealed that Witham had omitted some of his convictions on his clemency application. (Also, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported, the former Saline County sheriff testified that he had been threatened on Witham's behalf.) No governor should pardon a murderer so unrepentant that he lies on his clemency application.

Herzfeld cited other questionable commutations -- the three-time drunk driver who served nine months of a six-year sentence, won a Huckabee commutation, then parole and then his fourth drunk-driving conviction. Huckabee advocated the release of a convicted rapist who was then paroled and later found guilty of murdering a Missouri woman.

As Herzfeld noted, no governor should grant clemency for a violent crime over the objections of the victim or victim's family, or for an inmate who has not proved he has rehabilitated himself.

I wish Bush knew what Huckabee knows: There is a place for redemption in the criminal justice system. Governors and presidents have a duty to find that ground and shorten sentences that far outstrip the crime or an inmate's guilt.

A good leader wants to correct the system's excesses, while recognizing a duty to protect the public. My wish for 2008 is a candidate who shares Huckabee's ideals, but not his rose-colored glasses.


Debra J. Saunders


 
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