Washington Cop Killer Dead, Possibly Along With Huckabee’s Presidential Aspirations

Maurice Clemmons, the suspect in the police shootings in Washington, was killed during a confrontation with Seattle police this morning. Now that this phase of the story has ended, the lingering question is how it will affect the political career of Mike Huckabee. Huckabee had commuted the sentence of Clemmons while governor of Arkansas.

This will certainly leave Huckabee open to the Willie Horton type of ads run by George H. W. Bush against Michael Dukakis. Huckabee cannot necessarily be expected to have been able to predict the consequences of his decision, and I would hope the result of this is not to inhibit all governors with political aspirations from showing leniency when deserved.

The important question is how Huckabee came about making this decision. Joe Conason argues that it was based on Huckabee’s religious views, believing Huckabee’s decisions were biased by those who claimed to be born again:

Huckabee has proudly declared on many occasions that he disdains the separation of church and state, insisting that his strict Baptist piety should serve as the bedrock of public policy. Nowhere in his record as governor was the influence of religious zeal felt more heavily than in the distribution of pardons and commutations, as his own explanations have indicated. During those years he granted more commutations and pardons than any governor during the previous four decades, many of them surely justified as a response to excessive penalties under the state’s draconian narcotics laws. But others were deeply controversial, especially because so many of his acts of mercy appeared to depend on interventions by fellow Baptist preachers and by inmate professions of renewed Christian faith.

No doubt word spread among the prison population that the affable governor was vulnerable to appeals from convicts who claimed to be born again. Clemmons too was among those who benefited from Huckabee’s tendency to believe such pious testimonials. “I come from a very good Christian family and I was raised much better than my actions speak,” he explained in his clemency application in 2000. “I’m still ashamed to this day for the shame my stupid involvement in these crimes brought upon my family’s name … I have never done anything good for God, but I’ve prayed for him to grant me in his compassion the grace to make a start. Now, I’m humbly appealing to you for a brand new start.”

Surely the most notorious instance of misplaced mercy involved Wayne Dumond, a rapist and murdered now deceased, who was originally sent to prison in Arkansas for raping a distant cousin of Bill Clinton. During Clinton’s presidency the Dumond case became an obsession among certain right-wing pundits and politicians, who insisted that Dumond had been framed and brutalized by the “Clinton machine.” When Huckabee became governor, he supported a parole for Dumond, winning applause from the Republican right — until the former prisoner raped and killed a young woman in Missouri. Dumond later died in prison, under suspicion that he had murdered at least one other woman after his Arkansas release — a tragic outcome for which Huckabee has repeatedly tried to blame others, including his two Democratic predecessors in the statehouse.

It does sound like there is valid criticism of Huckabee on this, but I would prefer to see more sources on the decision before coming to any conclusions. As for the 2012 race, it looks like Tim Pawlenty has fired the first shot:

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty became the first likely GOP presidential candidate to criticize Mike Huckabee’s pardon of a suspected killer during his time as Arkansas’s governor.

Pawlenty said that he would not have granted clemency to Maurice Clemmons, who was suspected of fatally shooting four police officers in Washington state on Sunday before being shot and killed by police in Seattle Tuesday morning.

He continued, “In Minnesota, I don’t think I’ve ever voted for clemency. We’ve given out pardons for things after everybody has served out their term, but again, usually for more minor offenses. But clemency, certainly not. Commutation of sentence, certainly not.”

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  1. 1
    Eclectic Radical says:

    I don’t like Pawlenty’s reaction or the trend this can start.
    The Willie Horton spot didn’t just blow Dukakis’ presidency out of the water. It was also a major setback for penal reform all over the country. Society has been getting more and more authoritarian on ‘law and order’ issues ever since.
    Do I think it wrong to grant a pardon to Dumond because of right wing political pressure, when the simple fact was that he was obviously guilty and unrepentant? Yes. I do.
    Do I think it is a mistake to grant liberal pardons to anyone who claims to be born again based on that claim? Yes. I do.
    On the other hand, I’d rather a governor grant too much clemency than not enough and the words that Pawlenty uses in his attack on Huckabee disturb me:

    He continued, “In Minnesota, I don’t think I’ve ever voted for clemency. We’ve given out pardons for things after everybody has served out their term, but again, usually for more minor offenses. But clemency, certainly not. Commutation of sentence, certainly not.”

    The man is bragging about having never commuted a sentence or granting clemency. I am no supporter of Huckabee, and I’ve occasionally thought well of Pawlenty (such as when he backed the president on stimulus), but this is just sick.  Bragging about a lack of compassion and mercy in order to score election points before the primary has even started is a classless move in the best light.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    By taking such a hard line approach, Pawlenty actually makes it easier for Huckabee to defend himself if the two wind up in a nomination battle against each other. Here Huckabee can defend the general principle that there are times when clemency is justified. The argument which would hurt Huckabee is not that he sometimes commutes sentences but questions as to whether he showed poor judgment in how he reviewed cases. Pawlenty certainly cannot claim to have better judgment in reviewing such cases (unless one accepts his argument that this should never be done).

  3. 3
    Eclectic Radical says:

    I agree completely, and that bothers me a little more. Pawlenty (from the viewpoint of a neutral observer rather than a partisan Democrat) is a preferable and more viable Republican candidate whose actual political policies (while still not great) are preferable to Huckabee’s in many ways and who has shown a willingness to be pragmatic when the interests of his state have been on the line. This suggests an equal willingness to be pragmatic when the interests of his country are on the line, as president.
    Huckabee is a nutjob, however much fun he might be at parties and however I may actually appreciate his sense of humor.
    Of course, if I were to speak as a partisan left-winger, I would have to admit to finding Palin or Huckabee the ideal Republican candidate.

  4. 4
    Ron Chusid says:

    Not being a partisan Democrat I go into each primary season rooting for the candidate from each party which I think would make the best president, and not the Republican who would be beatable. Unfortunately it is becoming increasingly difficult to find even a lesser evil in the Republican races as they have moved so far to the extreme right.

  5. 5
    Eclectic Radical says:

    I’m not so much a partisan Democrat as I am a partisan liberal/radical/socialiast/what-have-you. In the unlikely event that a Republican exemplified my moral values (not necessarily my precise political ideology, which no one in Washington short of Bernie Sanders really shares, but the basic moral system on which I base that ideology) and demonstrated a degree of competence to match then I would vote for him in a second.
    The Republican Party, in its current incarnation, is based on a relatively basic moral system totally opposed to my own. I believe that people have an inherent value as people and that helping people and society through national effort is socially desirable. The poor are able to eat and get health care and the rich are less likely to be mugged. Something in it for everyone. Someone is going to have to be in charge of all this, but they better watch their step or they’ll hear it from me.
    That’s simplistic, but it’s a good elevator test explanation of my beliefs.
    The modern Republican Party rejects the value of the individual human being as a person. They use a set of abritrary standards to measure value instead. Only those who meet those standards deserve full inclusion in the greater society. I find this morally repugnant.
    I think that’s the closest I’ve ever come to passing an elevator test. 🙂

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