A big part of GOP presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee's campaign has been the idea that he's not just another politician. He's got a non-political background as a Baptist minister, and he's got a sense of humor and a penchant for straight talk. Unlike most politicians, he's also got what appears to be a rather thin skin.
But, that picture he tries to paint may not be the whole truth.
The case in point appears to be his commutation of Eugene Fields' fourth drunken-driving conviction.
It took a jury less than 15 minutes to convict Eugene Fields of driving while intoxicated, his fourth such conviction in less than five years. Mr. Fields, whose pickup crashed after he drank 12 beers, received the maximum sentence, six years in prison.
But the same week he arrived at a state prison in 2003, Mr. Fields, a wealthy developer and major donor to the Arkansas Republican Party, asked Gov. Mike Huckabee to commute his sentence. On his application, Mr. Fields wrote that his conviction was “seriously affecting my ability to carry on my efforts to help unfortunate children.”
The local prosecutor and sheriff each strongly objected, but Mr. Fields had a powerful ally behind the scenes. Richard Bearden, a former executive director of the state’s Republican Party with close ties to the Huckabee administration, pressed the governor’s office to free Mr. Fields.
“He called me a couple of times about it,” Cory Cox, the Huckabee aide in charge of clemency matters, disclosed in an interview. “He was somebody that was clearly on Fields’s side on this.”
On Feb. 19, 2004, Mr. Huckabee announced his intention to grant Mr. Fields clemency. The announcement led to a legally required period for public comment, and among those who weighed in was the Arkansas office of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. In a politely worded letter to the governor, Teresa Belew, MADD’s local executive director, pointed out that Mr. Fields had a record of “ignoring second chances.” She urged Mr. Huckabee not to give Mr. Fields another break.
Mr. Huckabee did not welcome MADD’s recommendation.
Days later, in a letter that he demanded be kept confidential, Mr. Huckabee sharply criticized Ms. Belew for going public with criticism about the Fields case. “I cannot understand why you sent the letter to news organizations,” he wrote. He suggested that MADD was simply trying to fan “the flames of controversy that have been stirred in this case by the unusual curiosity of certain media members.”
He also had a more political score to settle. It concerned his wife, Janet Huckabee, who in 2002 lost her campaign to unseat Arkansas’s incumbent secretary of state, Charlie Daniels.
“You’ll further have to help me understand,” he wrote to Ms. Belew, “why you have been so public with this letter when during the last campaign season, MADD refrained from public comment regarding my wife’s opponent, a public official with several D.W.I.’s, one of which was in a state-owned car.”
Here we have on display Huckabee's thin skin -- and a fact that I hadn't heard in any of the numerous biographical snippets of Huckabee. I'd be surprised if one-tenth of Huckabee's supporters know that his wife ran for Arkansas Secretary of State. His wife's foray into politics certainly makes Huckabee look a lot more of a political animal than a Baptist preacher.
And then there's the commutation itself. Fields was politically connected -- and that's the only reason Huckabee handed him a "Get Out of Jail Free" card. Fields' complaint that he couldn't "help children" when he was behind bars would be laughable if it wasn't so sad. He was helping children by not running them over as he was driving drunk.
About two years after Mr. Fields’s sentence was cut to 11 months, he was arrested again for D.W.I.
According to the police report, Mr. Fields’s Chevy truck crossed the center line of Highway 59 in Barling, Ark., directly into the path of an oncoming police car, which he missed. Mr. Fields stumbled out of his truck, reeking of alcohol, when he was pulled over.
His blood-alcohol level measured 0.18, more than twice the legal limit. He paid a $300 fine and is on parole.
At this point an apology for poor judgment would be a good idea. I also question the Arkansas judicial system's decision to give a five-time loser a small fine and parole.
I don't think Huckabee is the right man for the Republican Party or the country -- and I haven't even touched on his support for the "Fair Tax."