|Gov. Mike Huckabee|
Max Brantley, formerly of the now defunct Arkansas Gazette, spent much of his career covering Huckabee's career in Arkansas. Writing for his new employer, Salon Magazine, Brantley in 2007 summarized Huckabee's ethical problems and judgment lapses:
Even editorialists and columnists at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the state’s dominant (and Republican-friendly) daily paper, use words like “petty” and “thin-skinned” to describe Huckabee. Then again, he’s compared hard-hitting (and accurate) news reporters for the Democrat-Gazette to the press fabulists Jayson Blair and Janet Cooke. He called liberal columnist John Brummett of Stephens Media “constipated” when that early admirer commenced some gentle criticism. His administration paid $15,000 to settle a suit filed by Roby Brock, the host of a public TV news show whom Huckabee’s people tried to force off the air for his critical commentary.While I would normally be dismissive of pieces that appear in the left-wing, on-line Salon magazine, the fact is though these transgressions by Huckabee have been well-documented in other, more mainstream publications. The author is not lying. While in isolation each transgression one might signify a momentary lapse in judgment, together though they reveal a politician who is a thin-skinned bully who believes he is above ethics rules that others have to abide by. That's not the sort of person I want in the White House.
Then there’s me. I’m the editor of an alternative weekly, but I began covering Huckabee when I was a columnist for the now-defunct daily Arkansas Gazette in 1991, and Mike and I have been on the outs pretty much ever since. He once called me and the Memphis Commercial Appeal bureau chief “junkyard journalists” for our reporting. He also compared me, in print, to serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer and, I’ve been told on good authority, has wished aloud for my early and violent demise.
It all began 16 years ago for Mike and me. Huckabee, in his political debut, was preparing to become the Bible-thumping, abortion-decrying Republican challenger to U.S. Sen. Dale Bumpers, the Democratic incumbent. With a playbook straight out of James Dobson, he tried to portray Bumpers as a pornographer for his support of federal grants to the arts.
More important, Huckabee revealed an enduring weakness as glaring as that other Arkansas governor’s fondness for women. Huckabee seems to love loot and has a dismissive attitude toward ethics, campaign finance rules and propriety in general. Since that first, failed campaign, the ethical questions have multiplied.
In the 1992 contest with Bumpers, Huckabee used campaign funds to pay himself as his own media consultant. Other payments went to the family babysitter.
In his successful 1994 run for lieutenant governor, he set up a nonprofit curtain known as Action America so he could give speeches for money without having to disclose the names of his benefactors. He failed to report that campaign travel payments were for the use of his own personal plane.
After he became governor in 1996, he raked in tens of thousands of dollars in gifts, including gifts from people he later appointed to prestigious state commissions.
In the governor’s office, his grasp never exceeded his reach. Furniture he’d received to doll up his office was carted out with him when he left, after he’d crushed computer hard drives so nobody could ever get a peek behind the curtain of the Huckabee administration.
Until my paper, the Arkansas Times, blew the whistle, he converted a governor’s mansion operating account into a personal expense account, claiming public money for a doghouse, dry-cleaning bills, panty hose and meals at Taco Bell. He tried to claim $70,000 in furnishings provided by a wealthy cotton grower for the private part of the residence as his own, until he learned ethics rules prevented it. When a disgruntled former employee disclosed memos revealing all this, the Huckabee camp shut her up by repeatedly suggesting she might be vulnerable to prosecution for theft because she’d shared documents generated by the state’s highest official.
He ran the State Police airplane into the ground, many of the miles in pursuit of political ends. Inauguration funds were used to buy clothing for his wife. He once took control of the state Republican Party’s campaign account — then swore the account had been somebody else’s responsibility when it ran afoul of federal election laws. He repeated the pattern when he claimed in a newspaper story that his staff controlled the account to stage his second inauguration. When I filed a formal ethics complaint over what appeared to be an improper appropriation of donated money, he told a different story, disavowing responsibility for the money. He thus avoided another punishment from an Ethics Commission, which had sanctioned him on five other occasions. He dodged nine other complaints (though none, despite his counter-complaints, was held to be frivolous). In one case, he was saved by the swing vote of a woman who left the chairmanship of the Ethics Commission days later to take a state job. She listed the governor as a reference on the job application. Finally, unbelievably, Huckabee once sued to overturn the ban on gifts to him.