The recent shooting deaths of four police officers in Washington state has a number of people talking about the damage done to the future presidential ambitions of Republican Mike Huckabee, who commuted the gunman’s prison sentence in 2000 as governor of Arkansas.
Some of Huckabee’s sharpest critics last week were conservatives. Talk show host Rush Limbaugh said cop shooter Maurice Clemmons is Huckabee’s "Willie Horton” — referring to the criminal furloughed by then-Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, who was dogged by the decision during his 1988 presidential campaign.
The critics might be right. Huckabee says he signed the clemency order because Clemmons was 16 when he committed crimes that earned him 108 years in prison. The decision made Clemmons eligible for parole, which was granted later. If Huckabee, who ran for president in 2008, stays in politics, opponents are sure to question his judgment.
It’s a fair line of attack. Perhaps Clemmons’ criminal history should have disqualified him for clemency consideration. That’s certainly how it looks from the vantage point of hindsight. Yet, the only way to ensure that parole decisions won’t somehow lead to tragedies like the Seattle shootings is to never grant clemency or parole. And that’s not our system.
The reality for Mike Huckabee is his decision backfired terribly. If he runs for president again, opponents will revisit the Clemmons case with little mercy, generating heat that likely will make Huckabee’s current discomfort look fairly mild by comparison.