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December 18, 2013 at 6:31 AM

Mike Huckabee’s Maurice Clemmons problem

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee

If former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is going to run for president in 2016, his campaign is going to have to run through the Forza
coffee shop in Parkland, Wash. That’s where one of Huckabee’s many parolees, Maurice Clemmons, assassinated four Lakewood police officers in 2009, depriving nine children of a parent and setting a national perception that Huckabee abused his powers of clemency.

Huckabee told The New York Times’ Jonathan Martin (the other Jonathan Martin) that he views a 2016 presidential bid as “a real opportunity for me.” The Washington Post quickly called Huckabee “a long shot” because he is a disinterested fundraiser who has credibility problems with the GOP’s fiscal conservatives.

He’s had those problems for a while, but still came in first in the Iowa caucuses in 2008. But back then he didn’t have a Maurice Clemmons problem. 

As anyone living here in 2009 will recall, Huckabee became a national story after the officers’ deaths because he freed Clemmons from a 108-year sentence in 2000. Huckabee granted more pardons and commutations – 1,033 – than his three predecessors (including Bill Clinton) combined. Clemmons wasn’t Other Side covereven his most controversial pardon.

As part of a book on the Maurice Clemmons case I co-wrote with Seattle Times reporter Ken Armstrong, I spent a week in Little Rock peeling back Huckabee’s handling of the case. As we detailed in “The Other Side of Mercy: A Killer’s Journey Across the American Divide,” Huckabee viewed clemency as a means to right the wrongs of Arkansas’ racial history. A fine goal, but he failed use it wisely. He did not do the basics with Clemmons – such as contacting the prosecuting attorney for comment – or assuring that Clemmons’ release plan – to move to Seattle – was solid, or even factual (it was neither).

In fact, it doesn’t appear Huckabee even checked out Clemmons’ prison file, which was thick with acts of violence and absent indications of rehabilitation. Here’s how we described it in the book:

In years to come Huckabee would be asked how much he knew about Clemmons’ prison history while weighing his request. Huckabee would tell CNN: “I read the entire file … It was a file this thick … I looked at the file, every bit of it.”

Every bit of it? That seems unlikely. By 2000, Clemmons’ prison file already exceeded a thousand pages. But if Huckabee did read every bit of it, he would have seen a record—dated October 21, 1999—that boiled Clemmons’ stay in prison down to his damning score sheet:

Disciplinaries: Twenty-nine times
Achievements: None

If Huckabee is serious, he’ll have to answer his Maurice Clemmons problem.

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