With two weeks until Election Day, Asa Hutchinson today finally brings out an attack on Mike Beebe's handling of the corruption scandal involving his state Senate colleague Nick Wilson.
"[Beebe] claims to have fought Nick Wilson and his fellow band of thieves in the state Senate," Hutchinson said in a press release. "But Sen. Beebe’s fight was a fight for power -- not a fight against the abuse of power.
"As Nick Wilson was stealing millions, Sen. Beebe did nothing to stop it. When the public demanded censure, Sen. Beebe opposed such action. And when the public demanded that these crooks be tossed out of the Senate after their convictions, Sen. Beebe opposed that action, too. That’s not leadership; it’s almost complicity."
Full release after the jump.
Hutchinson Challenges Beebe On Leadership Failures In Wilson Scandal
GOP Candidate Says Beebe Helped Protect Convicted Colleagues From Censure, Eviction From Senate
Little Rock, Ark. – Asa Hutchinson, the 2006 Republican nominee for Governor, today said his opponent, Mike Beebe, failed to put the interests of the public before his own as a member of the state Senate when a gang of colleagues bilked taxpayers and a state children’s defense fund of millions of dollars.
In a Little Rock news conference, Hutchinson criticized Beebe for his failure to take a leading role in fighting Wilson as he defrauded the state of millions in taxpayer dollars. Despite Beebe’s repeated claims to have challenged Senator Nick Wilson, Hutchinson said, the record shows that Beebe actually opposed efforts to discipline Wilson and others in his clique.
“Mr. Beebe has made criticism of my leadership a major issue of this campaign, so let’s compare the tough jobs I have taken on to the tough jobs Mr. Beebe has ducked,” Hutchinson said. “He claims to have fought Nick Wilson and his fellow band of thieves in the state Senate. But Sen. Beebe’s fight was a fight for power -- not a fight against the abuse of power.
“As Nick Wilson was stealing millions, Sen. Beebe did nothing to stop it. When the public demanded censure, Sen. Beebe opposed such action,” Hutchinson said. “And when the public demanded that these crooks be tossed out of the Senate after their convictions, Sen. Beebe opposed that action, too. That’s not leadership; it’s almost complicity.”
Specifically, Hutchinson pointed out that:
1) As a Senator, Beebe is on the record voting to override Governor Mike Huckabee’s veto of the legislation creating the scam defrauding the children’s fund.
2) Beebe is on the record opposing public calls to censure Sen. Wilson, Sen. Mike Todd, and other colleagues who were members of the group involved in the scandal.
3) Beebe is on the record opposing public calls to evict his colleagues from the Senate even after they were convicted of felonies.
Hutchinson was referring to one of the most notorious political scandals in Arkansas history, which occurred during Beebe’s tenure as a leader of the state Senate.
In 1997 a gang of state Senators led by Nick Wilson were caught bilking a state children’s program and funneling the money to fellow legislators and lobbyists. As a result, the name “Nick Wilson” has since become virtually synonymous with corruption in Arkansas.
Legislation setting up the scandal was passed by the Legislature, but vetoed by Governor Huckabee. After Huckabee used his veto pen, Mike Beebe and his colleagues swiftly voted to override the veto.
This set the stage for Nick Wilson and fellow Senators to line their pockets with proceeds from what one newspaper article called “absurdly lucrative contracts,” money meant to defend children in child custody cases. (“Periphery, Perception Plague Beebe," John Brummett, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 9/28/1997)
When the scandal was exposed, the public called upon leaders of the Senate, including Beebe, to censure their fellow Senators for their involvement in the scandal. Beebe publicly refused to take action, prompting the Little Rock newspaper to chastise Beebe for a failure of leadership and for encouraging public cynicism by putting a fellow member of “the club” ahead of the public good. (“The Untouchables: The Ledge Protects Its Own,” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 12/28/9)
In fact, Beebe not only showed a failure of leadership, he went on to protect Sen. Wilson and his gang from censure. As public pressure for the Senate to act mounted, Beebe became even more resistant, publicly asserting that to take further action would be “un-American.”
Beebe’s strange comment prompted one columnist to ask: “What's un-American about ethics?” (“What’s un-American about ethics,” Paul Greenberg, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 12/09/97)
“When he was faced with the tough decision to censure a fellow member of the Senate, Sen. Beebe not only refused to do so but said it was ‘un-American,’” Hutchinson said. “And after Sen. Wilson was actually convicted on felony charges, Sen. Beebe came to his defense by opposing calls to evict Wilson and his cronies from the Senate. Is this Mr. Beebe’s idea of leadership? And can Arkansas afford this kind of leadership?”
After ducking action on the Wilson scandal for so long, it was not surprising that Sen. Beebe would continue to protect Nick Wilson and his gang even after they were convicted of felonies.
After the felony convictions were handed down, and Mike Beebe was the most powerful Senator still standing. He then opposed public calls for the Senate to expel his convicted colleagues from the Legislature.
Once again Sen. Beebe used bizarre logic and rhetoric to defend Wilson – asserting that to evict the convicted Senator from the legislative body would be like “running up the score” in a football game.
Unsurprisingly, Beebe’s opposition to taking action against his colleagues prompted a blistering reaction from the media:
“Will Beebe uphold the Constitution if elected governor? We think not... The longer it takes Nick Wilson to clean out his desk at the state capitol, the more we learn about his colleagues. For example, Mike Beebe, Chairman of the Senate's Efficiency Committee and a real sport. He sees no need to expel Brother Wilson now that his convicted colleague says he's resigning at the end of the year.
"’To use a trite sports analogy,’" says Sen. Beebe, "’The score is 40 to nothing with a minute left in the game. Some coaches will want to score again, and some will take a knee. Each course says something about the coach.’"
“It's just a game, you see? Nick Wilson lost, so why not let him end it when and how he wants to end it? Curious state, Arkansas. Like others with a long, one-party history in these latitudes, it's a state where a game, at least if it's football or basketball, can attract the keenest scrutiny and deepest respect, as if it were a public trust, while government is treated like a game. Sen. Beebe's sports metaphor may be trite, but it's also revealing. Perhaps more revealing than he intended. There is talk from time to time of Mike Beebe's running for Governor someday. Do you think he'd enforce the rest of the State Constitution the same, loose way he would the part about no convicted felon's serving in the Legislature? What other part of his sworn duty would he treat like a game?" ("Two Quotes Tell The Story The Shame Of The Senate," Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 11/23/1999)
“Leadership and longevity are not the same thing,” said Hutchinson. “And, in the end, this campaign is about leadership. A guy can outlast others and stick around longer than anyone else, while avoiding taking leadership roles that may make him unpopular with others in the political machine. But Arkansans need a leader who won’t put his personal political ambitions ahead of the public good. Why did Sen. Beebe override Gov. Huckabee’s veto? Why did he oppose efforts to censure Nick Wilson and the others directly involved after they were caught? Why did he oppose efforts to evict them after they were convicted? These actions had a direct impact on the people of Arkansas, and voters deserve answers.”
(More background available at www.asaforgovernor.org)
Hutchinson, a native of Gravette, is a former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas, Member of Congress representing the state's Third District, head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the first-ever Undersecretary of Homeland Security. Hutchinson currently serves as CEO of the Hutchinson Group, a Little Rock consulting firm.