A lonely dissent -- YES! MORE UPDATES | Arkansas Blog

A lonely dissent -- YES! MORE UPDATES



I'm in receipt of this letter from Micah Qualls, who says she lost her job today (Friday) at a business at the Little Rock airport for holding a Hillary Clinton sign in sight of where John McCain's plane landed. By her account, the sign drew the attention of Mike Huckabee, who complained to her boss. Huckabee, on Friday night, and the boss, in an interview Saturday, disputed her account.

Qualls waits tables at the restaurant in Central Flying Service. She said she was shocked to be fired for holding a sign behind the fence in the parking lot near the flight line. But she said she was particularly irked that her boss waited until after the lunch shift to let her go.

Qualls, who's completed work to become a teacher and whose vocal talents won the recent Little Rock Star talent contest, has a past with protests. She was among those present at a protest Valentine's Day, 2005 when Huck held his covenant marriage shindig at Alltel. There's also this MySpace page, which includes a Hillary endorsement. She said she was silent and merely held her sign and, though it was during her work shift, there was no business in the restaurant at the time and she was on break. She said her boss had indicated "they didn't need the drama." She's written Clinton to tell her she lost her job on account of her support for her.

I've called Dick Holbert, the boss at Central Flying, for a comment. Private businesses, of course, are exempt from First Amendment protection.

PS -- I'm reminded that I saw Qualls star as Reno Sweeney in a production of "Anythng Goes" at Christ Episcopal several years ago. The Sherwood gal has pipes. And a backbone.

UPDATE -- STOP THE PRESSES -- Got a call at home tonight (Friday) from former Gov. Mike Huckabee. Yes, really. I did. It was a cordial call. But he wanted to say 1) he had not seen the young woman with the sign at Central Flying 2) he'd made no complaint to anyone about her presence because he hadn't seen her 3) any suggestion otherwise was "absolutely unbelievable" (if I read my scrawled notes on a hotel notepad correctly). He said the McCain plane landed at a Central termnal not easily in view of where Micah says she stood. In short, a la Sgt. Schultz, he knows "no-thing."

He confirmed, by the way, that a 501-c4, in addition to a new PAC, is among his endeavors in the future. It was a very pleasant chat. If it hadn't been past my 9 p.m. bedtime -- and if I hadn't been in need of resuscitation after receiving a call from the former gov. -- I might have taken better notes and asked better questions.

SATURDAY UPDATE: Micah and friends have added to the account of events in the comments string. Very interesting.  Micah has written me also to say Channel 11 filmed her and that film should show Huckabee within a few yards of her when McCain arrived. She said a co-worker had overheard Huckabee ask Taylor Holbert if Qualls was one of the restaurant workers. She also said Huckabee had acknowledged to a friend of his having been unhappy about the solo demonstration. Again, Huckabee specifically told me Friday night had not complained to anyone at Central about Qualls' presence.

ON THE JUMP: Another person steps forward to buttress Micah's account and dispute the former governor.

AND FINALLY: Dick Holbert of Central Flying Service called me Saturday afternoon.

He takes full responsibility for firing Qualls and said Mike Huckabee "didn't have anything to do with it."

AND YET MORE FINALLY: Somebody has asked my opinion about all this. I don't know. But I've had further intelligence from a source who is well-connected to the Huckabees. He says that he believes that Mike Huckabee himself didn't directly intercede. But what about Chip Saltsman, his former campaign manager, who does a fair amount of personal aviation business at Central Flying. That's one man's theory, in any case.

See Holbert's important full account on the jump.

Also, SUNDAY ADDITION, about another witness of events.

He didn't witness Qualls' demonstration, but was told of it by his son, Taylor, director of flight line operations. After hearing the details, he said, "I told the Flight Deck manager to relieve her. She was not on a break, she was on my time. She was wearing my uniform. That she was holding a Clinton sign was beside the point. She spoke loudly and a lot of people noticed."
Holbert said his son had told him that Qualls demonstrated not only near the flight line, but also walked over to be seen at a gate through which motorcades pass with people from arriving flights.
"We get all the candidates," Holbert said. "They're our customers. To have someone in uniform carrying on is disrespectful to our customers. It just absolutely flew all over me. I said get rid of her."
Holbert said neither Huckabee nor anyone associated with the McCain campaign had talked to him about Qualls. He said he'd asked his son whether anyone had talked to him and he had said no one had. "I asked him specifically if Huckabee had said anything to him. He said absolutely not." Holbert said Huckabee had talked to his son in passing and asked that he say hello to the elder Holbert, but there was no reference to Qualls.
Holbert said he believed candidates were "immune" to opponents showing up at public events because it happened frequently. He said he couldn't imagine any candidate being surprised by it.
From Holbert's description of Qualls' effort to be seen, it seems unlikely that it would have been impossible for the McCain party not to have seen Qualls at some point. Holbert said he didn't know because he wasn't there.


I chatted Saturday morning with Wil Dunn, a desk clerk at the LaQuinta Inn in Otter Creek who sings on a church praise team with Micah Qualls. He said he told an acquaintance of his who was attending a conference at the hotel Friday about the firing. The man, who knows Huckabee well, promptly called Huckabee on a cell phone, speaking first to Janet Huckabee before the former governor got on the line. Dunn said he heard the conversation and that the man later recounted the conversation in a call to Qualls herself. (Dunn said the man did not want to be identified by name because of his long association with the former governor.)

The upshot: The man objected to Qualls' firing and Huckabee's role in it. Huckabee told the man that he had not complained to Central Flying management, but that someone from "his camp" had lodged the complaint. That gives Huckabee some wiggle room in support of his statement to me that he had not complained. But he made it clear to the caller, Dunn says, that he had seen Qualls and was unhappy about her silent demonstration. According to Dunn, Huckabee told the man he'd been surprised at being greeted by a McCain opponent and that he thought it "disrespectful" and "tasteless."

After further criticism from the caller, Huckabee reportedly told the man that he did regret Quall's loss of job and that he'd send an e-mail to Central Flying about it.

"If he didn't have anything to do with it, why would he send an e-mail?" Dunn said. Referring to Huckabee's interview with me, Dunn said, "I cannot believe he would lie like that."

SATURDAY EVENING UPDATE: A spokesman for the governor says no such call as described by Dunn occurred. They asked for the name of the caller. I don't have it, but have asked Qualls and Dunn to identify him.

I've sent a message to Channel 11 to see if there is video footage that puts Huckabee in proximity to Qualls when McCain arrived.


One of the airplane line workers heard the governor ask the question to Taylor Holbert "isn't that one of the girls from the Flight Deck?"
I didn't know that people could lie this way.
But obviously he is worried, because he called you immediately.
I am totally in shock.
This is the account, retold by someone else, of the Central Flying employee who overheard Mike Huckabee make a remark to Taylor Holbert about Qualls. The employee is standing nearby when McCain arrives. Huckabee shakes his hand. McCain observes, "Looks like we already have protestors," or words to that effect. Huckabee turns to Holbert and asks, "Isn't that one of the girls from the restaurant?"
This account offers no indication of Huckabee's frame of mind about the incident. Indeed, the person who reported this encounter recounted it jokingly later.
This account would support Huckabee's account that he didn't complain to Taylor Holbert (though it does contradict his account of not having seen Qualls.) But it doesn't mean he didn't get on the phone shortly after to someone in his "camp" who did deliver a complaint later. And that the Holberts then reacted. But they say no one called them. As a business likely to have ongoing relations with political candidates, though, it's fair to observe that they are in a position where they'd want to fade any heat in this incident, particularly since an employee set it in motion.

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