by Max Brantley
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.
OTHER SATURDAY UPDATES
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.
E-MAIL FROM MICAH QUALLS SATURDAY MORNING, BEFORE MY DISCUSSION WITH HOLBERT