by Max Brantley
-- Brian Chilson photo
A followup on the erasure of former first lady Janet Huckabee's name from the entrance to the Grand Hall at the Governor's Mansion.
An article in the D-G today continues to refer to it by that name, though the article notes a recent Mansion Commission vote NOT to name rooms at the Mansion for people. It also notes, as we have, that a plaque referring to Mrs. Huckabee remains outside the hall. So what is it?
The D-G article follows our report that Mansion officials say they can find no record that the hall was ever officially designated the Huckabee Hall. As I wrote yesterday, however, ample news coverage at the time of an event witnessed by me indicates that occurred. (Picture above.)
It's a good time to explain that Beebe Mansion officials are probably telling the truth when they say there are no records available for Mansion officials to make a determination on past Mansion Commission actions. The purge of records at the end of the Huckabee administration went far beyond destroyed computer hard drives in the governor's office and other state agencies. They hauled out virtually every paper trace of their activity, too, including Mansion records. The Mansion records constituted an official record of activities of an independent government operation. They are not gubernatorial working papers. But they were taken away, too. Anybody who wants to see those, if they still exist, must go, presumably, through Brenda Turner, the former Huckabeee chief of staff who oversaw document removal.
UPDATE: Or maybe we're not getting the full story from the Beebe side. I now have been told that Mansion Commission minutes and official organizational papers were delivered at some point after the Huckabees cleared out to Commission Chairman Wayne Cranford. We plan to go back and doublecheck whether those records exist and whether they reflect the vote on naming the hall.
From the Huckabee side of the fence I'm also told there's a story about the Huckabee plaque that remains outside the Mansion. I'm told it was initially removed, too, but a Huckabee ally protested (as well as protesting the general erasure of the Huckabee name without a courtesy call to Mrs. Huckabee). Iin response, Gov. Beebe reportedly said the plaque outside should be restored. By this account, it was Mansion Commission members, by the way, responsible for also getting a plaque noting the major contributors to the hall's construction.
My view: Too many things were named for the Huckabees while they were still living, reigning and overseeing people who made the decisions to honor their benefactors with naming rights. The Mansion, given the sweep of its past and future history, shouldn't be passing out naming rights in the manner of a sports arena. But .... I think that the recent de-Stalinization might have been a bit abrupt and not particularly sensitive toward Mrs. Huckabee's feelings. True, she's not known as a particularly tender sort. Still.
UPDATE: OK. The Beebe administration confirms that, at some point after the fact of transition, it received copies of the Governor's Mansion Commission minutes. They are now on file at the Mansion. They are open to public inspection. A spokesman says multiple reviews have turned up no mention of a vote on naming the hall.
The name now? "We always refer to it as the Grand Hall or Great Hall," said Matt DeCample. He said he expected that would continue to be the administration's practice, but he added that a plaque outside notes the "contributions made by Mrs. Huckabee and others" to its construction. In so many words: yes, the name is gone.