This is a must read by anyone with more than a passing interest in the Maurice Clemmons/Huckabee commutation case.
It's by Joe Carter, who directed rapid response and research for Huckabee during his presidential run. Carter studied commutations in depth. He offers a generally supportive view of Huckabee's motivations and actions, finding most of them defensible. But he thinks Huckabee could be blinded by anti-Clinton feelings among Republicans (certainly that was the case in the Wayne Dumond matter). And he also displayed naivete.
For instance, the politically prudent tactic would have been to simply refuse to grant any leniency—ever. Other governors with their sights set on higher offices had learned that doing nothing—even to correct obvious instances of injustice—was unlikely to cause any long-term political damage. Keeping an innocent man in prison is less harmful to an ambitious politician than freeing someone who may commit other crimes.
Huckabee would certainly discover this political reality the hard way. Initially, I chalked it up solely to extraordinary political courage. Later, I tempered this view when I realized that this courage was mixed with a large dose of cluelessness. The governor seemed genuinely surprised that he was held responsible for the criminal acts committed by those whose sentences he had commuted as governor. It was as if he believed that simply having noble intentions and a willingness to make tough decisions would provide political cover. The notion that he should be accountable for future crimes committed by these men seemed as foreign to him as the idea that he should refuse all leniency.
His naivete about how his actions would be judged was compounded by his own belief in the nobleness of his motives. Huckabee was—and likely remains—a true believer in the concept of restorative justice. Like many politicians who latch onto ideas that support their worldview, however, he was enthusiastic about the general theory while failing to grasp the nuances of its application.
Judging from the records, the governor also seemed to put a lot of weight on conversion stories—a common trait among evangelicals, who believe the gospel is sufficient for restoration and redemption of character. The opinion of clergy appears to have carried a great deal of weight in the decision-making process.
Ironically, what makes Huckabee such an appealing Presidential candidate—his empathy for all people and genuine belief in the individual—is also the trait that will prevent him from ever reaching the White House. His experiences and intuitions that served him well as a minister of the gospel were not always applicable in of governor of a state. The unfortunate reality is that for politicians, unlike pastors, there are limits to compassion.
I think Carter has written an informed, coolly reasoned and fair assessment. He could have added that Huckabee could improve his political stature by the occasional direct acknowledgement of responsibility and misjudgment.