Columns » John Brummett

All Hyde and no Jekyll

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When your state’s governor runs for president, even when it’s no big deal because it’s been done before, you are obliged to check him out from time to time.

This installment will dispense with the frequent Good Mike-Bad Mike theme. There isn’t any Good Mike at the moment. Lately he’s all Hyde and no Jekyll.

It’s those old bugaboos again, meaning inappropriate humor and bratty huffiness, the latter having to do with another old bugaboo, ethics.

Asked on the presidential campaign trail how he intended to raise money, he replied that he’d knock off convenience stores.

Joking about violent crime — well, let’s leave any judgment about appropriateness to you, the reader.

The governor’s long practice is to dismiss those who find his humor inappropriate as persons born tragically without senses of humor. Maybe the issue could more properly be framed not as the existence of a sense of humor, but the quality.

Next there was the matter of Huckabee’s flying to North Carolina a couple of weekends ago for a political speech when the private plane he was using blew an engine and had to make an emergency landing in Chattanooga.

He wouldn’t say whose plane it was, except that, on this occasion, he wasn’t flying the State Police aircraft. He presumes to use that plane often and brushes off questions about accountability to taxpayers by citing the need for security secrecy.

He’s the governor of a state, holder of a public trust, and he avails himself on the troubled North Carolina trip of a benefactor whose identity he hides from the public.

I say that as if it’s something new. Huckabee has been behaving this way since his days as lieutenant governor, when he took covert money to pay himself to give speeches.

The keeping of such secrets will always prove futile, of course. The Arkansas Times, the weekly liberal tabloid that bedevils the governor with groundbreaking reporting, promptly found out whose plane it was.

The owner of record is the principal agent of an Arkansas camp for troubled kids that has received dramatic increases in Medicaid funding during Huckabee’s governorship, and done so while encountering regulatory controversy.

The Times speculated that unless Huckabee had reimbursed the plane’s owner, he’d received an illegal gift since the value exceeded $100 and the largesse had come from one having interests affecting the governor’s office.

That speculation turned out to be amiss, incomplete, and the Times should have considered other possibilities.

But the paper was left to try to answer its own question because Huckabee, who already has cut off the newspaper from his press office’s basic taxpayer-funded services, simply wouldn’t respond.

The day of publication, Huckabee got confronted by a reporter he apparently considered legitimate. He told The Associated Press that the plane was provided as an in-kind contribution to his political action committee, a 527 organization. As such, the committee may accept unlimited contributions.

Such organizations provide a giant loophole in federal campaign finance laws, not to mention state ethics laws. But they’re hardly uncommon.

Taking a plane ride to buoy your presidential exploration from a group with interests before a state government you lead certainly smells. Real ethics would give a politician pause. But a man has to find some way to run for president, and, for now, since he’s officially undeclared, this PAC is an allowable way.

Huckabee’s problem was his needlessly stubborn, bratty, huffy, combative response — or lack thereof — to fair and simple questions.

That’s his pattern, especially on questions about ethics from critics. It’s like Clinton’s slickness and womanizing and George W.’s trying to say nuclear.

A postscript: I saw a letter to the editor the other day taking me to task for calling the governor names, citing bratty, infantile and hyperbolic. I simply wish to make the point that those aren’t names. They’re adjectives. Wide Body, Jethrine, His Eternal Huffiness — those are names.

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