Columns » Max Brantley

Frequent flier

by

comment

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Seth Blomeley wrote a lengthy report in Sunday’s newspaper on Gov. Mike Huckabee’s heavy use of the State Police airplane for travels that have often included stops that enhance his national political profile.

The article added details to Warwick Sabin’s earlier reporting in the Times on the use of the twin-engine King Air. According to the D-G account, the governor has racked up nearly a half-million bucks in private plane costs since 2002 alone. He could have saved plenty flying commercial or taking a car in-state.

Sabin had reported earlier on reporting by a South Dakota newspaper that found few governors with the unfettered access to state-funded air transport that Huckabee enjoys. The D-G reported that Republican governors in Texas and Missouri rarely use a state plane, preferring not to charge taxpayers. Other governors who use state planes maintain detailed public records.

The legislature seems to have no problem with treating Huckabee like a corporate exec, with unlimited use of a private plane to go along with a mansion, free utilities, servants, a vehicle fleet and other freebies.

We aren’t so sanguine. Should taxpayers be paying to fly the governor to Republican meetings and Christian Coalition confabs? Worse still are many flights to Nashville, Ark., which suspiciously suggest he uses the plane (and, in one case, a state helicopter) to get to his Lake Greeson house on weekends. This is “official business”?

We’d settle for accountability, a concept that makes The Huckster churlish.

He would take no questions from the Democrat-Gazette, saying, through a spokesman, that its reporter and political editor have “edited, twisted and distorted” his remarks. He won’t talk to us either. He simply doesn’t do interviews with people who ask tough questions, follow them up and refuse to be snookered by a corny joke and a sound bite. He’ll talk on TV and radio, where he controls the message.

So this is for the TV reporters, should you get a chance. What security interest demands private plane travel for Huckabee (and his family) rather than a cheaper Southwest Airlines flight to Washington? Why was he choppered to Lake Greeson? Why, in fact, can’t he drive himself to his weekend retreat?

Then there’s accountability. State employees must justify every single mile for which they are reimbursed. Why should it be any different for The Huckster. If he cranks up the State Police plane, taxpayers are entitled to know the times, dates, destinations and passengers. “Official business” is not sufficient documentation.

Sen. Dave Bisbee, a Rogers Republican, put it squarely to Reporter Blomeley, as Bisbee often does. “Where do you draw the line between campaign and official business? The questions shouldn’t be whether Huckabee is benefiting. The question should be whether the state is benefiting. The governor ought to be able to answer those questions.”

Huckabee won’t answer those questions because he can’t. And the answers might prove a problem in his 2008 presidential campaign.

Bill Clinton didn’t have to answer questions about the State Police plane when he ran in 1992 because there was no state King Air then. Clinton’s questions concerned the free rides he bummed on corporate aircraft, duly reported in his financial disclosure forms. Amazing, isn’t it, that no similar accountability is required when the governor uses OUR airplane.




Add a comment

Clicky