Columns » Max Brantley

From dust to dust

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Have you seen the Borat movie, where the “Kazakh” newsman gets instruction from a comedy consultant in a “not” joke?

As in: Gov. Mike Huckabee believes it’s more blessed to give than receive — Not!

Elsewhere in this paper you’ll read about our discovery that the Huckabees have a gift registry at Dillard’s and Target to outfit their new North Little Rock mansion with everything from shower curtain rings to Christmas china. “Friends” set it up. Just as “friends” insisted on naming public facilities for the first couple. Just as “friends” (many of them already or soon to be political appointees or jobholders) pounded them with gift certificates, doughnuts, airplane tickets, jewels and clothes to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars.

My wife and I built a new house in 1990. We were proud to show it off. But we didn’t let friends know before they came over that they could demonstrate their happiness for us by buying gifts we selected at Dillard’s.

The gift registry prompted spirited discussion on our Arkansas Blog, which broke the story. A pithy moral for politicians everywhere came from one reader: “Buy your own s***.”

Huckabee, perhaps because of his background as a preacher, picks up few tabs. To him, voters are but a pastoral flock, happy to supply the wants of this overworked, underpaid, humble man of the Lord.

He’s going out like he came in, dirty. When he moved into the Mansion, Huckabee took an expense account that had been used to operate the Mansion and spent it on restaurant meals, personal dry cleaning, a dog house, clothing and other personal things. But for our reporting, he’d have continued that $60,000 annual tax-free drain on the state treasury. Until we blew the whistle, he also was preparing to claim $70,000 worth of donated furniture as his own. His overuse of the State Police airplane as his private air force also was curbed by our reporting. The man actually sued to invalidate laws prohibiting gifts to public officials.

Also in this issue you’ll discover that the gift registries weren’t the beginning of the flock’s generosity to the Huckabees. The Governor’s Mansion Association, a tax-deductible charity that solicits donations to maintain the Mansion, has apparently used some of its money to buy the Huckabees $7,500 or more worth of Lenox china and Waterford crystal for the Huckabees’ private home.

Charities do not exist to provide gratuities for public servants, much less private citizens. Even if IRS rules and the Mansion bylaws don’t sufficiently discourage such gifts, the rules of good taste and common sense do, regardless of the work Janet Huckabee has done expanding the Mansion.

It is a good thing that Mike Huckabee didn’t run for Senate a few years back. In the days when Jack Abramoff was dishing out favors and creeps like Tom DeLay and Bob Ney were lapping them up, you can guess who else would have been at the trough had he won.

Huckabee’s avarice, for everything from dish towels to $1,000 gift cards at Target, continues until the very last minute. It’s never too late for a freebie. It’s never too late to rev up the State Police plane for a junket useful to his presidential campaign.

Another Arkansas governor learned that he wasn’t invisible when it came to personal weakness. Mike Huckabee better pay attention. Buy your own s***, governor.

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