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Huckabee strikes again

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You’ve read plenty about how Mike Huckabee, in his last days as governor, rushed to spend up money in his emergency fund on non-emergency purposes, such as a grant to the Red Cross, which employs his wife.

Here’s another state asset spent up by Huckabee – the State Police King Air, his favored method of traveling around the country in style.

Under FAA rules, the 10-seat, twin-engine plane purchased in 1997 for $1.4 million, can fly only so many hours before engines must be overhauled or, finally, replaced. The expert was out of pocket as we went to press on specific numbers, but we’re told by State Police spokesman Bill Sadler that engine use has now reached the point that major refurbishment is necessary. The latest figure on relative use by Huckabee and the police isn’t readily available, but Sadler said Huckabee was responsible for “the lion’s share” of the plane’s use.

The tab

Sadler of the State Police said it will cost $700,000 to $750,000 to overhaul the King Air engines.

The plane only has about 50 hours of flying time left, he said. “We’re trying to save some hours so it could make an emergency flight if necessary and still be legal,” he said.

Sadler said there’s no money in the agency budget currently to pay for the work. The State Police will have to ask for a budget increase to keep the plane flyable. “We have to,” Sadler said.

Heavy use

We’ve documented heavy use of the plane by Huckabee in years past. The most recent accounting, by Seth Blomeley of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, showed that Huckabee piled up 200 hours of flying time on 80 trips on the plane in 2005, more than one trip a week, and 120 hours in 55 trips, still more than one a week, in 2006. Huckabee was criticized because, though he refused to release specifics on the trips, records that were available indicated that some of the trips combined official business with personal political travel, such as to the Republican National Convention. Since becoming governor, the Democrat-Gazette reported, Huckabee put more than 1,500 hours on the plane (at the current estimated cost of $875 an hour that’s worth $1.3 million in travel.) Many states bar use of state planes by governors for political travel.

Gov. Mike Beebe has promised to have a “more transparent” policy on use of the plane, but says he wants to use it when necessary.

Recently, controversy erupted over Huckabee’s destruction of computer hard drives and other equipment, including data stored on a State Police computer at the airplane hangar. The State Police said paper copies of the Huckabee flight records still exit. In previous inspections by the Arkansas Times, we learned they rarely provided a full account of passengers, destinations and purposes of Huckabee trips.

The pipes are calling

The price of copper has made the metal more attractive to thieves, reports in the press have noted. Even plumbing under people’s homes are being pinched: A Little Rock resident reported to police in January that thieves had crawled under her house and removed all the copper plumbing while she was gone. She figured it out when she turned on a tap and nothing came out. She had to replace her plumbing to the tune of $2,000-plus.

An article on the theft in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette omitted the address. In response to many requests we checked the police report: The house is on Monroe Street in Hillcrest. Neighbors might want to lock those crawl spaces.

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