Columns » Max Brantley

The heat of the spotlight

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Rising Gov. Mike Huckabee got a taste last week of the heightened scrutiny given words of a chief executive when Micah Morrison committed drive-by journalism on the tragicomic editorial page of the Wall Street Journal.

Morrison, a Republican cheerleader with a conspiratorial bent, lauded Huckabee's ascension and said:

•"Mr. Huckabee acknowledged he was 'aware' of stories that state officials were shredding documents in anticipation of Gov. Tucker's departure."

•Huckabee should name a new director of the State Police, an agency of which Morris said, "Pimping for then-Gov. Clinton...was the least of their sins."

•Huckabee and Whitewater Prosecutor Kenneth Starr "likely will establish some kind of quiet symbiotic relationship" in the course of "liberating Arkansas from corruption."

The effect was to make Huckabee appear an avenging partisan, primed to chase after rumor. It was hardly the picture of the healer that Huckabee has promised to be.

I gave the lieutenant governor a call, though we haven't been on the friendliest of terms since I wrote of shortcomings in his political campaign account. Huckabee called right back. He was anxious to set the record straight on this one.

The short answer: His conversation with Morrison was taken wildly out of context. "I was just amazed," he said. "I thought only Max Brantley reported like this." His version: •On paper shredding: "His question was, 'We're hearing that there are documents being shredded and that kind of thing.' My answer was: 'There are always stories about those kinds of things around here.' "In the strictest sense, then, Morrison had it right. Huckabee was "aware" of stories of shredding. But, said Huckabee to me, "Do I know of anything? No. Have I heard of anything? No. It was just a throwaway line."

•On the idea of replacing State Police Director John Bailey: "I was outraged when I read it. Let me just tell you unequivocally that the one guy who has the safest spot in Arkansas is John Bailey... He's a man of as much integrity and character as anyone I've ever been around in public or private life."

•On a coming cozy relationship with Starr: "Everything I've done for the past year answers that. That's ridiculous."

The remaining question is whether to believe Morrison or Huckabee. I'll vote for Huckabee. Morrison is given to inflammatory nonsense that typically crash lands at the Mena Airport. Whatever feelings may lodge in Huckabee's heart, he has mostly bit his tongue and preached unity through the Whitewater travails.

Politics also argue for Huckabee's version of events. His success with a Democratic legislature and an electorate still inclined toward Democrats is to build bridges, not bomb them.

Huckabee said, "Right now, we don't need gasoline thrown on any fires. Arkansas needs to take a deep breath, chill out and reclaim its goodness."

Amen, Brother Mike.

Print headline: "The heat of the spotlight" June 14, 1996.

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