John McCain visited Little Rock last Friday. He was greeted on arrival about 10:30 a.m. at Central Flying Service by former Gov. Mike Huckabee.
He was also greeted by Micah Qualls, 29, a waitress for seven years at Central's Flight Deck restaurant who's completing work to teach school. Writes Qualls:
“In the heat of the moment, I remembered that I had my Hillary for President sign in the car, and spent my break time holding my sign outside the fence where the senator was landing his airplane.”
From behind the chain link fence along the flight line, Qualls occasionally called out for attention as McCain deplaned and left in a motorcade.
About 2 p.m., after Qualls had worked the lunch shift, the restaurant manager fired her for the “embarrassment.” She said she believed the firing — coming hours after her demonstration, rather than immediately — was prompted by a complaint to Central Flying management instigated by Huckabee.
I wrote about this Friday evening on the Arkansas Blog. (http://www.arktimes.com/blogs/arkansasblog/2008/04/the_lone_protest.aspx)
It spurred remarkable interest, some 150 reader comments by Sunday.
Even more remarkably, it spurred a telephone call to me from Mike Huckabee, who stopped communicating with the Arkansas Times many months ago. He said — cordially, I should add — that he had no involvement in Qualls' firing and that he had not even seen her, because of the particular place where McCain's plane parked.
Dick Holbert, the owner of Central Flying, later backed the governor. He said he had decided to fire Qualls because an employee, in uniform, had been disrespectful to a customer. He insisted Huckabee played no role, either directly or through an intermediary.
Qualls and two friends are just as insistent, however, that they've talked with a man who had a phone conversation with Huckabee Friday (in the presence of one of the three) in which Huckabee acknowledged seeing Qualls and said that someone in his camp had complained. That man won't talk publicly, they say. They also named a Central Flying worker who reportedly overheard Huckabee indicating to Holbert's son Taylor during McCain's arrival that he recognized Qualls as a restaurant employee. That employee did not return my call.
My thoughts? Qualls strikes me as honest, if impetuous. Holbert was well within his rights to fire her, but the delayed reaction (Holbert lunched in the restaurant Friday without making a comment, Qualls says) does lend a bit of weight to the theory that the action came in response to external pressure. A paying Central customer would have room to complain, I'd stipulate.
I think Huckabee is telling the truth when he says he didn't complain personally to Holbert. But I think he might have improved the story a bit too much by disclaiming any knowledge of Qualls' presence. TV footage puts her within view of McCain's plane.
On a larger issue, I think Huckabee's quick effort to clear the record — even if it meant calling me, of all people — might indicate that the campaign to get Huckabee on John McCain's ticket is very serious.
Finally, this: After a weekend in which Qualls' firing drew a bare scattering of local media attention, I pondered the press reaction if a waitress had been fired for waving an Obama sign at a Hillary plane. Never mind that the waitress said she thought Bill had something to do with it.
n CORRECTION: Make it $75 to $100 billion, not million as I wrote last week, in expected investment in the Fayetteville shale.