Columns » Warwick Sabin

Well protected

by and

comment

So what if Gov. Mike Huckabee is using the Arkansas State Police plane to fly around the country? What’s the big deal?

Maybe it’s not a big deal. But he won’t answer any questions about his travel, which makes it seem like he has something to hide.

Why won’t he answer the questions?

His office says that security concerns prevent them from talking about his travel.

That seems legitimate to me.

Except he won’t even talk about how he decides whether a trip should be paid for with taxpayer money or with his personal or political funds. That is not a security issue.

Why is that important?

Because sometimes Huckabee uses the plane for trips that have questionable connections to his official duties as governor.

Like what?

Like when he flew to Washington, D.C. to run in the Marine Corps Marathon.

Doesn’t he mostly go out of state for meetings and events related to his role as chairman of the National Governors Association?

Yes, but even that is not a necessary function of his office as defined in the Arkansas Constitution. Maybe the Governors Association ought to cover some of the costs associated with his travel.

You’re just upset because you think Huckabee is running for president.

Well, Huckabee did confirm that he is considering a bid for the White House. And he has been flying in the State Police plane to key primary states, like Iowa and South Carolina. There is nothing wrong with running for president, but why should Arkansas taxpayers foot his travel expenses?

Didn’t Bill Clinton do the same thing when he was governor?

Not exactly. He wasn’t flying in a taxpayer-financed plane when he was going around the country positioning himself for a presidential campaign. Besides, that was over 13 years ago, and it doesn’t excuse Huckabee’s extravagant use of the state treasury.

Is it really that much money?

We don’t know exactly, because the State Police didn’t provide a full accounting of the costs associated with Huckabee’s travel. But the open-market price of one round-trip on the same kind of plane from Little Rock to Andrews Air Force base is over $10,000, according to Central Flying Service. Huckabee has made that trip over ten times this year, among the 35-40 times he has taken the plane out of state in 2005. That adds up to a lot of money, and it comes directly out of the State Police operations budget, which otherwise would be spent on law enforcement in Arkansas.

But what if he just really needs the extra security?

Maybe he does, but neither Huckabee nor the State Police has explained how the plane is demonstrably safer than flying commercial. Or why the governor of Arkansas needs so much security in the first place. Or why he needs it more when he is out of state than when he is in the state.

Why else would he be using the plane, then?

It’s much more convenient to use a private plane than to fly commercial, because you don’t have to make reservations, go through a metal detector, change planes or wait in line. Plus, the taxpayers pick up the tab.

He wouldn’t do that.

He has done it before, like when he used the Governor’s Mansion account to pay for personal items, like pizza, panty hose, and dog food.

So what do you want him to do?

Huckabee should explain why it is necessary for security reasons to use the State Police plane for out of state trips instead of commercial airlines. If he demonstrates that it is always necessary, he should then explain why taxpayers should always pay for the travel. For those trips where he cannot provide a legitimate public purpose, he should reimburse the state from his personal or political funds.

What if he decides not to provide those explanations?

Then someone on the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee should ask for a fact-finding report on policies and expenses relating to use of the State Police plane. The legislature approved the State Police budget, so it has a right to know if that money is being spent in accordance with the appropriation. That’s what happened in the case of the mansion expenses.

Is that really necessary?

An elected official is spending a significant amount of taxpayer money to benefit himself personally and politically, and he is refusing to answer questions about it. That should never be tolerated, because accountability is the point of a democratic system. Only monarchs and dictators are unaccountable to the people they govern.

Add a comment

Clicky