LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — As governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee had a hand pardoning or commuting many more prisoners than his three immediate predecessors combined. Maurice Clemmons, the suspect in Sunday’s slaying of four Seattle-area police officers, was among them.
For a politician considering another run for the White House, Clemmons could become Huckabee’s Willie Horton.
“In a primary between a law-and-order Republican and him, I think it could definitely be a vulnerability,” said Art English, a political scientist at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. “It is very damaging when you have someone like that whose sentence was commuted. That’s pretty high profile and very devastating and very tragic.”
English said it’s hard to avoid comparing the case to Horton, a convicted killer who raped a woman and assaulted her fiance while on release as part of a prison furlough program supported by Michael Dukakis when he was governor of Massachusetts.
Allies of former President George H.W. Bush ran ads criticizing Dukakis for his support of the program, undermining the Democrat’s presidential campaign.
As recently as Sunday, hours before the shooting suspect was linked to him, Huckabee said he was leaning against running again for president, telling “Fox News Sunday” he was “less likely rather than more likely” to run.
On Monday, Huckabee said he takes responsibility for making Clemmons eligible for parole in 2000, and called the case a failure of the justice systems in Arkansas and Washington. Huckabee cited the length of Clemmons’ sentence – 108 years – and a state judge’s recommendation that it be reduced as factors in his decision.
“If I could have known nine years ago that this guy was capable of something of this magnitude, obviously I would have never granted a commutation. It’s sickening,” Huckabee said on Fox News Channel’s “The O’Reilly Factor.”