Sunday, September 21st, 2014

Pardon me: Huckabee vs. Romney

SUMMARY: In TV ads and interviews, Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee have attacked each other's records on gubernatorial pardons. We find their claims are accurate and reveal starkly different approaches on clemency.

In a TV ad, Mitt Romney tries to portray Mike Huckabee as soft on crime because Huckabee "granted 1,033 pardons and commutations." The ad says Huckabee's number is "more clemencies than the previous three governors combined."

The ad contrasts Huckabee's record with Romney, who the announcer says "never pardoned a single criminal."

There's been considerable interest in Huckabee's record because of the case of Wayne DuMond, a convicted rapist who was released by the Arkansas Parole Board and then killed a woman. Although that case did not involve a pardon, two members of the parole board have said Huckabee pressured them to release DuMond. Huckabee has denied that he pressured the board and said he refused to commute DuMond's sentence.

In response to Romney's charges in the TV ad, Huckabee has criticized the former Massachusetts governor for not issuing any pardons, particularly one for "a decorated soldier" who wanted to become a police officer but still had a criminal record from a minor incident when he was 13 years old and shot another boy with a BB gun. "Didn't even break the skin," Huckabee said on NBC's Today Show on Dec. 19.

We find Romney and Huckabee are accurately describing each other's records. The 1,033 total for Huckabee's 10 years in office comes from an Associated Press examination of Huckabee's pardons and commutations. The Arkansas Secretary of State's office told PolitiFact the count was 1,058, which is not significantly different. Romney's claim that Huckabee granted more clemencies "than the previous three governors combined" also is correct according to the totals from the Secretary of State.

State officials in Massachusetts confirm Romney's record. He had about 150 applications for pardons and 80 applications for commuting sentences in his four-year term. He granted none.

Huckabee's anecdote about Romney refusing to pardon the soldier for the teen-age BB-gun incident refers to the case of Anthony Circosta of Agawam, Mass., a member of the Army National Guard who fought in Iraq and then sought a pardon so he could become a police officer. Circosta did not return a phone call from PolitiFact this week, but Huckabee's description of the case is supported by accounts in the Associated Press.

"Now, I would have given that kid a pardon," Huckabee said about Circosta in a Fox News Channel interview on Dec. 20, 2007. "And everywhere I've gone and asked people for a show of hands, everybody agrees with me."

Huckabee points out that he faced many more applications than Romney -- 8,698 according to the Huckabee campaign. (PolitiFact tried but could not confirm that number with state officials, but it appears to be consistent with other published statistics.) By contrast, Romney received about 230 applications for pardons and commutations in his four-year term.

The states have similar systems for pardons, so the disparity seems to reflect the different political climates. Huckabee earned a reputation for granting many pardons (indeed, some local prosecutors criticized him for granting too many), which led to more applications.

But there were considerably fewer applications in Massachusetts. State officials attribute that to the climate after the famous Willie Horton case, in which a furloughed prisoner committed armed robbery and rape. The case was made famous in the 1988 presidential campaign and helped sink Democratic nominee, then-Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis.

Since then, Massachusetts governors have granted relatively few pardons. Romney's refusal to grant any has reduced the applications even more. Many potential applicants figure it's not worth the effort.

The result is a striking difference: Huckabee has granted more than 1,000, while Romney hasn't granted any (although he has said he would consider pardoning White House aide Scooter Libby because the case involved an overzealous prosecutor).

Huckabee, a Baptist minister, says he was trying to give a second chance to people who had been convicted of minor crimes.

"A lot of (the pardons) that I gave were for 35-year-old single moms with kids who wanted to get a job anywhere in a nursing home emptying a bed pan, but because of the background check couldn't because when they were 18 they'd written a hot check," he said in a Dec. 19, 2007 interview on MSNBC's Morning Joe.

Huckabee has even pardoned Keith Richards, a guitarist for the Rolling Stones who had an outstanding ticket for reckless driving.

Jay Barth, a political science professor at Hendrix College and a Democratic activist in Arkansas, said Huckabee's pardons reflect his belief "that individuals might truly be able to rehabilitate themselves." Barth said the pardons "give some insight into his view of the human condition. He, more than most, might say that although someone may have committed a crime, it doesn't mean that they can't reform or get back on the right path."

By contrast, Romney has a zero-tolerance approach. "I didn't pardon anybody as governor because I didn't want to overturn a jury," he said during a June 2007 debate.

When he was asked about his policy in December 2007, Romney replied "We looked at the cases one by one and I did not want to provide commutations to people who had weapons violations that were going to be asking to use weapons in their new capacity." He told reporters that the only reasons he would have issued a pardon or commutation would have been if he found evidence that proved a wrongful conviction, prosecutorial misconduct or errors in the judicial process.

In interviews, Huckabee has portrayed Romney as a political opportunist who took a hard line on pardons to appear tough on crime, while Huckabee's pardons were politically risky but better for the people of Arkansas.

"Now, if I'd played politics with all those people, I wouldn't have ever granted one single clemency, not one," Huckabee said on MSNBC. "But this shouldn't be about playing politics with people's lives. It ought to be about looking at every case with honesty, making decisions. And, yes, sometimes they don't turn out so brilliantly. I've made mistakes. But I've tried to make the mistake on the ledger of thinking what would be in the best interest of all of us. Do I want this person unemployed for the rest of their life?"