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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" and says that Romney himself has not issued any pardons.
We find Romney is accurately describing Huckabee's record. 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.
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 interview on MSNBC's Morning Joe.
Huckabee even pardoned Keith Richards, a guitarist for the Rolling Stones who had an outstanding ticket for reckless driving.
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 2006, 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?"
Associated Press, Gov. Romney Held Fast Against Pardons, June 12, 2007
Associated Press, Huckabee pardons Rolling Stones' Richards over 1975 arrest Nov. 9, 2006
Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, Clemency policy, Massachusetts
Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, Clemency policy, Arkansas
The Associated Press, Huckabee's record on pardons while governor questioned by critics, Dec. 10, 2007
Interviews: Jay Barth, Hendrix College; Eric Sterling, president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation; J.J. Vigneault, lobbyist and former political advisor to Huckabee; Andrew Demillo, Little Rock Bureau, Associated Press
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