Dead for two years now, Maurice Clemmons is a corpse that former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee probably found impossible to bury as he contemplated whether to vie for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012.
Clemmons rose up like Jacob Marley’s ghost as Huckabee mulled whether to make another bid for the White House.
Ultimately, Huckabee decided against seeking the nomination.
Eleven years ago, Huckabee made Clemmons eligible for parole on burglary charges, dealing out mercy to a man who had been in prison since he was a teenager.
Clemmons repaid the favor by allegedly raping a child and killing four police officers in Washington state. A patrol officer shot and killed him during a manhunt in 2009.
The specter of Clemmons’ crime, coming on the heels of commutation, visited Huckabee like the ghost of Christmas past during subsequent news interviews.
“If I could have known nine years ago this guy was capable of something of this magnitude, obviously I never would have granted the commutation. It’s sickening,” Huckabee later said.
In Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal is slow to act on the recommendations that his pardon board sends him on restoring former inmates’ firearms rights, reducing prison sentences and making inmates eligible for parole sooner.
Hundreds of recommendations are sitting on the governor’s desk, putting people in a sometimes yearslong holding pattern on whether they can partake in hunting season, vote, pursue a professional license or reasonably dream of freedom.
The pardon board forwards recommendations to the governor. It is up to the governor to approve or reject them. State law establishes no timeframe for him doing so.
“We do proceed cautiously on these,” said Stephen Waguespack, the governor’s acting chief of staff.
At the same time, the governor is traveling the country to raise money for his re-election bid and to help elect other Republican candidates. He published a book on conservative values. He gave the GOP response to President Barack Obama’s first congressional address. All of this is generating speculation that Jindal has national political ambitions.
Former governors said it is important to work through the recommendations.
Former Gov. Kathleen Blanco said many of the clemency requests are from people who committed minor crimes early in their lives before building solid reputations.
She said it also is necessary to give a ray of hope to prisoners to subdue unrest.
“It is a very important part of your job, and I don’t think I was overly generous with pardons,” Blanco said.
Blanco, like others who have held the job, said governors need to have confidence in their pardon board members.
Advising Jindal are a flower shop owner, a former sheriff, a retired law enforcement officer, a community leader and a former legislator.
Jindal said he trusts the parole board members he appoints.
The delays, he said, stem from him being deliberative.
He said he tries to look at the recommendations four times a year. In the nearly four years he has been in office, Jindal has granted 24 clemency requests and rejected 36.
More than 300 recommendations still are awaiting his action.
Kathy Gess, of Baton Rouge, who is active in criminal justice reform efforts, suspects another reason is at play.
The governor, she said, is worried about creating his own Maurice Clemmons.
Michelle Millhollon covers state government for The Advocate’s Capitol news bureau. Her email address is mmillhollon@theadvocate .com.