Sunday, December 16, 2007

Did Mike Huckabee lead a coup?

Sandy Levinson

In the fascinating story/interview by Zev Chafets of Mike Huckabee in today's NY Times Magazine, there appears the following description of the process by which Huckabee became Governor of Arkansas:

In 1993, Huckabee won a special election for lieutenant governor. Then, in 1996, Gov. Jim Guy Tucker was convicted on federal charges of fraud and conspiracy in events relating to the Whitewater scandal.

What happened next is related in the first 31 pages of ‘‘Character Makes a Difference.’’ This is Huckabee’s ‘‘Profiles in Courage’’ (if J.F.K. had been writing autobiography). He gives the book to reporters as a testament to his skill at crisis management. The crisis in question took place on July 15, 1996. Governor Tucker was supposed to resign, and Huckabee was scheduled to be sworn in at 2 p.m. But at 1:55, Tucker called to say that he had changed his mind. He wasn’t quitting.

This was ‘‘arguably the greatest constitutional crisis in Arkansas history,’’ Huckabee writes, as though his state never seceded from the Union or had its capital’s high school forcibly integrated by the 101st Airborne. Still, Tucker’s change of heart was a big moment. As Huckabee recalls it, the Arkansas State Legislature fell into chaos. ‘‘Many of the old-time Democrats all but fell on the floor and ripped their garments in twain. . . . Keeping your word is a sacred thing in Arkansas.’’ When it became clear that garment-rending wouldn’t get Tucker to go away quietly, Huckabee took direct action. He addressed the people in a statewide telecast, informing them that he was now in control; he threatened impeachment proceedings against Tucker; state troopers were mobilized to protect the capital. All this activity had the desired effect. Tucker re-resigned. In fact, the whole affair was wrapped up by the 6 o’clock news.

To put it mildly, there is much of interest in this, besides the obtuseness that Huckabee displays about what might be called comparative "constitutional crises" in Arkansas history. It appears that Tucker had only promised to resign (like Larry Craig), but in fact never made what J.L. Austin would call the "performative utterance" that constitutes the act of resigning (again like Larry Craig). Perhaps he should have (like Larry Craig?), but he didn't. (It's like the groom-to-be who, up to the very last moment, leads everyone to believe that he will take his vows, but then decides not to. He may be a lout, but he's not married. Ditto, Tucker. Until he says "I resign" or is impeached, he remains governor.

Unlike the Governor of Idaho, who has made no effort to declare the Senate seat vacant, Huckabee, if Chafets is correct in his description, declared, like Al Haig after the attempt on Ronald Reagan's life, that "he was now in control" and, astonishingly, mobilized state troopers "to protect the capital." What possible reason could be given for this? Was Jim Guy, like a latter-day Daniel Shays, threatening to mobilize his supporters for an armed march on the capital. (Incidentally, should it be "capital"--i.e., Little Rock--or "capitol," which would presumably refer on to a particular building in Little Rock?)

In an earlier post, I indicated that Huckabee, along with Ron Paul and John McCain, merited respect. I'm beginning to wonder. I strongly urge that one read Ken Anderson's remarkable article in the Weekly Standard (which I will write about at greater length anon), which is aptly subtitled The deeply dispiriting Romney-Huckabee religion showdown. I think that Huckabee, for all of his charm and willingness actually to say some cogent things about immigration and the "arrogance" of the Bush Administration, may well be the most theocratic candidate in our history (not to mention the most scientifically illiterate). But beyond this, shouldn't we know more about the "crisis" of July 15, 1996, and why Huckabee is so proud of his response to it? Some of us believe that Rudy Giuliani is frighteningly authoritarian. Just imagine what our response would be if he were described as declaring in similar circumstances "I'm in control" and calling out the police. Is it possible that Huckabee could, under the right circumstances, give Rudy a run for his money with regard to (dis)respect for law (and its limits)? It is possible, of course, that Chafets is wrong. But maybe he isn't.


The fact that Huckabee is not a total loser doesn't mean he lacks any number of problems that makes him a very dubious candidate.

The low bar Republicans supply today might confuse, but the same can be said for Paul and McCain. Respect includes knowing the person's limitations. When they go beyond them, we still respect them ... we just respectfully think they are dangerous.

15 seconds with google and I've found the NY Times coverage of the events of that fateful day. Short version: Tucker announced a leave of absence rather than a resignation, which made Huckabee the acting governor.

The story I found is the second result for "tucker resignation arkansas", which, obviously, isn't a search string I spent a lot of time formulating. It took longer for you to ask the question than it took for me to find the answer.

Huckabee, for all of his charm and willingness actually to say some cogent things about immigration

In response to Romney's attacks on him on immigration, Huckabee has recently walked back every sensible thing he ever said on immigration. See here for more details.

What the GOP base wants is a firm hand, and, like GWB and Giuliani, both once regarded as moderates, Huckabee will give it to them.

Lots of disinfo above. I haven't heard Huck say anything "sensible" about immigration, only shot-full-of-holes "plans" and too many questionable statements to list; feel free to search for his name at my site since I've been covering him occasionablly since 2004. Trust me, he's got some doozies. Plus, there's that little matter of collaborating with the MexicanGovernment in a scheme that, oddly enough, made it easier for corrupt businesses to employ illegal aliens.

Of course, someone like Levinson might not see the problem, even if most everyone else would (see my comment here.)


What the GOP base wants is a firm hand, and, like GWB and Giuliani, both once regarded as moderates, Huckabee will give it to them.

It's just a sign of the nauseating lurch of the Republican party to the right that Giuliani and Dubya would be considered "moderate". What they're doing is sitting in the middle of a gaggle of raving foamers.

Dubya was no mystery to Hightower or Ivins, and Giuliani was no such mystery to me, reading 2-3 NYC papers every day....


I am grateful to Thomas for the information on the Google link. I did try to Google, but I was obviously inept. Even if a "leave of absence" explains why Huckabee could truthfully say that he was "in control," how in the world does that explain calling out the police?

This story is in line w/ other dubieties Huckabee engaged in Arkansas. The New Republic has a story listing numerous issues w/ Huckabee's governorship in Arkansas. Here's a link.

Remember that after 9/11, Giuliani suggested that his leadership was so indispensible to New York City that elections should be postponed and his term as mayor should have been extended until after things had calmed down. Sounds like Huckabee tried something similar, from the outside rather than the inside.

I liked the Huckabee piece and, I must say, would consider voting for him over hillary.

[Supreme Court picks is one topic I would like him to address]

I like Huckabee for most of the same reasons I like Edwards.

He is a self-made man, relatively un-corrupted by America's elite.

Despite the nuttery on gays, abortion and guns, I like the fact that he lists spending money on Art Education as a top priority.

He will get us out of Iraq and hopefully have the moral courage to root out the Bush malingerers and expose Bush scandals.

Recall that as a Republican in Democratic Arkansas, he ran as the outsider. Politics gets everyone dirty sometimes, but, there is no pattern of gross corruption, incompetence or kowtowing to special interests. Huckabee is relatively clean if all they can say is he took some gifts, that weren't illegal under Arkansas law.

He was popular with poor folk and black folk because he helped them, unlike the putative Democrats they had been putting into power, futilely, for lo so many years.

I've criticized lawyers for their lack of linguistic understanding, but Sandy is again the exception, citing the philosopher of language J. L. Austin of, Must We Mean What We Say? fame (Yes, is the answer).

I should not be surprised, as his book on the constitutional convention is one of the best to come from the lawyer-class. But I still note with disbelief that neither logical reasoning nor linguistic use are studied in most law schools -- two of the basic tools one assumes lawyers use.

Wow this is a different side of the story. Thanks for putting it out there for all to see.

As of 3pm EST 12-17 -- If you go to and check out the TR (traffic rating) for the official Ron Paul website --- he has a TR of 7,478.

Mike Huckabee has a TR of 52,977
John McCain -- TR 112,541
Hillary Clinton -- TR 33,338

According to Huckabee’s website he has collected $1,229,712 to date for his forth quarter donations.

At this moment Dr. Paul has $18,247,850 and still coming in.

There is no mention on McCain’s site of how much money he currently has raised this quarter.

So you have to ask yourself how can Huckabee be #1 in most of the polls and Dr. Paul is not even listed in the top five.

I have stopped listening and watching the MSM --- they are the old media and are missing the point.

Boy, are the Republican Party's chickens coming home to roost this election cycle!

Look, if they are so concerned about Huckabee's devout beliefs and his mixing of those beliefs with his politics, they should have thought of that before spending a heck of a lot of time bashing on Democrats and liberals as oversecular and insufficiently reverent.

Indeed, one of the most sickening things about the whole issue is that plenty of the most famous Republicans never gave a crap about religion, except as a means of getting votes and bashing on Democrats. It would be poetic justice if they are stuck with a cnadidate who actually does give a crap about it.

This makes more sense.

In 1996, Mike Huckabee decided to pursue the Senate seat being vacated by Democratic David Pryor. Huckabee was leading in the polls when Governor Jim Guy Tucker was convicted of felony fraud charges stemming from the national Whitewater investigation.

Since Arkansas law prohibited convicted felons from serving as governor, Tucker announced his intention to resign.

Huckabee decided to give up his bid for the U.S. Senate and was set for his swearing in ceremony as Arkansas's forty-fourth governor on July 15, 1996. Only moments before Huckabee was to take the oath of office, Tucker called the lieutenant governor and rescinded his resignation on the grounds that his appeals had not been completed and that new evidence had arisen.

This presented the state with a looming constitutional crisis for several hours until Tucker decided to reinstate his resignation after Huckabee threatened to call lawmakers for an emergency legislative session to consider Tucker’s impeachment.

Without the credible threat of impeachment, this goes nowhere.

Tucker could have made his case in impeachment hearings.

I agree he got railroaded, but, it ain't no coup.

from the NYT 7-16-96

Huckabee comes off even better in the NYT article than he does in his book.


Within hours of his May 28 conviction for fraud and conspiracy in a Whitewater-related case, Mr. Tucker had announced that he would resign not later than today and devote full time to pursuing his appeal. Hundreds of state legislators, staff members and observers gathered in the chamber of the Arkansas House of Representatives today, anticipating the scheduled 3 P.M. swearing-in of Mr. Huckabee.

But then a legislative staff member read a letter in which Mr. Tucker rescinded his resignation, saying he was instead taking a leave of absence while his lawyers argued for a quick reversal of his conviction. Mr. Tucker said the Arkansas Constitution provided that he could leave office temporarily, assigning all executive powers to Mr. Huckabee on only an interim basis.

The announcement stunned the gathering. The Arkansas Capitol was enveloped by barely contained confusion and undisguised bipartisan outrage. On the floor and in the corridors, there were immediate discussions of taking legal action to remove Mr. Tucker.

In brief remarks, Mr. Huckabee, who had withdrawn from a race for the United States Senate in order to succeed the Governor, called this "a very critical moment for Arkansas."

"It demands that our only response be calm and courage," he said.

Appearing before reporters at almost the same moment, in the Governor's conference room one floor below, Mr. Tucker said: "I know there are people who will say, 'You ought to get this over with and not allow it to go on any longer.' But I don't think that's in the best interest of the people of Arkansas."

Several protesters hurled insults at Mr. Tucker as he and his wife made their way to a waiting car and an undisclosed destination, leaving Mr. Huckabee in the role of only Acting Governor.

Three hours later, Mr. Huckabee announced that in that role, and with the cooperation of the Democratic leaders of the General Assembly, Arkansas's legislature, he would call the lawmakers into session to begin impeachment proceedings against Mr. Tucker if he did not resign by 10 A.M. on Tuesday.

In the meantime, the state's Attorney General, Winston Bryant, a Democrat now running for the United States Senate, had filed a petition in a state court to remove Mr. Tucker on the basis of his criminal convictions. The petition cited a number of grounds, among them a state constitutional provision that bars anyone "convicted of embezzlement of public money" from holding office.

In response, Mr. Tucker sent a letter to the Arkansas Secretary of State, Sharon Priest, renouncing any intention of leaving even temporarily. But within minutes, Ms. Priest received a second letter from Mr. Tucker, announcing simply that his resignation was effective at 7 P.M.

the key graf above describes Huckabee thinking about it for 3 hours and then announcing that in his role as Acting Governor he would work with a Democratic Congress to seek his impeachment.

In light of that threat, Tucker resigned. It's worth noting that the he soon publicly apologized to Huckabee and Arkansas, Mike graciously accepted, publicly.

A little research would have resolved this.

I find the most recent posts fascinating. But I still see no discussion of why the police were called out. Was Chafets simply making that up?

There's information here (search that page for the word 'troopers') about the presence of state troopers at the state capitol, and what looks to be a pro-huckabee video (a couple of screen pages up from the word 'troopers' on that page) of his conversation on that day with tucker. It would seem that a large pro-huckabee crowd had assembled at the capitol, and upon hearing that tucker wasn't going to resign, became agitated. The troopers, about "thirty or forty" were there because of that.

Watching the video (about 2 minutes 30 seconds in), it looks as though tucker had filed a motion in his case and he thought his jury verdict would be set aside in two weeks, and decided that rather than resign, he would just transfer responsibility to huckabee during that time to wait and see what the courts would decide. Huckabee then took office.

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