For the second day in a row, the state Republican Party this morning issued a statement from Gov. Mike Huckabee.
This time, he is criticizing his own director of finance and administration, Richard Weiss, for commenting about the Nick Wilson imbroglio.
“I was shocked to read the comments supposedly attributed to the Director of DFA that the reason for vetoing the Nick Wilson bill in 1997 was its connection to the budget of the Governor’s Mansion. While I realize that Mr. Weiss is a contributor and supporter of the Democrat nominee and is free to support the candidate of his choice, he is not free to rewrite history. That bill was vetoed because of the way it would have set up the program with a process that would lend itself to funneling money to a process not subject to normal procedures. The Wilson bill had stink written all over it, I vetoed it, and Mr. Beebe helped lead the effort to override the veto as a favor to his friends in the Senate and without regard to the reasons for which the bill was vetoed. Beebe was not implicated in any of the scandal of making money off this scam, but to say he didn’t help his pals in the Senate get the bill passed including helping override a veto because “pals and politics” were more important than propriety is simply absurd.”
Huckabee presumably is referring to Weiss’ comments in this article published in yesterday’s Arkansas Democrat-Gazette:
Huckabee said he vetoed several bills in 1997 connected to Wilson, one of which was a bill to set up legal defense for children. Wilson and others intended to get state money through that program and this led to him being convicted in federal court.
“They were vetoed because they were irresponsible in how they were going to be managed,” Huckabee said. “There was money that was going to go to specified vendors, which is always something that smells… sends red flags up. When we saw that bill, and I remember a meeting at the Governor’s Mansion that involved Richard Weiss from DF&A, Tom Dalton, who was then head of [Human Services ], and Gene Wilhoit, who was then the Department of Education director. We looked at several of those bills, and it was determined and recommended that I veto them.”
He said the Legislature “joyfully and gleefully” overrode the vetoes.
Weiss said later in an interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that he questioned “irregularities” in the bills and that led him to recommend vetoes at that meeting with Huckabee.
Of the problems with the bill that set up the program that got Wilson in trouble, Weiss said, “It was kind of the way the funding was being structured to finance that thing is what struck me. In fact, it looked to me like it might have been some kind of a little deal to pull down the funds, the effect of which would have been to not have enough money to run the Governor’s Mansion. That was my recollection.”
Were there concerns Wilson would use the bill for illegal activity ? “Lord, no. It looked to me like Nick screwing around, kind of like firing Betsey Wright when the governor is gone,” Weiss said, referring to a time when Wilson was acting governor and fired then-Gov. Clinton’s chief of staff temporarily.
UPDATE FROM MAX: We’ve been poring over clips of the long-ago deal and can say, in short, that Huckabee is badly misrepresenting the nature of the alarm he blew in April of 1997 when all this happened. He in fact signed the critical legislation Act 1227 that contained the real chicanery, three sentences in a juvenile code revision that allowed the Administrative Office of the Supreme Court to establish the ad litem program in chancery cases “should funds” become available. He also allowed to become law an amendment to the court appropriation that put $3 million into the program for ad litem services. He only vetoed a part of the bill that gave the court system off-the-top authority from the Central Services Fund, thus potentially threatening, among others, his Mansion spending if funding fell short and top priority items got funded first. The real shenanigans occurred later and were uncovered in September 1997 by the Arkansas Times. Only insiders knew about the program and they were johnny-on-the-spot to apply for rich, no-bid grants from the Administrative Office of the Courts, which, among others it had left in the dark, were the state’s trial judges. The Supreme Court, in the person of then-Chief Justice Dub Arnold, was busy currying legislative favor that sesssion, however, because it wanted money for a new building. All of these things — and more, including corruption in child support collection contracts — came to light through our reporting and subsequent criminal investigations. For context of Huckabee’s 2006 remarks, consider this from a Sept. 25, 1997 D-G article about the priority funding section that Huckabee vetoed:
“… he had no idea the bill set up a situation where a state lawmaker and two other lawyers with close ties to the legislature would receive $750,000 in grants without bids or advertisement of the grants. He just knew the bill smelled funny, spokesman Rex Nelson said. “We could never get anybody to give us a straight answer. It looked very suspicious.”
And this is the D-G account of his veto:
SB 286: This bill authorizes spending for the operation of the Administrative Office of the Courts. The veto only applies to a section that would guarantee full funding from the state Central Services Fund equal to the funding of the House of Representatives, the Senate and the office of lieutenant governor. Huckabee said he didn’t want to disparage the good work of the office but is unable to say that the office is entitled to funding from the Central Services Fund before other state agencies.