Our Insider column this week has a small squib on another misunderstanding about items at the Governor’s Mansion that arose when the Huckabee family moved out. Since we went to press, the subject was discussed at a Governor’s Mansion Association meeting Wednesday and Janet Huckabee responded to our question about the issue. Leslie Newell Peacock’s additional report:
Former first lady Janet Huckabee, who turned down a gift of $7,500 worth of crystal and china from the private, non-profit Mansion Association after questions were raised about the present, has returned other gifts as well, it was announced today at an association meeting.
P. Allen Smith presented the former first lady two garden benches and Little Rock impressionist Barry Thomas presented her a painting at a December meeting of the Association. As it turns out, chairman Sally Stevens explained, Smith and Thomas were not the givers of the gifts.
Stevens read a statement to correct what she said was an “omission” to a report given the group in February, after Gov. Mike Beebe was sworn in. Plaques on the benches inscribed “Presented with Gratitude to First Lady Janet Huckabee by the Governor’s Mansion Commission and Landscape Committee” caused some confusion, Stevens said; many in the association assumed Smith had bought them but others “understood the benches to be a gift to the mansion in honor of Janet.” The confusion was explained to Mrs. Huckabee, and she returned the benches.
The Thomas paintings ― one for the mansion and one for Mrs. Huckabee ― were also purchased by the Association without the knowledge of Stevens and others on the association board. (She didn’t say by whom, but Mansion administrator Don Bingham, handled most business arrangements for the association during the Huckabee tenure.) When she learned the painting given Mrs. Huckabee had been paid from association funds, she asked Mrs. Huckabee to either return hers or pay for it. Mrs. Huckabee opted for the former.
Since Beebe took office, association finances have been reviewed and an oversight committee appointed. Stevens said that “tokens of appreciation” were given to all of the Mansion staff by the association and commission except Mrs. Huckabee.
The Times sent Mrs. Huckabee an e-mail asking if she were going to return the painting or pay for it. She responded: “No, I’m not buying a painting that was given to me as a gift. I don’t have that kind of money to toss around right now. I love Barry Thomas and his work and someday maybe I will own one of his paintings, but it won’t be the one that the Mansion Association supposedly gave to me.
“They gave me china, crystal, garden benches and a BT painting, but sadly I don’t have any of those.”
Mrs. Huckabee added that she was “tired of this line of questioning” and noted that she didn’t “see you hounding the current first lady or the governor for many questions that I would find interesting to know.”
Mrs. Huckabee said, for example, that she expected that the $10,000 the association gave to the new first family for the private quarters wouldn’t show on their Statement of Financial Interest until next year, “even though they started using it last year before they were even sworn in.” It’s not clear whether that expenditure, which was publicly announced should appear on a personal financial statement, however. The money is to go to Mansion improvements, including some new drapes, not items for the Beebes personally or items that they will take with them when they leave.