The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette followed up today (but did not acknowledge) our first report here yesterday that Republican attorney general nominee Leslie Rutledge had been given a “do not rehire” label after abruptly resigning her job at the Department of Human Services as a staff lawyer in 2007.
The termination form had the word “voluntary” scratched out and was coded with a number indicating gross misconduct as a reason for termination. But there’s no explanation for that coding in the file that was released and DHS officials won’t talk about it. Rutledge told me yesterday that the department unhappiness perhaps arose from her failing to give notice that she was leaving abruptly to work for Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign. She added a political dimension in her account to the Democrat-Gazette today. She speculated that it might have had something to do with the fact that she was going to work for a Republican and a Democrat, Mike Beebe, was governor.
Neither explanation is sufficient.
If there are other documents or communications within the department that explain Rutledge’s departure, they should be made public. It is true that DHS may not be compelled by law to release them because she was not fired. But Rutledge is free to obtain those records herself and to release them. She should do so.
Rutledge’s work history is vital to a decision in this race — perhaps THE issue. She’s held many jobs, typically for short periods. Her longest stint in the five jobs she held between law school graduation in 2001 and 2007 was three years as a law clerk to Jo Hart, a family friend she helped elect to the Court of Appeals and once a lawyer in a case involving Rutledge’s mother. She landed in the governor’s office thanks to her father’s political connections. Keith Rutledge was Mike Huckabee’s drug czar and a political supporter. She spent 10 months working for Huckabee (and gave no reason for departure from that job on her DHS job application) then went to work for, successively, the Lonoke prosecutor (a Republican) and then for a private attorney. In 2006, she got an “emergency” posting to fill a lawyer’s slot in the Division of Children and Family Services.
A former governor’s office employee told me yesterday that unidentified controversy attended her departure from the governor’s office. Huckabee has endorsed Rutledge, however.
The bottom line remains: The record shows Rutledge has been deemed unfit to work for an agency she seeks to represent in court as the state’s attorney general. She provided no reassurances of her gogd judgment when she told the D-G she’d look into the circumstances of her unfavorable rating at DHS if she becomes attorney general.
If Rutledge IS elected and she DOES go on a witch hunt over handling of her DHS departure, let’s hope she doesn’t claim an FOI exemption for the attorney general’s working papers. Because a searching examination would surely find the rest of the documents that would answer important lingering questions:
1) Why did she leave the governor’s office after 10 months? Did she depart under pressure?
2) Was her resignation at DHS freely given or was it prompted by events as yet unknown? Was the Huckabee campaign job simply a third political favor to a supporter’s daughter with a spotty employment history?
Democratic attorney general nominee Nate Steel, on the other hand, has a solid record as practicing member of a family law firm and as prosecuting attorney. He’s also provided a moderate tone lacking in Rutledge’s campaign pronouncements that she sees her job mainly as an opportunity to tilt at federal government windmills. The job is something else: It is being the state’s lawyer in criminal appeals and also — pertinently — investigating Medicaid fraud, a program funneled in large measure through her former employers at the Department of Human Services to recipients of nursing homes.
I remind you that nursing home baron Michael Morton of Fort Smith, who’s been busily buying influence in judgeships from circuit courts in Faulkner County to the Arkansas Supreme Court, has poured at least $60,000 into Rutledge’s campaign.
Many questions. Not many answers. Qualifications and experience count. The record is incomplete on Leslie Rutledge and where questions exist, they suggest she’s lacking.