Lots to report relative to the state-sponsored appearance of a voting rights law opponent, former Gov. Mike Huckabee, to be keynote speaker at the Arkansas Martin Luther King Jr. Commission’s invitation-only prayer breakfast at the Governor’s Mansion on Monday, King Day.
First, Dr. Anika Whitfield sends word of a caravan honoring the late civil rights leader, about the time of the breakfast (a precise time the state-paid director of the King Commission, DuShun Scarbrough, still won’t tell me.)
I asked Whitfield if the caravan would swing by the Governor’s Mansion. “Absolutely!” she responded. She also said the caravan was “city-approved.” Mayor Frank Scott Jr. and other city leaders have been trying to discourage caravanning because they’ve sometimes devolved into nuisances.
Scott, by the way, is on the guestlist for the King breakfast (along with Police Chief Keith Humphrey). The list was supplied to me this morning, six days after I requested it from Scarbrough. Scott hasn’t responded to my question of whether he’d attend or, like members of the Democratic Black Caucus, shun the event because of the choice of Huckabee to speak. Democrats cite his racist remarks, opposition to voting protection legislation and for a state-sponsored appearance during the political election season when his daughter, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, is running for governor.
In answering some questions I posed last week, Scarbrough said those on the guest list might not attend, but they’ve been invited. (The Omicron surge further encourages non-attendance.) As for Huckabee’s invitation, he said the commission has always “welcomed” past governors to the breakfast. He wrote: “Our office does not give favoritism for who can and cannot speak when it comes to speaking for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and getting involved in his ‘work.'” He said it would not exclude or “pass judgment” based “merely on opinions or sentiment.”
He said the guest list — which was limited by seating capacity — was drawn from state staff and elected officials, “awardees, sponsors, donors and their guests.” He said invitations were sent “in the spirit of inclusivity” to the three recognized political parties in the state, Democratic, Libertarian and Republican. In inviting Huckabee to speak, Scarbrough wrote he’d been inspired by Huckabee’s 1997 speech at Central High School marking the anniversary of the school crisis and remarks he made after the 2015 massacre at a historic African-American church in Charleston, S.C. He asked the former governor for a 10- to 12-minute “inspirational presentation.” Huckabee said he would have been unavailable because of planned TV production in Israel, but COVID protocols made travel to Israel impossible and he was happy to come. There’s no indication in the materials supplied to me at Huckabee, now a Little Rock resident, will be compensated for the appearance.
Scarbrough’s e-mail also mentioned that Jonelle Fulmer, a member of the King Commission, will receive an award on King Day. She’s chair of the Arkansas Republican Party, whose legislators passed several pieces of voter restriction legislation last year and which is opposed to pending national legislation, including the John Lewis Voting Rights Enhancement Act.
A columnist to whom I subscribe and recommend to others, Heather Cox Richardson, has a useful, detailed description of what voting rights legislation proposed for Senate passage would accomplish. Arkansas’s senators, on the prayer breakfast invitation list, are expected to support a filibuster to prevent consideration of the measures and to vote against them should they somehow come to a vote. Huckabee would undoubtedly concur. He’s already written that the proposed voter protection legislation is “dangerous.”
It is off-the-charts astonishing that no Republicans are willing to entertain these common-sense measures, especially since there are in the Senate a number of Republicans who voted in 2006 to reauthorize the 1965 Voting Rights Act the VRAA is designed to restore.
Also today, merely four days before King Day, the prayer breakfast keynoter was on national TV blasting President Biden for his call in Atlanta to pass the voter rights legislation:
Huckabee was on Fox News this morning saying President Biden sounded insane and didn’t know what he was saying in the Georgia speech. Biden suggested Republican opponents would put themselves on the side of historic segregationists by opposing the legislation. Huckabee said this was divisive. Here’s what Biden said:
“So I ask every elected official in America, how do you want to be remembered?” Biden said during remarks from the Atlanta University Center Consortium, on the campus of Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse College. “Do you want to be on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace? Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor? Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?”
Fox and Huckabee would have you believe Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin and Black commentator Al Sharpton excoriated Biden for these remarks. Not exactly. Durbin said Biden’s rhetoric might have gone too far, but said “the fundamental principles and values at stake are very similar.” Sharpton said “it was a good speech,” but it was not a “vote-getting” speech. As a preacher, Sharpton said, “you try to persuade people of their sins and appeal to their better angels.” He continued: “But when they come to church, and they still have the jug of whiskey up under the pew, you say, you’re going to hell. I think he gave a ‘you’re going to hell’ speech.”
Huckabee was following a Republican template used by Sen. Mitch McConnell in branding Biden’s speech as intemperate and “unpresidential.” After four years of Trump, including serial dishonesty by him and employees such as Huckabee’s daughter, they are calling Biden unpresidential? Intemperate?