Gov. Mike Huckabee is still flying high on the taxpayers’ dime and refusing to provide details about it, claiming security interests.
The Arkansas Times first reported Nov. 3 about his use of the State Police’s twin-engine Beechcraft King Air 200. He has used it several times since.
From Oct. 22 to Nov. 10 he used the plane to fly to Atlanta, Charlotte, twice to Dallas and three times to Washington, D.C. On one of those trips, Huckabee and his wife, son and daughter-in-law traveled to and from Washington so Gov. and Mrs. Huckabee could participate in the Marine Corps marathon.
Huckabee will not answer questions about how or why he decides to use the State Police plane for almost all of his out-of-state travel, which includes about 40 trips in 2005. “Whether we are talking in general or about specifics, when it is a matter of travel it is a security issue and we’re not going to comment,” said Huckabee press secretary Alice Stewart. It is unclear what security concerns exist after a trip, but Stewart won’t discuss that either.
State Police spokesman Bill Sadler said the department has “no recollection or record” of Huckabee ever reimbursing the department for his use of its aircraft.
A schedule released by Huckabee’s office says he is to be in Carlsbad, Calif., for a Republican Governors Association meeting from Nov. 30 to Dec. 2, New York City to receive an award on Dec. 5 and Greensboro, N.C., to deliver a speech on Dec. 6. His office would not say if Huckabee will use the State Police plane for those trips.
Sadler said Huckabee’s use of the plane is governed by Section 12-8-108(a) of the Arkansas Code, which says, “The Department of Arkansas State Police shall be responsible for the safety and security of the: (1) Governor and his or her family.” It makes no specific provision for use of the plane to transport the governor, an expense worth thousands of dollars for every trip at private industry prices.
Also, Chapter 17 of the State Police Field Operations Policy and Procedure Manual refers to the department’s aircraft. Among the approved uses other than for law enforcement operations is “transportation of other state officials in the performance of official state business.”
The same chapter stipulates “the determination of whether a situation warrants the use of ASP aircraft shall be made by ASP field supervisors. (The Commander of the Executive Protection Unit may also schedule and request ASP aircraft for use by the Governor.)”
According to the manual, State Police flights must adhere to Federal Aviation Regulations, which in the case of the King Air 200 are found in Part 91.
In South Dakota, Democratic state legislators have asked the Federal Aviation Administration whether their governor’s use of a King Air 200 complies with Part 91.
The Argus Leader, South Dakota’s largest newspaper, reported in September that Gov. Mike Rounds “sometimes uses the state airplane to travel to high school athletic contests and other non-public events, often taking family members and friends along. Rounds said state law allows him to pay for nonpublic use of the state-owned airplanes. He said he usually uses either his campaign fund or a Governor’s Club fund created by donors to the state Republican Party to reimburse the state for those trips.”
In a survey of public aircraft policies in 49 states, the Argus Leader found that most states clearly prohibit use of state-owned planes for personal or political travel. For Arkansas the newspaper quoted Rex Nelson, Huckabee’s former communications director, as saying, “He doesn’t use the airplane for personal trips. Occasionally, there’s a day when official business travel is mixed with politics.”
There is bi-partisan support among South Dakota lawmakers for examination of the use of the state airplane by Rounds, who is a Republican.
“Any time we’re spending taxpayers’ dollars in government, we should pay attention to that,” Republican state Sen. Bill Earley told the Argus Leader. Another Republican state senator, Bill Napoli, was quoted in the paper supporting the Democrats’ letter to the FAA.
Arkansas state Sen. Gilbert Baker, who is also the chairman of the state Republican Party, said he was not familiar with the situation in South Dakota.
“The bottom line for me is that obviously we have a governor who has an important role nationally with the National Governors Association and it is good for Arkansas that he is in that role,” Baker said. “I don’t know the details regarding the policies on the use of the State Police plane, but I am confident he is using it appropriately.”
When asked if Huckabee should be more transparent about how and why he decides to utilize the plane, Baker said, “We do live in a new day when it comes to security issues. … If it is a security issue, there is no way I would want to tread on that. I would just have to trust the State Police in that regard.”
A determination of whether Huckabee’s use of the State Police aircraft is lawful would likely be conducted by the non-partisan Division of Legislative Audit. To start that process, a member of the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee must request a fact-finding report.
State Rep. Tommy Roebuck, who co-chairs the committee with state Sen. Hank Wilkins, said that no one on the committee has raised questions about Huckabee’s use of the state-owned plane.