Commentary Forum: 11/25

Forum Center: Abuse of power? (or, cool dad pardons son for drug possession)

By Sarah Sidlow

Illustration: Jed Helmers

In 2003, Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe’s son, Kyle, was arrested for possession of a controlled substance, two ounces of marijuana, with the intent to deliver. Kyle was charged a fine and sentenced to three years of probation, which he served without incident. When his son was arrested, the governor said, “If he broke the law, he needs to pay for it. He needs to be treated like everybody else – no better, worse.”

Recently, Governor Beebe, a Democrat who will retire in January, due to term limits, announced he will pardon his son, expunging his felony record. Beebe has issued more than 700 similar pardons during his time in office, most of which have been for young, nonviolent people with drug convictions. While this may seem like a lot, it is hundreds fewer than his predecessor, Republican Mike Huckabee, who has been criticized for approving pardons of more serious felons. Beebe said the decision to pardon his son was unanimously recommended by the state Pardons and Parole Board (whose members are appointed by the governor), after the now-34-year-old Kyle wrote a lengthy letter in his application for pardon asking for “a second chance at life.” Kyle Beebe’s application for pardon also said he had previously been convicted for public intoxication and disorderly conduct. The pardon would mean a full restoration of Kyle Beebe’s rights, including the right to bear arms.

Critics of Governor Beebe’s decision to pardon his son see this as an abuse of power – and wonder if Kyle is, indeed, being “treated like everybody else.” They claim the unanimous decision by the state Pardons and Parole Board is invalid as an argument, as its members are hand-selected by the governor himself.

But Beebe contends the issue is about fairness. While he understands why this particular pardon is coming under such scrutiny, he claims it is consistent with his past near-decade of pardoning young adults with drug offenses – giving those people a second chance at life.

In fact, he claims he would have pardoned his son earlier, had Kyle not “[taken] his sweet time about asking.” Proponents of the pardon claim it is a step in the right direction – toward pardoning all nonviolent drug offenders.

The same day Governor Beebe announced the pardon, he put on hold plans to pardon 34-year-old Michael Jackson, a childhood friend of his son and a former player on the peewee football team Beebe coached. Jackson had been arrested in a 2007 Internet sting for trying to meet with an officer who posed as a 14-year-old girl. He served a two-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to a felony charge for Internet stalking of a child.

While Beebe’s lame-duck period has certainly caused more national fanfare than he intended, he claims he will not leave the political arena feeling burned, just a little embarrassed.

Reach DCP Editor Sarah Sidlow at

Commentary Forum Question of the Week:

Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe has announced he will pardon his son for a 2003 felony conviction for marijuana possession. Is this pardon bad political form?

Commentary Left: The state unworthy of pardon

By Ben Tomkins

Governor Beebe is, as the Governor of Arkansas, granted the authority to pardon anyone he chooses by Article 6 section 18:

“In all criminal and penal cases, except in those of treason and impeachment, the Governor shall have power to grant reprieves, commutations of sentence, and pardons, after conviction;

Furthermore, this is a power solely invested in the Executive Department (the word “Branch” is not used), and, with the exception of treason, does not require advice and consent of the Senate. This is further strengthened by Article 4 section 2. Separation of Departments:

No person or collection of persons, being of one of these departments, shall exercise any power belonging to either of the others…”

It’s easy to look at the situation and judge Governor Beebe for pardoning his son, particularly in an age of mass media that is exceptional at communicating headlines and terrible at nuance. I can understand, at first glance, the frustration that he’s a lame duck and the fact that the people of Arkansas will not have an opportunity to officially tar and feather him in the next election, ride him out of office on a rail and dump him into the Mississippi.

However, the story has been blown way out of proportion. I think most people don’t have any idea what the actual circumstances are and believe he’s opening a cell door for his son. He’s not. It’s a nonviolent offense for which his son has paid his dues, and now it exists solely as a black mark on his permanent record. 

Besides, it’s not like he pardoned the kid three days after his conviction or sent him off to a plush reformatory next to the beach in Southern California where he could work out his affluenza (no, I’m not freaking capitalizing that) through equine therapy and volleyball. All he did is remove the conviction from his permanent record, so when his son applies for a job at Sears he doesn’t have to check the felony box on the application.

Speaking about his decision, Governor Beebe said, with an unmistakable tinge of disdain, “I would have done it a long time ago if he’d have asked, but he took his sweet time about asking,” and it’s not as though he’s tucking his tail between his legs and hiding from it as he slinks out of office. To his credit, Beebe has also pardoned over 700 other people in the state for similar offenses committed in their youths, so this isn’t exactly unprecedented. The timing has everything to do with his son’s choices, not the governor’s. 

So Ben, do you think Governor Beebe should be able to pardon his son? No, I do not. The reason I think this is because the construction of Arkansas’s constitution, the one I quoted above as an example of the fundamental values of republicanism upon which our entire nation is founded, hasn’t provided acceptable criteria for valid elections in their state, much less met the second most fundamental criteria for admission to the Union. 

Am I about to get on my soapbox about religion? You’re damn right I am, and do not disgrace yourself by trying to hand wave what I’m about to say like you’re Paula Deen running diabetes commercials while stroking our hair and shoving 11,000 calories worth of cake down our throats. My email is listed below, and you can write any letters to the editor you like. I am here for you. The state of electoral affairs in Arkansas is so disgustingly distorted that it’s almost unfathomable that it has existed in this way since 1874. 

In Arkansas no person who denies the being of a God can hold any office in the civil departments of the State nor is competent to testify as a witness in any court.

If hearing it from me hasn’t caused you to choke on your own brainstem yet, then take it from the Arkansas constitution itself. Here is Article 19, Section 1: “No person who denies the being of a God shall hold any office in the civil departments of this State, nor be competent to testify as a witness in any Court.”

Yes. This is America, and that exists. I read the whole bloody constitution and its amendments  (all 156 pages, thank you very much) and that has not been altered or repealed. Nor is it even vaguely hinted that this might be slightly incompatible with … wait, I forgot … what’s that thing we have in the National Archives? Screw it. I’m not missing a second of the Razorbacks’ game to do something stupid like thinking. 

Not only are those who claim the rights of the First Amendment completely disenfranchised from government, but they are also explicitly barred from participating in hearings on this topic in a court of law. Even in fundamentalist Islam women can testify in court as long as they get a few of their friends together.

With that in their constitution, the state of Arkansas is in absolutely no condition to function as a civil entity in this nation, and arguing over the particulars of the governor’s powers is like debating the best construction for a perpetual motion machine. It’s an abortion (they managed to find time to legalize that in Amendment 68) to civilized society and one that negates their ability to invest any citizen with any civil authority – including the power to grant a pardon.

Ben Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colorado. He hates stupidity and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue. Reach Ben Tomkins at

Commentary Right: Membership has its privileges

By David H. Landon

Kyle Beebe, the 34-year-old son of outgoing Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe, is about to get the benefit of having been born to a man who would become governor. Governor Beebe’s office announced last week he would be issuing a pardon for his son’s 2003 conviction for “possession with intent to distribute” two ounces of marijuana. Kyle was sentenced at the time to a fine and three years of probation, which he successfully completed. This is not exactly the crime of the century. One could argue  the young man paid his debt and deserves to be given a second chance. There’s some merit to that argument, but the same could be said of probably thousands of other nonviolent drug offenders in Arkansas’ criminal justice system. There are approximately 11,000 drug arrests annually in Arkansas.  Although he has issued nearly 700 pardons over his eight years as the Arkansas governor, thousands convicted of similar crimes obviously have not gotten the benefit of the Governor Beebe second chance policy. Membership, it would seem, does have its privileges. 

Is this action by the governor illegal?  Certainly not, as it is a power granted to the governor of Arkansas and every other state in the union. Is it, however, improper? I think that while in this instance it appears like favoritism toward a family member, giving a governor or president the power to grant pardons and commute sentences will always create the appearance of impropriety. This is hardly the first pardon and many are far more infamous.

The history of pardons begins with our first president George Washington. The first presidential pardon came in the wake of an armed rebellion. In 1794, fed up with a costly federal tax on distilled spirits, a group of whiskey-producing farmers from Pennsylvania took to the streets and burned the home of a local tax inspector. If you thought the colonists were excitable over a tax on tea, Washington and his administration were facing serious rancor for placing a federal tax on whiskey. Many politicians argued this lawlessness threatened the stability of the newly formed United States. The president marched a 13,000-man-strong militia into western Pennsylvania to quell the rebellion. Some 20 members of the mob were arrested, and two were convicted of treason and sentenced to death by hanging. Desperate to avoid further discontent, Washington chose to pardon both men in July 1795. 

A more recent example would be the pardon of the granddaughter of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. Patricia Hearst was kidnapped and held for ransom by a radical guerilla group. During her ordeal as a hostage, she surprised the world by announcing she had voluntarily joined the ranks of her captors. Hearst went on to wield a rifle during a bank heist. When she was captured by the FBI the following year, Hearst argued she had been brainwashed and abused during her captivity. Unconvinced, the court sentenced Hearst to seven years in federal prison. President Jimmy Carter judged the punishment too harsh and commuted Hearst’s prison sentence after she had served only 22 months behind bars. At Carter’s urging, President Bill Clinton later issued her a full pardon in 2001.

One of the most controversial pardons was granted by President Gerald Ford. On September 8, 1974, Ford pardoned former President Richard Nixon for any crimes he may have committed while president.  Although some members of the American public were relieved the country was saved the spectacle of an ex-president on trial, many were outraged. The pardon probably cost Ford the 1976 presidential election.

President Bill Clinton’s history of pardons was also controversial. For the first seven years, 11 months and 29 days of his presidency Clinton issued far fewer pardons than many of his predecessors.  The man from Hope made up for his slow start with a flurry of pardons on his last day in office. 

On his last day in office, President Clinton issued 140 pardons, many of which were not cleared by the Department of Justice. One of his pardons went to Susan McDougal. She had spent 18 months in jail as a result of the investigation of the Whitewater scandal for which President Clinton was investigated.  McDougal had refused to testify about Clinton’s involvement and was jailed for contempt.  Having kept quiet about his involvement in the scandal, when Clinton pardoned her on his last day in office, it gave the impression a favor was being returned for her silence. Other controversial pardons in that 11th hour blitz by Clinton included the pardon of his brother Roger for an old drug charge. The sleaziness of these pardons were perhaps best epitomized by Carlos Vignali, convicted of cocaine trafficking, and Almon Braswell, convicted of mail fraud, each of whom paid approximately $200,000 to Hillary Clinton’s brother, Hugh Rodham, to represent their respective cases for clemency. 

Perhaps one of the more bizarre pardons was one that never happened. Last year, during the Ohio gubernatorial Democratic primary, candidate Larry Ealy, a truck driver and former male dancer, explained to one reporter that he decided to run while serving time in jail. He promised the inmates who shared his cellblock that if he were elected governor he would see to it they were pardoned. Not exactly the stuff of Jean Valjean from Les Misérables, but at least it’s an honest explanation for a potential pardon. 

David H. Landon is the former Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party Central Committee. He can be reached at

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Sarah Sidlow
Reach DCP editor Sarah Sidlow at

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