Over the past 18 months, visitors to state capitols have noticed many structural changes designed to enhance safety. But one change they won't get a chance to see is an old dumbwaiter that Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee has converted into an escape route.

A 16-foot ladder, bolted into the dumbwaiter shaft, allows Huckabee to climb from a room in his suite of offices on the second floor down to the ground level. From there, he has easy access to exits in the basement or the capitol's west side.

Huckabee's staff refuses to divulge the circumstances in which the governor might make use of the ladder. "That's a security matter and we don't discuss it," says spokesman Jim Harris. "In these days of heightened security after September 11, 2001, you take security precautions but you certainly don't go around advertising them."

As in many capitol buildings, some of the entrances in Little Rock have been closed to the public. Security teams in other capitols have installed metal detectors, increased guard presence or blocked off access to parking adjacent to the building.

Huckabee proposed the installation of such a ladder in 1998, but backed off from the plan after the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette got wind of the idea and made fun of it. Since September 11, though, the laughter has largely abated.