Democrats plan to push for Darr’s impeachment for violating state ethics rules
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com
LITTLE ROCK (CFP) — A defiant Lieutenant Governor Mark Darr says he will not resign, triggering a likely impeachment showdown in the Arkansas legislature over his violations of state ethics rules
“I am not downplaying what has occurred, but there is no scandal, no conspiracy and no malicious intentional disregard of the law,” Darr, a Republican, said in a lengthy defense issued January 7.
“Today I put a stake in the ground. Not for this office, not for the title or the job, but I put a stake in the ground for those Arkansans who are sick and tired of these types of political games and the people who play them.”
Darr did not elaborate on who he believes is playing political games. But he insisted that his violations of state ethics rules, which drew an $11,000 fine from the state’s ethics commission, were unintentional.
Democratic Governor Mike Beebe and all five Republicans in the state’s congressional delegation have called on Darr to resign. That would trigger a special election, which Darr said would be a waste of a million dollars of taxpayer money.
But Democrats in the state House of Representatives have said they will push for Darr to be impeached if he does not resign. The next legislative session begins February 10.
Republican House Speaker Davy Carter said his office “is contemplating a couple of avenues in which to provide a proper process should the majority of members decide to pursue impeachment.”
An impeachment in Arkansas would be uncharted territory, as it has apparently never been done under the state’s current constitution, which dates to 1874.
Impeachment requires a simple majority in the House, which currently has 51 Republicans, 48 Democrats and one Green Party member. That would mean that Darr would have to hold all of his fellow Republicans in line in order to avoid impeachment.
Darr’s prospects in the Senate — where he is the presiding officer — would seem to be better. There are currently 21 Republicans and only 13 Democrats, with one vacancy. Removing Darr would require at least 24 votes.
Darr, 40, a restaurant owner from Springdale, had never held elective office before winning the lieutenant governorship in 2010. He based his campaign, in part, on opposition to Obamacare.
He abandoned a campaign for the open 4th District U.S. House seat after his ethics problems first came to light last summer.
In its report, the ethics commission said Darr made personal use of more than $31,000 in campaign funds and charged more than $3,500 of personal expenses on a state-issued credit card. He was also cited for receiving improper reimbursement for nearly $3,600 in travel expenses from his home in Springdale to his office in Little Rock.
He was also cited for mistakes in his campaign finance reports.
In his statement, Darr conceded that he accepted the travel reimbursement for use of his personal vehicle. But he said that actually saved the state money because he was entitled to use the Arkansas State Police for travel and security, which would have been much more expensive.
He said the improper use of the state-issued credit card was for “purchases that were either for official state use or used by mistake while traveling. As soon as the errors were realized, I reimbursed the state for those charges.”
The mistakes in his campaign finance reports, Darr said, stemmed from repayment of a $170,000 loan that he made to his campaign. After he was elected, he raised money to pay the loan back and made mistakes in reporting those contributions, which he said were corrected as soon as they were brought to his attention.
“I want you to know that at the end of the day, the only money that ever came back to me, in whatever form, was a repayment of campaign debt that was legally owed to me,” Darr said.
Darr apologized to the people of Arkansas and conceded that “this has been an embarrassing time for my family and me.”
“When history is recorded I want my children to know that I have owned up to mistakes and made them right,” he said.