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Arkansas Lieutenant Governor Mark Darr resigns over ethics charges

Three days after vowing he would stay in office, Darr says he no longer wants to subject his family to the “toxic business” of politics

♦Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitcs.com editor

arkansas mugLITTLE ROCK (CFP) — Facing impeachment and pressure for his resignation from within his own Republican Party, Arkansas Lieutenant Governor Mark Darr says he is quitting, effective February 1.

Arkansas Lieutenant Governor Mark Darr

Arkansas Lieutenant Governor Mark Darr

“Politics can be a toxic business,” Darr said in a statement announcing his departure. “I will no longer subject my family to its hard lessons.  All my forgiveness to those who play the games and all my respect and appreciation to those who serve with class and humility.”

Darr did not identify who he meant by “those who play the games.” However, he made a point in his statement that he was submitting his resignation “to the people of Arkansas, not an elected official.”

That was possibly an oblique reference to the Natural State’s Democratic Governor Mike Beebe, who had called on Darr to step down. The governor learned about Darr’s resignation from local media.

Beebe’s office later released a statement saying Darr’s decision to quit “is the best decision for the state of Arkansas and for Lieutenant Governor Darr.”

Darr said he had notified House Speaker Davy Carter and Senate President Pro-Tempore Michael Lamoureaux of his plans to step aside.

State law calls for a special election to be held to fill the remaining 11 months of Darr’s term. However, legislators are considering waiving that election, as was done in 2006 when then-Lieutenant Governor Win Rockefeller died in office.

The State Ethics Commission fined Darr $11,000 for violations relating to his 2010 campaign and during his time as lieutenant governor.

In its report, the 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. The commission also sanctioned him for misreporting money he raised after the election to pay off loans he made to the campaign.

Darr conceded that he made mistakes and apologized. But in a lengthy defense issued January 7, he insisted there was “no malicious intentional disregard of the law” on his part.

He said he was entitled to accept the contributions to pay off the campaign debt and that he actually saved the state money by seeking mileage reimbursement for use of his personal vehicle, rather than having the Arkansas State Police carry him around.

After the report was issued, Beebe and the state’s entire congressional delegation — including five Republicans — called for his resignation. After a defiant Darr said he would not resign, Democrats in the state legislature said they would seek his impeachment.

Republican legislative leaders ratched up the pressure by saying they would call a special session to consider impeachment, rather than handling it in a budget session scheduled to begin in February. Darr could have been forced to pay the cost of the special session if he were removed.

Darr, 40, was a little-known restauranteur with no political experience when he won the lieutenant governorship in 2010, a campaign he based partially on his opposition to Obamacare.

He abandoned a campaign for the open 4th District U.S. House seat after his ethics problems came to light last summer.

Arkansas Lieutenant Governor Mark Darr refuses calls to resign

Democrats plan to push for Darr’s impeachment for violating state ethics rules

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com

arkansas mugLITTLE 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

Arkansas Lieutenant Governor Mark Darr

Arkansas Lieutenant Governor Mark Darr

“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.

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