This year, Arkansas Democrats have had a few black eyes caused by the actions of certain Democratic elected officials.
Earlier this year, State Treasurer Martha Shoffner was arrested for accepting bribes and last month State Senator Paul Bookout resigned after being heavily fined by the Ethics Commission for illegally using campaign funds for personal purposes.
Both Democratic elected officials caused image problems for Arkansas Democrats and Arkansas Republicans were gearing up to make them poster kids for all Arkansas Democrats.
For a time it appeared Arkansas Republicans would have a significant talking point to use against Arkansas Democrats. “Arkansas Democrats have been in power so long they have become corrupt and unethical” would probably be heard in some form or fashion next year.
But then last week, Republican Lt. Governor Mark Darr dropped a political bombshell. Darr abandoned his campaign for the Fourth Congressional District because significant ethics questions have arisen against him in the past few weeks.
In short, the highest-ranking Republican state officeholder had to drop out of a campaign because his ethical problems were so harsh and deep.
Mark Darr’s ethical problems will continue to play out in the public eye based on a new story released today. Blue Hog Report, an Arkansas-based blog, has dug into Darr’s official government spending. It appears Darr may have improperly used government funds to pay for personal expenses. At the very least, it’s clear Darr wasted taxpayer’s money. BHR’s report makes a compelling case and let’s not forget they were the ones that broke the story that ultimately drove Darr from the Congressional race. That doesn’t bode well for Mark Darr.
The saga of Darr’s questionable spending practices isn’t going away, which is bad news for the Arkansas Republic Party.
Prior to Darr’s announcement, the Republic Party of Arkansas were besides themselves with glee at the prospect of tying Democrats to Martha Shoffner, Paul Bookout and State Rep. Hudson Hallum, to say nothing of President Barack Obama.
Mark Darr’s fall from grace robs Arkansas Republicans of a line of attack against Arkansas Democrats. How can Republicans paint Arkansas Democrats with a “no ethics” brush when their own highest-ranking constitutional officer is painted with the same color?
Moreover, today the Republican Sheriff of Saline County, Bruce Pennington, announced that not only had he changed his mind about resigning, but he would run for reelection in 2014.
This causes headaches for Arkansas Republicans if he ends up on the 2014 ballot.
As I said last week, both parties have elected officials who engage in unethical behavior. The actions of a few rarely reflect the beliefs of the whole.
In the end, Darr’s actions, along with other Arkansas Republicans, likely causes the ethics debate to become a wash in the eyes of the voters.
Neither party will have much advantage on this particular issue since neither party is without sin.
Finally with the election still some 14 months away, a valid question remains unanswered: Will the debate over ethics still burn as hot, or will other issues overtake it in the course of sure-to-be-hot gubernatorial and senatorial races?
We’ll know for certain about a year from now.