story by Ryan Saylor
Arkansas will be without a lieutenant governor as of Feb. 1 following the announcement late Friday (Jan. 10) that Lt. Gov. Mark Darr, R-Ark., would be leaving office.
News of Darr's impending resignation follows numerous calls for him to step down by Republican and Democratic politicians from Little Rock to Washington and threats of impeachment should Darr refuse to step down after being fined $11,000 by the Ethics Commission for violating state ethics laws stemming from misspending of campaign funds for items including Razorback tickets, clothes for his daughter and meals at restaurants. Darr was also fined for taking excessive campaign contributions. The fine is believed to be the largest against an office holder in Arkansas history.
In all, Darr is estimated to have misspent more than $44,000 in both campaign and state funds.
In his statement of resignation, Darr said he had wanted to share his version of events with the residents of Arkansas. Darr has previously insisted that the facts surrounding his fine for ethics violations were not being accurately reported.
"Throughout this process, it has been my desire to share the facts, and I feel this has been accomplished. I have been honest, forthright and acted with integrity. I made mistakes, but not one with malicious intent." (His full statement is included at the end of this story.)
Darr said he had been in consultation with both House Speaker Davy Carter, R-Cabot, and Senate Pro-Tempore Michael Lamoureux, R-Russellville, regarding his impending resignation and offered his resignation to the people of Arkansas instead of a politician. The statement appears to be veiled response to Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe's request in December that Darr resign after Darr signed a letter accepting the Ethics Commission's findings, which included an admission of violating the state's ethics laws.
"Effective February 1, 2014 I will resign as Lieutenant Governor and I submit that resignation to the people of Arkansas, not an elected official," Darr wrote. "I have spoken with Speaker Carter and Senate Pro-Tempore Lamoureux to notify them of this decision. They agree with me it is in the best interest for me, my family and the state at this point. I respect these two men for their concern: not just for the state but for me and my family."
Darr also addressed what he said politics had become.
"Politics can be a toxic business," he said. "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."
It is a drastic reversal from just three days ago, when Darr said he would keep his feet firmly planted in the lieutenant governor's office.
"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," he said at the time. "It would be an immediate fix to tuck tail and run but I would regret it for years to come."
Darr's announcement of resignation comes about more than four months after Darr entered the race for U.S. Congress from the 4th District. Shortly after Darr's announced run, left-leaning political blogger Matt Campbell published a series of posts questioning campaign and office expenditures made by Darr. Only 17 days after entering the race, Darr dropped out and filed an ethics complaint against himself in order to correct the items called into question.
"When this was brought to my attention, I immediately became pro-active to be transparent and correct those mistakes by requesting that the ethics commission review my previous filings for potential errors, which included filing an ethics complaint on myself," he said, explaining that some of the questionable campaign expenditures were his attempt to repay himself more than $170,000 in loans he made to his 2010 campaign for lieutenant governor.
Prior to the findings by the Ethics Commission of more than $32,000 in misspent campaign funds, the Division of Legislative Audit found that Darr had apparently misspent more than $12,000 in office funds for personal or undocumented expenses. The findings from that audit have been forwarded to Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley for review of possible criminal violations.
Calls for Darr's impeachment came on Jan. 2, when the Democratic Caucus in the House said it would pursue impeachment for the first time since the Arkansas Constitution of 1874 was approved should Darr refuse to step down before the beginning of the fiscal session of the legislature in February.
"We as a caucus are (saying) that if a resignation does not occur, that due to his unethical actions in office he has lost the trust of the people of Arkansas and under Article 15, Section 1 of the Arkansas Constitution, we would move forward with the impeachment process in the House of Representatives," said Rep. Harold Copenhaver, D-Jonesboro, speaking on behalf of the House Democratic Caucus.
House Majority Leader Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, told the Associated Press he believed Darr's impeachment would be inevitable should he remain in office by the time the fiscal session was held.
Following Darr's decision to resign, Chairman Vince Insalaco of the Democratic Party of Arkansas said he was relieved that Darr would step down.
“In light of Lt. Gov. Mark Darr’s recent ethics violations, his resignation is the right thing to do for the state of Arkansas. Arkansans hold their elected officials to a standard of transparency and ethical behavior and when an official repeatedly breaks that trust, Arkansans expect them to take responsibility. The Democratic Party of Arkansas is relieved that Mr. Darr did not put the people of Arkansas and the state legislature through the impeachment process.“
The Republican Party of Arkansas, which previously refused to call for Darr's resignation, has not responded to The City Wire's request for comment.
DARR'S FULL STATEMENT
"It is my great honor to be the Lieutenant Governor of Arkansas. This office has allowed me to meet so many wonderful Arkansans over the past few years. My family and I are forever grateful for the support the people of this great state have shown us for the past few years and during this extremely difficult time. We have learned that difficult days demand decisions of faith.
"Throughout this process, it has been my desire to share the facts, and I feel this has been accomplished. I have been honest, forthright and acted with integrity. I made mistakes, but not one with malicious intent.
"Effective February 1, 2014 I will resign as Lieutenant Governor and I submit that resignation to the people of Arkansas, not an elected official. I have spoken with Speaker Carter and Senate Pro-Tempore Lamoureux to notify them of this decision. They agree with me it is in the best interest for me, my family and the state at this point. I respect these two men for their concern: not just for the state but for me and my family.
"Politics can be a toxic business. 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."