Notes from the ‘pie box’ fiasco

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 87 views 

This past week’s headlines on the fall of Martha Shoffner, the former Arkansas State Treasurer, has ignited the debate on why do Arkansans “need the state offices of Auditor, Treasurer and Commissioner of State Lands?”

The state’s executive offices are elected in state-wide races every four years.

Before we delve into the state’s Constitutional history on these formation of these seemingly “minor” offices, let’s rehash for the history books, Ms. Shoffner’s self-propelled free-fall from grace.

She was, as has been pointed out, sadly, the only female serving as an elected to a statewide executive office in Arkansas. And that, is, in fact, a shame. The lack of women in politics, brings about the old question of “Is there, indeed, a ‘good old boys’ club operating, sadly, in both political parties in Arkansas?”

Well, yes, we must say, sadly yes.

The decline of the number of women in political offices, especially in the ever-reddening of the South (and Arkansas of late), is of real concern. Women provide a positive balance to their male counterparts in elective bodies from a city council, quorum courts, legislative seats and yes, even the state’s executive branch.

Women, however, do have a better representation (and a growing one) in our state’s judicial circles. In Arkansas, even though there are a handful of women serving in both houses of Legislature, we can’t name a single one which will get the call from our Governor to fill the unexpired term of Ms. Shoffner.

The issue at hand, of calling for Ms. Shoffner’s resignation by both spokesmen of political persuasions, the sitting Governor, our Attorney General and a chorus of others, was warranted.

Given the details of her arrest, an FBI Confidential Informant wearing a wire, the tape recordings of the cash exchange at her home in Newport (Jackson County), even her own admission to arresting agents of “knowing better,” and, of course that terribly embarrassing illegal conduit of receiving a “pie box” filled with marked $100 bills – 60 such Ben Franklins in a roll banded by a rubber band, to  be exact – made for great media fodder.

Hollywood, couldn’t script her any better than she appears. Ms. Shoffner’s ever present dark eye shadow, that icy stare at tough legislative questions, and her penchant for tossing about snappy foot-in-the-mouth comments to the press, is who she was in office. Remember when she called the Arkansas State Police bodyguards for the Governor, “.. manservants…”

A twice-elected state wide official, Ms. Shoffner had a pattern of running hard fought races. She came from behind to defeat a youthful Mac Campbell, who out-spent her almost three-to-one. History also lists she failed at a previous attempt for State Auditor, but rebounded back to be elected Treasurer.

She was, in fact, term limited and could not seek re-election in 2014, prior to her fall from grace. And now history records a tragic, embarrassing footnote of her resignation.

Now on to the Constitutional question.

The office of Treasurer was one of four offices set back to Territorial Days in Arkansas. It is also one of the offices that exist in almost all of Arkansas’ antique Constitutions, and especially in the latest one, written in 1874 and amended often.

The office of State Treasurer was established in 1819. The first state Constitution of 1836, named a Treasurer by a vote of the Legislature. He was none other than William Woodruff, the founding publisher of the old Arkansas Gazette.

But today, an amendment to reduce the offices of Treasurer, Auditor and Land Commissioner, to be appointed offices and reduced from divisions of government elected by a state wide vote – would be a big step – even in the face of this embarrassment of late.

The Treasurer, which is a part of the executive  branch of state government, might best be served out of the political realm, but still even that would not eliminate the problem that surfaced these last few months. There still remains a procedure to remove the office holder, with a Special Session of the General Assembly and a vote to remove the office holder. Be that an expensive cost, but one which could have come to pass, should Ms. Shoffner have refused to resign.

We are glad Ms. Shoffner resigned.

We are wondering about the need for a “re-do” of our state’s 1874 Constitution? But in these modern days of two distinct political parties and the narrow margin of political control in our state’s legislature – there is no way even an initiated act to neuter these three offices, would fly.

Nor would any Governor (present or future that we can see) call for a Constitutional Convention to draft another such document to submit to the voters.

So we need to pay better attention to the qualifications and ethics of future office seekers for these “minor” state offices stumping around our state in the coming year.