The reckless, sophomoric and illegal actions of Lt. Gov. Mark Darr (R) have served to destroy his career in Arkansas politics. What Darr must now decide is if he wants to run the risk of damaging the image of a state and its people he professes to love.
Darr has been found guilty of misspending around $44,000 of taxpayer money and has been fined $11,000 by the Arkansas Ethics Commission. Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley is reviewing findings from the Ethics Commission and an Arkansas legislative audit for possible criminal charges.
Similar acts of financial malfeasance and law-breaking by then Arkansas Treasurer Martha Shoffner (D) and Sen. Paul Bookout, D-Jonesboro, resulted in their resignation. After not doing the right thing, they did the right thing.
The five Republican members of Arkansas’ six-member Congressional delegation have asked Darr to step down. Andy Mayberry, a Republican state representative who is running for the Lt. Gov. office has asked Darr to step down. John Burkhalter, a Democratic candidate seeking the Lt. Gov. office in the 2014 election, also has suggested Darr “do the right thing.” Rep. David Meeks, a Republican from Conway, has asked Darr to resign. Democrats in the Arkansas House are preparing a possible impeachment action in the upcoming fiscal session.
The Republican Party of Arkansas is the only prominent group to not call for Darr’s resignation, but that comes as no surprise considering the track record of party chief Doyle Webb.
Darr, who is not running for re-election to the office, stubbornly refuses these bipartisan calls to hand over the keys to the office. Some have said his personal financial situation is so bleak he needs the more than $42,000 the office pays in salary and benefits. Others suggest he has convinced himself he can ride out the storm and will find voter forgiveness on the other side. The former is unfortunate, the latter is crazy.
Up until a few weeks ago this embarrassment was largely contained within the sphere of those who follow Arkansas politics. But when Darr refused a procedurally graceful exit offered by Gov. Mike Beebe (D), the volume rose on this political white noise. Darr must know – and you should know – that folks from the New York Times to the San Francisco Chronicle are watching to see if Arkansas political leaders are forced to impeach a small-town pizza slinger who double-dipped with taxpayer funds.
We can predict here the story line from out-of-state media outlets: A Republican and political novice who ran on a Tea Party-infused platform of government-spending transparency and protecting family values is now hoisted by his own petard(s). Directly or indirectly, fair or unfair, the collective intelligence of the Arkansas electorate will be questioned.
Darr, who also said he would champion economic development, must know that business decision makers are watching. His actions may not hurt efforts to retain or recruit jobs, but they certainly do not help. Also, this situation becomes worse if Mr. Jegley decides to file charges against Darr while he remains in office.
Darr has proven he is immune from calls by many in his own party to “do the right thing” and step down. The question now will be if his unknown-but-selfish motives are deep enough to increase outside awareness of the illegal actions of the state’s second-highest elected officer.
Please, Mr. Darr, do your state a big favor and resign as soon as possible.