NWA, Fort Smith area legislators unsure about Darr impeachment

by The City Wire staff (info@thecitywire.com) 7 views 

While Democrats are calling for the impeachment of Lt. Gov. Mark Darr, R-Ark., over his admitted ethics violations stemming from misspending of nearly $44,000 in campaign and state funds and some Republicans are starting to call for his resignation, Republicans in the Fort Smith and Northwest Arkansas areas are not ready to pull the trigger just yet. And one Democrat joined the side of many Republicans who spoke to The City Wire, saying he was unsure what should happen.

Darr said Tuesday (Jan. 7) he would not resign from office. In a lengthy statement, Darr said he was not only staying put but he went to great lengths to challenge what he said were inaccurate representations of his actions in the media about his admitted misspending of nearly $44,000 in campaign and state funds.

House Majority Leader Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, told the Associated Press that impeachment was “inevitable” if Darr does not resign. House Speaker Davy Carter, R-Cabot, has said he plans to soon appoint a committee to investigate impeachment options.

Rep. George McGill, D-Fort Smith, said he was not yet calling for impeachment of the state's second highest constitutional officer, a position in direct opposition to his party leadership in the House and Gov. Mike Beebe, D-Ark.

"Not at this time. Certainly I understand the gravity of what he's done and all, but I'm still trying to make my own personal assessment of what should be done," McGill said, adding that he did not find it unusual at all that he would go against Democratic leadership in the House. "No. Party leadership does what it does. And that's fine. And I understand their movement, as well. My hope is that for the good of the state that we don't have to go through an impeachment process."

McGill, who hopes Darr resigns before impeachment becomes an option, was not joined by any of his Republican colleagues who spoke to The City Wire.

Rep. Charlotte Douglas, R-Alma, said she was neither calling for his resignation or impeachment.

"I am not going to call for his resignation and I'm not going to call for his impeachment. I am still going to wait for the process to play out,” Douglass explained. “I'm waiting for the prosecutor to be involved and if there are charges that are made, that will trigger the series of events that will definitely bring action on my part and others."

Douglas said with no impeachment taken place in Arkansas history, the House is unprepared to bring articles of impeachment against the lieutenant governor, adding that before moving any closer to impeachment, House members should allow Pulaski County Prosecutor Larry Jegley to complete his review of the Ethics Commission findings and those of Legislative Audit, the latter of which found examples of Darr misspending on his state credit card.

"Also at this point, we've discovered the House has no – we have no procedures for impeachment. And we are in the process of putting that procedure in place so that if it does come to that that we have a responsible way to carry through with that process," she said. "So we're trying to plan for the future if that is inevitable. Be patient. Let the process play out. Let the prosecutor do his job. At that point, if he is charged with something, that will bring on some action on my part.”

Jonathan Barnett, a Republican representative from Siloam Springs, said the House does not even have some of the basic definitions in place for what constitutes an impeachable offense, urging caution on the part of his House colleagues and bringing to light the possibility of other possible impeachments down the line should Darr become the first politician impeached under Arkansas' Constitution of 1874.

"When I said define impeachment – there are some people who define that as gross misconduct. I just … what is gross misconduct? If you're going to impeach someone for gross misconduct, then what is gross misconduct and what is an impeachable offense," he asked. "If the members want to go down this path, then there's a lot of members who've approached, I'm not saying they have committed gross misconduct, but I'm saying they've bordered it before. …I think the leg needs to be very careful because there's others. if they want to go back and check everybody's track record, there's some other people who might be bordering on gross misconduct, as well. I hate to admit it, but what about the attorney general (Dustin McDaniel who withdrew from the 2014 race for governor after admitting to an extramarital affair)? Was that gross misconduct? You've got to be careful. Everyone deserves a fair hearing."

Rep. Terry Rice, R-Waldron, has known the lieutenant governor since Darr was growing up in Mansfield and said he was still waiting for some things to unfold before passing judgment.

"Public confidence is important and I want to see how plans unfold," he said, adding that he was not yet ready to call for Darr's resignation. "Again I'm not ready to call for that. I think he's had time to absorb some of these things and all. Again, I was a little surprised at how he did his press deal individually yesterday. I understand it's important for him to try to get his view of it out. It all comes down to public confidence. I knew Mark when he was a boy. He was from my area. I knew his mom and dad very well. And I feel like he'll do the right thing."