House Speaker files resolution to remove Hot Springs lawmaker who owes back taxes

by Wesley Brown ([email protected]) 592 views 

Friday the 13th will likely be enshrined in history as an unlucky day for Rep. Mickey Gates of Hot Springs, especially if the Arkansas legislature successfully removes him from public office.

On Friday (Sept. 13), Arkansas House Speaker Matthew Shepherd filed a  resolution to take away Gates’ membership in the 100-seat House of Representatives nearly three months after the Republican lawmaker was arrested for failing to pay income taxes for a period of 14 years.

In filing House Resolution 1079, Shepherd, also a Republican, makes the case in the three-page draft that the Arkansas Constitution under Article 5, Section 12, provides that each chamber of the General Assembly has the power to expel or discipline a member with the concurrence of a two-thirds vote by the body.

“I informed members last week that I intended to file a resolution calling for the expulsion of Rep. Mickey Gates. Today, I filed that resolution HR1079. The resolution speaks for itself,” Shepherd said in a statement. “I am now working with House staff on the process moving forward.  I will advise the members and make public the schedule once finalized.”

Shepherd’s resolution states that by entering a plea of no contest to a single charge of violating state law for failure to pay or file a tax return, a felony, Gates violated the public trust. The El Dorado attorney also argues that under Act 894, which was approved earlier by the legislature in the recent 2019 session, a person convicted of public trust crime is ineligible to hold or run as a candidate for constitutional office under Article 5, Section 9 of the state constitution.

“Act 894 of 2019 is not the main premise for the action requested in this resolution, but it offers further support as to what the 92nd General Assembly considers grounds for expulsion of a sitting member from the membership of the General Assembly,” the filing states. “Action taken to punish Rep. Gates pursuant to this resolution is undertaken in accordance with the power granted by the Arkansas Constitution to the House of Representatives as the sole authority for discipline of its members.”

Act 894, sponsored by Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, was among a gaggle of several bills proposed by lawmakers during the 2019 session that were eventually approved by both chambers amid a federal corruption and bribery probe that has entrapped six lawmakers from both parties and has led to the arrests, indictments and plea agreements for at least a dozen others.

Gates had been charged with not filing state tax returns from 2012 through 2017, but had worked out an agreement with Garland County prosecutors this week to reduce his charges to one count of not filing and paying income taxes. Gates will pay nearly $75,000 in back taxes, penalty and interest and serve six years of probation. A hearing later this year could add to more payments or charges.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson has also called for Gates to leave his elected office after he worked out the pact to pay part of back taxes that he owed.

“It is unacceptable for a public official, particularly a state legislator, to continue to hold office after being found guilty of a criminal violation of our tax laws. He should resign or be removed from office,” Hutchinson said last month.

Gates did not immediately respond to requests for comments from Talk Business & Politics for this story. Last summer, after Gates surrendered the Arkansas State Police for “willfully” failing to file tax returns, Shepherd suspended the Hot Springs Republican from all House leadership and select committee positions and responsibilities.

Gates did serve during the 92nd General Assembly that adjourned in May. Ironically, the Garland County legislator was one of 71 “yea” votes in the House for Senate Bill 650, which is the same act that Shepherd is now using to bolster his resolution to remove Gates from his seat.