Friday, January 10, 2014

Arkansas Lt. Gov. Mark Darr to resign Feb. 1, cites politics, family

Posted By on Fri, Jan 10, 2014 at 6:38 PM

The pressure became too great.
MARK DARR: To resign.
  • MARK DARR: To resign.

Lt. Gov. Mark Darr will resign from his office effective Feb. 1, according to various reports and my own sources.

His letter, delivered minutes ago, cited political and family pressure.

UPDATE: Here's his public release:

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.

Mark Darr

A resignation by Feb. 1 leaves ample time under the statute for Gov. Mike Beebe to declare a vacancy in the office, which requires a special election to fill the seat within 150 days. There remains a tiny bit of confusion whether he's mandated to declare the vacancy, though the statute points strongly in that direction.

There was some talk earlier in the day to introduce legislation that would omit the requirement for a special election to fill that particular office in an election year. But the vacancy will occur before the legislature convenes.

The conventional thinking has been that Democrats would get an advantage from an opportunity to win the seat for the remainder of this year with their deep-pocketed candidate John Burkhalter. Announced Republican candidates Andy Mayberry and Charlie Collins are both members of the legislature and, by law, can't run to change state office while in their current terms.

Republicans have been casting about for a well-known name to seek the position on an interim basis only. Lisenne Rockefeller, widow of the former lieutenant governor, Winthrop Paul Rockefeller, has been mentioned as has one of her sons. But that's just rank speculation at this point.

With most of his own party favoring his departure, Darr's position had grown increasingly tenuous. He faced a certain impeachment vote in the House. The outcome of a Senate trial was less certain, but these were votes that neither House nor Senate Republicans wanted to cast. And, had the verdict gone against Darr, he'd have been responsible for the cost of the special legislative proceedings necessary to carry out his removal.

Darr has admitted receiving state and campaign money for personal expenses, which isn't allowed by law. He got some $12,000 in state money he must repay, according to a legislative audit, and he took $31,000 in campaign money for personal expenses. He was fined $11,000 for ethics law violations and the violations are being reviewed by the Pulaski prosecuting attorney to consider whether those violations may be prosecuted as criminal misdemeanors, as the law allows. He has said his mistakes were made out of ignorance and poor record keeping, not improper intent. The campaign spending came from money that was raised to repay loans he made in the campaign and he said it should be viewed as his money, though he followed a practice clearly not allowed by law.

Darr was elected in 2010 on a Reoublican tide that swept several relatively unknown Republicans into state office with nearly identical votes in a wave of anti-Obama sentiment. He was a a young winner, only 37 when elected. He owned a pizza business, but has since lost that ownership and has had other personal financial reverses, including a default on a home mortgage at one time. He's popular with the religious conservative/Tea Party branch of the party, which is strong in his home area of Springdale. He championed, ironically, the state on-line "checkbook," which allows Internet access to details of state spending. It has, however, been little employed since its adoption. He also campaigned against Obamacare and intervened in a lawsuit challenging it. He planned to run for 4th District Congress this year, but withdrew days after announcing the race and his campaign consultant quit him after multiple problems surfaced in his expense accounts. The Blue Hog Report, a blog authored by lawyer Matt Campbell, uncovered many of the problems that sank Darr and filed the complaint that led to his reprimand and record fine.

Darr was among the most personally engaging of Republican officeholders, genial and a heckuva karaoke singer. But he could insert a political stiletto, too. Encouraged after a prayerful meeting with other religious conservatives, he put a "stake in the ground" earlier this week to remain in office. Some three days later, he's pulled up his stake.

The lieutenant governor makes just below $42,000 a year. He hasn't been in office long enough to qualify for state retirement, by my understanding of the rules.

Democrats said it was the right thing to do. Said Party Chair Vince Insalaco:

“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. “


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