Late-night hijinks at the Capitol, grainy video, clandestine photos at the White Water Tavern, possible blackmail, baseless insinuation of a sex scandal, secret recordings and a strange meeting at a Krispy Kreme. The Republican primary race for state treasurer between Rep. Duncan Baird (R-Lowell) and Saline County Circuit Clerk Dennis Milligan has taken a turn for the bizarre. It's perhaps fitting, since the office of treasurer was previously held by Martha Shoffner, who exited in disgrace after allegedly receiving cash bribes in a pie box.
Our saga begins during the special legislative session called last month. After adjourning in the evening of Oct. 17, Baird went out for dinner with fellow legislators and other friends at Doe's, then went to White Water Tavern.
In the wee hours of the morning, the group — Baird along with Reps. John Burris (R-Harrison) and Micah Neal (R-Springdale), House Speaker Davy Carter (R-Cabot), lobbyist and former state Republican official Katherine Vasilos (who is dating Burris), and an additional female friend of Vasilos — made a visit to the Capitol, which is a short walk from the apartments where many legislators stay while the General Assembly is in session. The visit took place roughly between 1:40 and 3 a.m.
According to a record of the visit from the State Capitol Police, the group wanted to go on the Capitol roof. Capitol Police Chief Darrell Hedden later reported to Secretary of State Mark Martin's top aides, "[One of the officers on duty] told me he felt some of the individuals had possible issues of steadiness." The officer told them that they'd had recent problems with the freight elevator and that he didn't have a key with him to access the roof, so the group could not go to the roof.
Security video shows several members of the party walked around the interior of the building. Baird left about 2:25 a.m. Capitol Police said the remainder of the group left at 2:54 a.m.
In an initial note to Kelly Boyd of Martin's staff at 6:45 a.m. that morning, Hedden commented, "The officers were told that Secretary Martin would be contacted to rectify this and they would return the next night for a trip to the roof." He did not identify who reportedly said this. Boyd wrote back, "A roof tour is not a good idea at 1:30 a.m."
At Boyd's request, Hedden prepared a video of events, four segments of a minute or so each. They include shots as members of the group, some carrying plastic cups, drifted through the tunnel entry, in a hallway and walking outside northward in front of the Capitol. Other than the hour, there is nothing unusual about the group's behavior. They walk around and talk, and do not appear unsteady on the video (you can watch the video at arktimes.com/domevideo). It's hard to imagine what could be construed as scandalous for Baird, but his opponent Milligan apparently thought otherwise.
On Nov. 4, Jim Harris, a campaign aide to Milligan, made a Freedom of Information Act request for copies of the emails and video about "anyone attempting to gain access to the roof of the Capitol after normal business hours ..."
Did someone at the Secretary of State's office leak the information? "I have no idea where the leak came from," Secretary of State spokesman Alex Reed said. He said that he had not known that the materials existed until he received the FOIA request from Harris. Reed acknowledged that as far as he knew, no one outside of the Secretary of State's office would have had access to them. Milligan's camp has been mum about who tipped them off.