Jim Keet's legal problems | Arkansas Blog

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Jim Keet's legal problems

Posted By on Sun, Aug 29, 2010 at 7:34 AM

The Democrat-Gazette today ran through the Jim Keet residency issue, which I first wrote about some weeks ago. Basics are the same. The Constitution requires seven years of residency for a governor. Must it be consecutive or does cumulative residency count? Keet, the Republican nominee who spent 2003-08 in Florida, thinks the Constitution doesn't bar him. I think a court would be loathe to toss Keet should someone challenge his residency, which Gov. Mike Beebe's campaign doesn't intend to do. On the jump, I pass along a lawyer's take on this question, favorable to Keet.

But here's the thing that is not ambiguous: Keet continues to insist, contrary to a later date that he told me, that he moved to Arkansas in August 2008. He then cast an absentee ballot in Florida in November 2008. I don't know why he's insisting on sticking to that August move date rather than early 2009, as he told me (the motivation might be an interesting question). But by doing so, he's made a prima facie case that he cast an illegal vote in Florida in November 2008. A Florida resident who moves is permitted to cast an absentee ballot only if he moves AFTER the registration books have closed in his new state. They were open in Arkansas through early October in 2008. Keet moved before the books closed, by his own, repeated, account.

BEECHCRAFT BONANZA: Photo of plane similar to Jim Keets.
  • BEECHCRAFT BONANZA: Photo of plane similar to Jim Keet's.
Keet's bigger problem is the song-and-dance he's run through to justify failure to pay property taxes the last few years (as many as five) on a $135,000 Beechcraft airplane. The plane is owned by a Nevada corporation based in Clark County (Las Vegas). Keet has given the D-G an alibi about easier registration in Nevada, uncertainty about whether assessment is required in some Nevada counties, a bookkeeper's bad advice and other verbal noise to cover his tax avoidance. But there are obvious problems in the story. The plane WAS assessed in Pulaski County. Then Keet got it taken off the books in 2005 by telling the Pulaski assessor he'd moved to Florida. But the plane is not assessed in Florida. Where does Nevada come in to begin with? And why was it not assessed in Arkansas until the D-G caught Keet? Keet certainly knew about taxes in Arkansas through 2005.

It is not exactly true, as Keet told the D-G, that some counties don't assess planes in Nevada. Here's the rule in Clark County on airplane assessment. An advisory from the Carson City assessor puts it in plain language:

Aircraft are assessed by the county in which they are physically based. If the aircraft shares time between counties or states the applicable governmental entities can share the assessment and taxes.

In other words, yes, you can avoid assessment and taxes in Nevada if a plane is physically based elsewhere. But it does not free you from taxes in those other jurisdictions. As an Arkansas judge once learned, it can be considered fraud to register property in another state as a means of avoiding taxes. I'm not leveling that charge here, but I do note that Jim Keet has been a resident of Arkansas, according to him, for two years. During that time he did not pay taxes on a plane based here and he has used as an excuse registration in another state. Problematic.


Assuming the court found Art. 6, sec. 5 (Qualifications of Governor) ambiguous, basic rules of statutory construction would take over. One of the basics is that you look at a statute (or Constitutional provision) alongside other similar statutes to determine the intent behind the vague one. Here, Art. 5, sec. 5, (Qualifications of House and Senate) explicitly states that the residency requirement is for the time preceding the election. Likewise, Amendment 80, sec. 16, says that judges have to have been licensed attorneys in this state for X years immediately preceding taking office. My guess is that the Court would determine that, because the drafters of the Constitution didn't put the temporal restriction on the Governor that they did on the House/Senate, it was purposefully omitted, and cumulative years as an Arkansas citizen are what matter. This is bolstered by the interpretive canon that you cannot add implied words to a statute if the statute makes sense without the implied words.

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