Contrary to what Johnny Key said, his hiring as UA lobbyist would require immediate resignation from Senate | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Contrary to what Johnny Key said, his hiring as UA lobbyist would require immediate resignation from Senate

Posted By on Wed, Feb 26, 2014 at 7:08 AM

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Sen. Johnny Key says it's unclear on whether he'd have to resign from the Senate to take a job as lobbyist for the University of Arkansas, a deal that appears to be in the works. Actually, it couldn't be clearer, if ethical standards mattered to him or the UNiversity of Arkansas.

I wrote yesterday that the law probably didn't prevent Key from going to work for a state agency, but he'd have to resign first. I also wrote that he probably wouldn't have to register to lobby, unless he spent $400 in a quarter. He says he wouldn't, apparently knowing that somebody else from the UA would be in his company whenever a credit card was needed to pay for dinner. When he escorted someone to a high-dollar skybox at a football or basketball game, he and the lucky legislator would presumably believe this was a no-cost excursion.

Key has not responded to my question about the larger issue: Sleazy appearances. The UA is about to hire someone who presided over budgets of higher education institutions. He is attractive precisely because of his legislative associations. Even if the law allows instant movement from the legislature to the lobby, an institution and public official with even a smidgen of ethical sensibility would see how sleazy this looks. It was sleazy when Gilbert Baker did it. It will be sleazy when this pre-baked deal to make Key the UA's $202,000-a-year man is done, too.

I say pre-baked. In theory, the UA has said the committee reviewing the dozens of applications for the job — many good ones, by the way, not counting Mark Darr — won't have a first cut session until after filing deadline for Key's re-election passes at noon Monday. If he doesn't file, and a carefully selected successor is ready with a filing, it will be strong evidence that the fix is indeed in.

You'd think the UA with its recent troubles on transparency, high-handedness, dishonest dealings on finances, red ink and all the rest wouldn't be anxious to further besmirch itself by plucking a lobbyist from the committee that oversaw its budget. But what are quids for, if not for quod?

About the law:

From the D-G today:

Key, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said it’s unclear whether he’d have to resign from the Legislature if he gets the job. That “depends on the timing. Those are things that would have to be worked out. The job posting says begin July 1, but I don’t know if they would want to do that or if they want to do something different and wait until the end of the year [when his term ends in December].”

From the law:

Subject to any restriction or condition prescribed by the Arkansas Constitution and except as provided under subdivision (a)(2) of this section, and unless the person resigns prior to entering into the employment, no person elected to a constitutional office, after being elected to the constitutional office and during the term for which elected, may enter into employment with:

(A) Any state agency;

So it's clear that Key must resign if he is hired. Is acceptance of a job offer hiring? To say it isn't — and to say Key could continue to serve in the legislature until Jan. 1 — would add only more sleaze to the undertaking. There's another practical and also moral reason, given current events, that Key would have to resign. This legislature could face further special sessions this year if the private option deal falls apart and massive reworking of the budget is require. Do we really want the UA's lobbyist-to-be sitting in the legislature voting on the state budget and adjustments required for every agency by failure of the Medicaid expansion? 

You ask why Key wouldn't just resign if offered the job? Because then a special election might be necessary to complete this term. That could complicate plans for his designated successor. If it's Rep. John Burris, he couldn't run for the seat in the special election because he currently holds state office. Better to let Key serve out the time for a net transition.

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