Watchdog: Follow the Money

Arkansas Lt. Gov. Mark Darr refuses to resign, faces impeachment threat in ethics case

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas Lt. Gov. Mark Darr faced the threat of impeachment, which a key member of his party said was "inevitable," after the Republican refused to step down over ethics violations tied to his office and campaign spending.

Top state House officials are reviewing the procedures and options for impeaching Darr, who acknowledged to the Ethics Commission last week that he broke state ethics and campaign laws 11 times since 2010 and agreed to pay $11,000 in fines. Darr has blamed the violations on meaningless oversights and contends he didn't personally profit.

Darr has resisted calls to resign from Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe and every Republican member of the state's delegation. State House Democrats have said they'll try to impeach the lieutenant governor if he doesn't step down.

"I've not heard a public outcry for my resignation," Darr told the Associated Press on Tuesday. "The people that I've spoken to have been very understanding and sympathetic that mistakes were made and they weren't willful or intentional. What other elected officials do, that's up to them.

"But I think they're either acting politically, they're ignorant of the true facts or they're having an emotional response."

House Majority Leader Bruce Westerman said he was disappointed with Darr's decision and that after talking to several Republicans, he believed there are enough votes to begin the removal process.

"I think the impeachment is inevitable if he chooses not to resign," said Westerman, R-Hot Springs. Westerman said he, too, would vote to impeach Darr.

Under guidelines set in the state constitution, Darr would be suspended if 51 or more members of the House approve an article of impeachment. Senators would then hold a trial, with a two-thirds majority — 24 votes in the 35-member chamber — necessary for a conviction that would permanently remove Darr from office.

Though stopping short of calling for the lieutenant governor's removal, House Speaker Davy Carter said his office was reviewing how an impeachment attempt might proceed. A first step would likely be the appointment of a bipartisan House committee to recommend impeachment procedures.

The 100-member House has 51 Republicans, 48 Democrats and one member of the Green Party. Two Republicans have called on Darr to quit but haven't said whether they'd join Democrats in an impeachment vote.

The Senate has 21 Republicans and 13 Democrats, with one vacancy set to be filled next Tuesday.

The Ethics Commission last week said it found probable cause that Darr made personal use of $31,572.74 in campaign funds, received excess contributions to retire his campaign debt, didn't maintain adequate records, failed to itemize loan repayments and accepted improper reimbursement for travel expenses. A separate legislative audit last month cited more than $12,000 in improper expenses incurred by Darr's office.

Darr signed a letter Dec. 30 in which he agreed to pay $1,000 for each of 11 violations cited by the Ethics Commission. He also will reimburse the state for what was found in the legislative audit.

Darr was elected in 2010 amid sweeping Republican gains in the state. In 2013, he announced a run for Congress, where he wanted to follow Republican Rep. Tom Cotton. Cotton, a Republican, is challenging Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor this year.

The lieutenant governor left the race in August after questions were raised about his spending.

"It would be an immediate fix to tuck tail and run but I would regret it for years to come," Darr said in an emailed statement as he opened a round of interviews Tuesday. "I am a normal citizen, who ran for office, who is trying to do my job to the best of my ability with integrity and character."

Darr's refusal to leave office could overshadow GOP efforts in November to build on recent electoral victories, including its takeover of the state Legislature in the 2012 election. Questions about Darr have already undermined GOP efforts to tie Democrats to recent scandals, such as Democratic state Sen. Paul Bookout's resignation after being fined $8,000 by the Ethics Commission for spending campaign funds on personal items such as clothing and theater equipment.

The lieutenant governor's is a mostly ceremonial position whose duties include presiding over the state Senate and casting the rare tie-breaking vote in a 35-member chamber.

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