Tuesday, July 22, 2008

EDITORIAL >>Dobbins must not serve

The state Democratic Party took steps over the weekend to shed the embarrassment of having a convicted sex offender serve in the state House of Representatives under its imprimatur. It refused to certify former state Rep. Dwayne Dobbins for the ballot.

Something tells us that this is not enough and that the House itself will have to kick Dobbins out of the chamber when the new legislature assembles in January. That presumes that the voters of North Little Rock overlook his crime and the chicanery that won him the nomination this spring and elect him again. That sounds improbable but it’s not. If he gets his name on the ballot as the Democratic candidate, his opponent will be an unfamiliar man from an unfamiliar party, the Greens.

Dobbins was accused of fondling a child in 2005 and reached a plea agreement with prosecutors in which he resigned from the legislature and pled guilty to a misdemeanor in exchange for not being tried on the felony charge. His wife then ran for his vacant seat and won. The couple pulled a fast one on the voters and the party in March. She acted like she would run again but waited until the closing minutes of the filing period. Then she demurred and Dwayne filed for the position, too late for anyone else to contest the seat.

Faced with the prospect of being the party of child molesters, the Democratic State Convention adopted a rule barring nomination for any office to anyone who has previously resigned from public office to avoid felony prosecution. Then it declared Dobbins to be disqualified on that ground.

That may not be enough. It smacks of ex-post-facto lawmaking and, besides, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled several years ago that a party could not kick a duly qualified nominee from the ballot without good and legal cause and that the courts, not party officials, had to settle what was a good and legal cause. The Republican Party had tried to de-nominate Dan Ivy, a nutty cowboy lawyer who was the only Republican to file for attorney general that year. Ivy had been convicted of beating his wife. The state Supreme Court restored his name to the ballot.

Dobbins indicated that he would sue to reverse the party’s action.
So Dwayne Dobbins may well be the Democrat on the ballot in North Little Rock and voters will have to discern which would better represent them, a child molester or a man who professes somewhat left-of-center views on the issues of the day. The Green’s name, incidentally, is Richard Carroll.

We can all take some comfort in the reassurance that Dobbins is not likely to serve. The House of Representatives is the final arbiter of the qualifications of its members. Other House members don’t want the obloquy of having a sex offender in their club, and there is talk of the House caucusing next month and adopting the new Democratic Party rule as a disqualification for the House. Then when the legislature convenes in January, the House would vote to deny Dobbins seating. North Little Rock would have to hold a special election to get representation.

So much effort, so much expense, so much embarrassment and in the end so futile. You would think that a man bent on serving the people and not his private ambition might want to save them from all that.