Although he profits from the name, Mark Martin, the Republican candidate for secretary of state, is not the world-class stock-car driver from Batesville. That Mark Martin is not running for office. But the political Mark Martin stays just as much in the fast lane as the racer.
Martin has been questioning the ethics of his Democratic opponent, Pat O’Brien, and has joined his party leader in attacking the integrity of state constitutional officers, who happen to be Democrats. He criticized O’Brien, the Pulaski County clerk, the other day for 80 spoiled ballots that were mailed to people in Jacksonville who had applied for absentee ballots. The error belonged to the Pulaski County Election Commission, not O’Brien’s office, but O’Brien corrected it and everyone got the right ballots.
This week, the newspapers, blogs and Mr. O’Brien told us a little bit about this Mark Martin who expects to be the secretary of state. Most of us knew nothing about him except that he was a state representative from Prairie Grove. We know a lot more today.
Martin has been a quiet and ineffective lawmaker, but he has been anything but ineffective in getting into the taxpayers’ pockets. Last year, he pocketed $56,000 in expense claims to the state. A legislator’s salary is only $15,869 a year, but legislators are in session only about 60 days every other year. They get an extra allowance for every day that they attend a legislative session or a committee meeting in Little Rock and a generous allowance for travel and expenses on the road and for expenses they incur back home. For most legislators, the Little Rock legislative business takes a few days a year. But Martin checks in at the Capitol for committee meetings even when he is not a member of the committee that is meeting and claims his per diem and expenses for the day. Not many years ago, before the advent of term limits, legislators collected a salary of $1,200 a year plus $20 a day per diem. Lawmaking has recently become a very expensive business for the taxpayers, although, to be fair, not many lawmakers abuse the system like Mark Martin does.
A blogger, a Democrat assuredly, got interested in Martin’s business at Prairie Grove since he seemed to have nothing to do but hang out at Little Rock for legislative interim-committee meetings. It turns out that the taxpayers are paying Martin’s business, whatever it is, to rent office space to him for his grueling legislative work and his campaign. When a newspaper called Martin to learn the address of his putative business, he couldn’t remember it. But the blogger tracked it down.
His business, M3 Engineering, has an office in a building owned by a plumbing company on Wagon Wheel Road in Springdale. That’s also listed as his legislative office, so the taxpayers pay the rent for the office. The Springdale city clerk’s office said Martin had never obtained a privilege license to do business in the city as M3 Engineering, nor had he paid the little city privilege tax.
When you start hurling charges that your opponent is unethical or a tax cheat, as several Republicans have done this year, you need to pick up around your own house. Poor Jim Keet learned that this summer. The free-wheeling Mark Martin — the politician, not the racer — now knows it, too.