Friday, January 10, 2014

EDITORIAL >> Darr resigns amid scandal

Beebe should ignore vacancy and save taxpayers’ money

Three days after vowing not to quit, Mark Darr resigned yesterday evening as Arkansas’ lieutenant governor, effective, he said, on Feb. 1. It was abrupt but predictable. Republican legislative leaders told him he had no choice because many of them would have to join Democrats and impeach him and that his chances of surviving a trial in the state Senate, where his party has a comfortable majority, were growing slimmer by the day.

Republicans had clamored for the resignation of a Democrat, state Sen. Paul Bookout of Jonesboro, and threatened him with impeachment and removal from office last year if he didn’t resign. Bookout had misspent campaign funds, one of the 11 violations of the law that Darr has admitted, although unlike Bookout he said he didn’t know he was violating the law. Bookout promptly resigned. Treating their own differently was going to be a public relations problem for Republican legislators and for the party.

Darr did the right thing, sparing the legislature the immensely painful task of condemning and removing one of its own. (Because he presides over the Senate, Darr is a small appendage of the legislative branch.) We remember the Senate’s convulsions 40 years ago when senators first voted not to expel Sen. Guy H. “Mutt” Jones, who had been convicted of federal income tax evasion, and then hastened into session again to remove their pal when the public anger became manifest.

But compliments are barely deserved. Darr took the occasion again to blame his troubles on others. He did not again blame others in government who didn’t tell him early enough that converting some $39,000 in public and campaign funds to personal use was illegal. But he said his legal troubles were just “politics” and “games.”

“Politics can be a toxic business,” he complained in a written statement, and he wasn’t going to subject his family to it any more. His earlier statement said enemies were attacking his family, although no one has found an instance where a family member was ever mentioned.

In his brief political life, Darr has practiced the trade more brutally than most. In his 2010 race, when he barely beat a Democratic legislator to win the lieutenant governor’s office, he ran against the unpopular President Obama, who had nothing to do with a lieutenant governor’s duties. When the Arkansas Democrat Gazette ran an article about Darr’s financial troubles—he was sued for foreclosure on a rental home he owned in Springdale—Darr blamed the bank, but then admitted he was in arrears. He accused the Republican-leaning newspaper of picking on him and blamed unnamed political enemies for his financial troubles. He attacked the attorney representing the plaintiff who sued him. She had run for a local nonpartisan judicial office and he had not supported her.

Let’s just say that Mark Darr will not be missed.

Immediately, he will not be missed in the lieutenant governor’s office. The lieutenant governor’s only duty is to preside over the Senate in the few days each year that it is in session. The short 2014 fiscal session will begin nine days after Darr’s resignation takes effect. The president pro tempore of the Senate, the good Republican Michael Lamoureux of Russellville, will preside and from time to time designate another senator to sit on the dais. The Senate will run smoothly and nothing will be amiss.

Governor Beebe said he might have to declare a vacancy in the office and hold a needless special election to fill the job for a few months until after the fall general election. The only need to have a lieutenant governor during that stretch will be to have someone to cash the lieutenant governor’s payroll check.

If Beebe needs a legal justification for leaving things alone, Mark Darr may have provided it. In his pique, Darr said he was not going to resign to a public official—i.e., Mike Beebe—but to the people of Arkansas. With no official notice, Beebe need not declare a vacancy and call an election to which no one in Arkansas will pay any attention.

Save the taxpayers a cool million dollars by avoiding an election and all those payroll checks. For a frugal governor, that would be a good day’s work.