Tuesday, January 07, 2014

EDITORIAL >> Impeach Darr now

Here’s some shocking news: Lt. Gov. Mark Darr sends favored reporters a statement saying he will not resign because people who could have told him that he was a serial lawbreaker kept their mouths shut. If someone had simply told him that he couldn’t convert public and campaign funds to personal use he wouldn’t have done it or would have stopped long ago or at least fixed his books so that it would look better.

That was Darr’s long-awaited answer yesterday to the drumbeat of demands, lately from a few fellow Republicans, that he resign and spare the state the ordeal of impeachment proceedings and the prospect that he be tried in the Senate and removed from office. Speaker Davy Carter (R-Cabot) issued guidelines late Tuesday on how the House could begin impeachment proceedings, which would require Republicans to oust one of their own.

Neither Darr’s impeachment nor removal from office appeared likely until now, because Republicans just don’t do that to one another. But a few Republicans, including all four Arkansas congressmen, had called on him to resign to spare the party the ongoing embarrassment. The legislative Joint Auditing Committee and the state Ethics Commission, where Republicans were represented evenly or better, had concluded that Darr broke the law repeatedly and should pay a hefty fine and give the money back to the state treasury and to political donors.

But it was widely thought that, being a loyal Republican, Darr would acquiesce and head for the door. Few counted on his determination to keep his political ambitions on track or perhaps his need for the little government sinecure and its part-time salary and perks. His pizza business and personal finances are on the rocks.

Whatever his motivation, the statement—given to favored reporters rather than at a wide-open press conference—was as pitiful as it was nervy. He said that people who jumped on him for his misdeeds or called for his resignation or impeachment had attacked “my family.” No one but Darr has ever mentioned his family.

He said that he had owned up to all his mistakes and had apologized to the public for them and that every time he broke the law he did it with the best of intentions. In the case both of the misuse of campaign funds and of state treasury funds, Darr said, he just filled out paperwork erroneously. He deserved all the money he got in violation of the law, he pleaded.

That was patently untrue as the man who unearthed his bookkeeping “errors”—lawyer and Democratic blogger Matt Campbell—observed in monumental detail Tuesday afternoon. (See his bluehogreport.com if you have the interest or the patience.)

Darr didn’t go so far but his plaintive statement suggested that the people who should pay are those who should have caught his illegal reimbursements and warned him in time. He identified some of them, chiefly legislative auditors who had looked at his books after he took office in 2011 and didn’t tell him he couldn’t collect travel expenses from the taxpayers for running across the state and to Little Rock from his home in north Arkansas.

He mentioned his predecessor, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, but Halter had not done the same thing and, indeed, had paid federal income taxes on the legal state-proffered expenses he did get. Every elected official knows the IRS rules.

The lite governor also argued that he was saving the taxpayers money by not resigning because a special election to replace him would cost a million dollars. But not if the governor doesn’t call the unnecessary election. We will elect a lieutenant governor anyway in November and the state meantime has absolutely no use for one.

As we said previously, it is not a fixed judgment that a minor officeholder like Darr must resign for having violated multiple laws until he has been convicted of criminal acts in a court of law. But two Democratic officeholders resigned last year upon the demands of Republican and Democratic officialdom for acts no more serious than Darr’s and they have yet to be convicted of anything. It is just the decent and evenhanded thing to do.