opinion by Maylon Rice
Editor’s note: Maylon Rice is a former newspaper reporter, columnist and editor at several newspapers over the past 40 years. He ran, unsuccessfully for the Arkansas House of Representatives in 2012. A native of Warren, Rice lives in Fayetteville.
Opinions, commentary and other essays posted in this space are wholly the view of the author(s). They may not represent the opinion of the owners of The City Wire.
When Republican candidate Mark Darr of Rogers burst onto the political scene in 2010, few thought the 37-year old former insurance agent and Pizza parlor owner had a chance to be elected.
He would, many predicted be like so many who’ve never attempted a state wide office, be just another coffee table trivia question on some cold February morning a couple of election cycles down the road – something to give the good ole boys a chuckle or two over a cup of Joe.
But, oh no. He was different. Darr beat all the political odds-makers. And he went on to derail one heck of a freight-train juggernaut in former state Senator Shane Broadway, to become the Lt. Governor of Arkansas. He has since been caught up in controversy over his expense accounts. Questions about the matter(s) forced him out of the race for the 4th Congressional District.
Aside from a few instances of historical “kookiness” on that list of former Lt. Governor names, Darr may soon plant himself atop the roll call of unforgettable guys who have been in the No. 2 spot.
Who could forget former Lt. Gov. Joe Purcell (1975-1981)? He was a self-appointed wagon master heading up the Bicentennial Wagon Train across Arkansas. Photographers snapped his photo several hundred times – all at state expense, until the public found out.
Or who could forget the 1966 missing rural ballot boxes from Sebastian County which pushed Maurice “Footsie” Britt into the Lt. Governor’s chair. Or Lt. Gov. Dr. Bob Riley of Arkadelphia, a decorated war hero who silently served the office of Lt. Governor from 1971-1975.
Riley was Lt. Governor on Jan. 2 as Gov. Dale Bumpers left for a U.S. Senate seat. Riley, wisely, served as Governor Riley from Jan. 2 to Jan. 14, which this qualified him for an official portrait as a Governor of Arkansas. It hangs in the State Capitol today.
Come to think of it, so does a portrait of former Gov. Joe Purcell, who served Jan. 3-9, 1979, courtesy of U.S. Sen. elect David Pryor, who resigned the governorship to head to Washington D.C.
But back to Lt. Gov. Darr and how far this ambitious, overachieving politician has fallen?
Darr, the Mansfield native (south of Fort Smith in Sebastian County) thought to be a self-made man, a literal lightning rod of a campaigner for others, and a man on the political rise, has once again given us pause to shake our heads in disbelief.
Published reports have the self-avowed lame-duck Lt. Governor in an absolute public relations free fall. Not only is our Lt. Governor awaiting numerous complaints (one he filled on himself) with the Arkansas Ethics Commission, he’s now summoned the Arkansas State Police to ferry him from his home in Springdale, to some public events and then back home.
Darr unashamedly says he does it so he can talk on his cell phone and not be a safety menace to others on the highway. Yeah, right.
Darr, as noted earlier, is mired in a reimbursement investigation about gas station receipts under way by the State Ethics Commission. At the outset, it appears Darr may have charged mileage to the state and gasoline charges to his campaign and office back in 2010-2011.
Now we have the Arkansas State Police driving Darr around the state, and at least on one occasion flying the State Police airplane to get the Lt. Governor home from a coin-flip at a football game in Pine Bluff. State Police officials estimate the cost of the airplane ride at $342.20. The ride home at the state’s reimbursement rate of 45 cents per mile would be less than $120.
For a politician who just a few months ago was crowing about returning 19.15% of his office’s budget, it looks like Darr, on his way out, is face-first in the public trough.
As he was one who challenged voters to elect him to bring public transparency to state government, Mark Darr has been disappointing of late with his use – dare we call it his abuse – of a state law that allows him transportation by State Troopers.
To paraphrase a famous Richard Nixon line: “Pretty soon we won’t have Mark Darr to kick around anymore.”
But how many more “trips,” over the next year, will we have to read about of our Lt. Governor traveling on the state’s dime before Darr’s legacy with be forever ruined – and not by a rival political blogger, but by the Lt. Governor himself.