story by Ryan Saylor
Editor's note: Updated with info from a Talk Business report that included comments from other Arkansas political leaders.
Gov. Mike Beebe, D-Ark., did not mince words today as he said it was time for Lt. Gov. Mark Darr, R-Ark., to resign.
Beebe's statement to the media Tuesday morning (Dec. 31) comes one day after Darr agreed to pay an $11,000 fine after the Arkansas State Ethics Commission found that he violated 11 different ethics laws. The settlement Darr signed Monday (Dec. 30) sets the fines at $1,000 per violation.
"I think it's in everybody's best interest, including Mr. Darr, if he would resign," Beebe said.
Beebe’s statement to the media followed a phone call Beebe made to Darr asking him to resign. Darr, according to Beebe’s office, told Beebe he would not resign.
Darr, who hasn't spoken publicly since the Ethics Commission report two weeks ago detailed its findings of improper spending of tens of thousands of dollars for personal items, tickets to Razorback games and travel, did release a statement to KARK-TV in Little Rock on Tuesday, though he avoided any discussion of resignation.
"The mistakes I've made have been well-documented and my focus now is on making things right with the people of Arkansas."
In addition to the Ethics Commission violations, Darr has also been under scrutiny by legislative auditors, who found nearly $12,000 spent on travel and a state credit card. Some of those items have been flagged for improper documentation and Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley is reviewing documents from the investigations for possible criminal charges.
Reports of Darr's misspending of campaign and state funds first came to light in August, just days after Darr announced he would run for the 4th District Congressional seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, who is mounting a challenge to U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark.
In a series of posts on the blog Blue Hog Report, blogger and attorney Matt Campbell detailed numerous irregularities in Darr's campaign spending from his 2010 run for lieutenant governor, including football tickets and spending at clothing stores. Campbell also uncovered what appeared to be reimbursement from Darr's campaign account and his state office for travel. Darr dropped out of the race only 17 days after he announced his candidacy, with Campbell subsequently filing an ethics complaint with the state.
Asked why he thought Darr should resign, Beebe alluded to two high-profile political corruption cases that took place earlier in the year that involved Democrats.
Former State Treasurer Martha Shoffner resigned May 21 after being arrested by federal authorities for accepting bribes in exchange for funneling state bonds contracts to a particular company.
Former Sen. Paul Bookout, D-Jonesboro, resigned from his position Aug. 20 after the Ethics Commission fined him $8,000 for misspending of campaign funds for things that included a home theater system, clothing and other items.
"The facts speak for themselves," Beebe said. "What (did) the others do? They resigned."
A Darr spokesman said the lieutenant governor would not resign.
Beebe's statement to the press comes after Chairman Vincent Insalaco called for Darr's resignation earlier in the day.
“The Ethics Commission report confirmed what the Legislative Audit showed- that Mark Darr has a disregard for the law. He has misused more taxpayer and campaign funds than the majority of Arkansans make in a year," Insalaco said in a press release. "Darr’s reassurance that he won’t have the same problems in the future is too little, too late. Our elected officials must be held accountable and Mark Darr’s record of irresponsibility is entrenched. Arkansans deserve better. Mark Darr should resign immediately.”
The two leading candidates for Arkansas Governor weighed in on the controversy, according to this report from Talk Business.
Democrat Mike Ross said, “Our elected officials must be held to the highest possible standard, and they must have the people’s absolute trust and confidence in order to effectively do their jobs. Lieutenant Governor Mark Darr has admitted he improperly spent campaign and taxpayer dollars, and therefore he should act in the best interest of the state of Arkansas and resign immediately.”
Republican front-runner Asa Hutchinson said, “In the case of Lt. Gov. Mark Darr, the ethical violations are troubling and serious and should be reviewed by the prosecuting attorney. As a former prosecutor, I understand the importance of holding public officials accountable for improper conduct. In my view, the public has a right to expect the highest level of ethical conduct by its elected officials and the public should demand resignation when criminal conduct has occurred. It should be noted that only a prosecutor or grand jury can assess the question of criminal conduct and whether there is probable cause for criminal charges. It is my understanding that the Pulaski County prosecutor is reviewing the ethical violations of Lt. Gov. Mark Darr. It is important that the prosecutor assess the violations to determine whether criminal conduct has occurred and charges should be filed. If criminal charges are filed then a resignation should be demanded. Until then, we should let the process work and expect the decision of the Ethics Commission in terms of fine and amended reports to be fulfilled.”
Doyle Webb, chairman of the Republican Party of Arkansas, adopted Hutchinson’s position of waiting to see if criminal charges are warranted.
Also, all 5 Republican members of Arkansas’ Congressional delegation – Sen. John Boozman, Reps. Rick Crawford, Tim Griffin, Steve Womack, and Tom Cotton – today issued the following joint statement calling for the immediate resignation of Lt. Governor Mark Darr: “As elected officials, we are keepers of the public trust. We are bound by a very strict code of conduct that is the basis of that trust. Based on Lt. Governor Darr’s own admissions, it is clear he has violated that trust, and he should step down immediately for the good of our state.”