Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe called on Lt. Gov. Mark Darr to resign amid a campaign finance scandal but was rebuffed by his Republican second-in-command, who said he wanted to make “things right” with the people of Arkansas.
Darr is a licensed insurance agent. He holds both property/casualty and life/health/accident insurance licenses, according to the Arkansas Insurance Department.
Beebe said that before issuing his public call for Darr’s resignation, the two of them had a “short and sweet” conversation in which Darr said he intended to remain in office. He said he told Darr this was “disappointing.”
“I think it’s in everyone’s best interest, including Mr. Darr, if he resigns,” Beebe said.
Darr later issued a statement confirming he planned to stay.
“The mistakes I made have been well-documented,” Darr said. “My focus now is on making things right with the people of Arkansas.”
On Dec. 30, Darr signed off on the findings of an Arkansas Ethics Commission investigation that determined he likely violated aspects of the state’s campaign finance code 11 times since taking office three years ago. Darr also agreed to pay $11,000 in fines – $1,000 for each alleged violation – to settle the complaints.
The panel determined that Darr made personal use of $31,572.74 in campaign funds, received excess contributions to retire his campaign debt, didn’t maintain adequate records, failed to itemize loan repayments and accepted improper reimbursement for travel expenses.
In a two-page letter of apology and explanation that he attached to the commission findings he countersigned Monday, Darr said: “I do not believe I ever intentionally took money that was not owed to me.” He has 30 days to pay the fine.
Reaction among lawmakers was mixed.
The state Democratic Party and Arkansas’ Republican congressional delegation called on Darr to resign. In a joint statement, Republican Sen. John Boozman and Reps. Rick Crawford, Tim Griffin, Steve Womack and Tom Cotton said: “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. Gov. Darr’s own admissions, it is clear he has violated that trust, and he should step down immediately for the good of our state.”
One Republican candidate for governor, Asa Hutchinson, called for a prosecutor to examine Darr’s finances. Another candidate, Curtis Coleman, said Darr should resign.
But other officials, including state GOP Chairman Doyle Webb, called for patience.
“We are confident that any further legal review or investigation will be conducted appropriately and that if criminal charges are warranted, we will request his resignation immediately,” Webb said in a statement.
Beebe said any move toward impeachment would have to come from the Legislature, where Republicans hold the majority in both houses.
“That’s not my call to do that,” said Beebe.
Senate President Pro Tem Michael Lamoureux said it’s appropriate to give Darr some time to consider his situation.
“I think he’ll take a few days to kind of digest this,” said Lamoureux, who added that he hadn’t heard any direct calls for Darr’s impeachment.
The ethics case is similar to one earlier this year involving former Democratic state Sen. Paul Bookout, who was accused of similar wrongdoing. However in that case, Bookout resigned before Beebe publicly pressured him to do so. Bookout accepted the Ethics Commission’s findings and agreed to pay $8,000 in fines and to repay campaign contributors.
Darr’s refusal to resign wasn’t his first public show of defiance toward Beebe. When Beebe left the state during the 2013 regular legislative session, Darr took the opportunity to sign into law a bill requiring the names of the state’s concealed-carry license holders to be kept secret. Beebe had said he planned to allow the law to take effect without his signature, and he called Darr’s actions inappropriate.
“I always thought we had a pretty decent relationship,” Beebe said at the time. “Obviously, I’ll be much more careful. You can’t turn your back now.”
Darr was sued in 2012 by Signature Bank of Arkansas over two loans on his $275,800 home.