Lt. Gov. Mark Darr says he is not resigning from office.
Darr conducted one-on-one interviews with members of the media, including 5NEWS, from his office at the Capitol in Little Rock on Tuesday (Jan. 7) to discuss his political future in the face of an ethics fine imposed late last year.
Darr said he made unintentional mistakes in reporting campaign expenditures, in collecting travel reimbursements and in using the state credit card.
Those issues are "not worthy of my removal from office," he said in a prepared statement.
"Today I put a stake in the ground," Darr said in the statement. "Not for this office, not for the title or the job, but I put a stake in the ground for those Arkansans who are sick and tired of these types of political games and the people who play them. It would be an immediate fix to tuck tail and run but I would regret it for years to come."
As seen in this picture from Little Rock by 5NEWS reporter Aubry Killion, Darr was accompanied by his wife, Kim, in the interview sessions.
Arkansas’ Republican congressional delegation, Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe and other elected officials and candidates had called for Darr to resign over the ethics issues.
On Dec. 31, Beebe phoned Darr and asked him to quit, but Darr declined the request, stating he would stay in office, according to Beebe’s spokesman Matt DeCample.
The Democratic governor’s request for the Republican second-in-command to step down came one day after Darr agreed to pay $11,000 in fines. The state Ethics Commission found probable cause Darr had violated 11 state campaign and ethics laws dating back to 2010.
In the wake of the ethics ruling, Darr admitted he erred on campaign finance filings, signed a letter from the Ethics Commission that admitted guilt, and agreed to pay the fines.
After the call from the governor, though, Amber Pool, a spokeswoman for Darr, said the lieutenant governor had no intention of stepping down.
Beebe’s resignation call only holds symbolic weight. The popular governor has no authority to force Darr out because both are independent constitutional officers for the state of Arkansas. According to DeCample, only the state Legislature, which meets again next month for a fiscal session, can force Darr to resign.
After the call with Beebe, Darr attempted to move past the call for his resignation in a prepared statement.
“The mistakes I made have been well documented,” he said. “My focus now is on making things right with the people of Arkansas.”
Darr was elected lieutenant governor in 2010, defeating Democrat state Sen. Shane Broadway. Darr has not indicated whether he will seek re-election in 2014.
In August, Darr declared his intention to run for the open U.S. House seat in Arkansas’s 4th Congressional District that’s currently held by Republican Rep. Tom Cotton, who’s decided to challenge Democrat Mark Pryor for his U.S. Senate seat.
Shortly after his announcement, however, left-leaning Arkansas blogger Matt Campbell began to report improper spending by Darr’s 2010 campaign. Because of these questions over campaign finances, Darr called off his congressional campaign less than a month after declaring.
Republican state Reps. Charlie Collins and Andy Mayberry are running in the lieutenant governor’s race in the 2014 election, as is Democrat John Burkhalter.
Now that he has declined to resign, the state House is expected to attempt to impeach him during the fiscal session beginning next month, said state Rep. Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville. If the House votes to impeach Darr, the Senate could vote to force Darr from office, Leding said.
If Darr is removed from office, the governor then could call for a special election to fill the vacancy.
Below is the full statement issued by Darr on Tuesday:
LITTLE ROCK - Kim and I would like to thank many people across the state for their calls, texts and prayers during this difficult time. We have been encouraged by your willingness to stand up for us and beside us throughout this process. Probably one of the most valuable lessons we have learned over the past few years is the value of friendship. We have been encouraged in good faith to share with the people of Arkansas the factual truth, instead of continuing to remain silent.
I am not downplaying what has occurred, but there is no scandal, no conspiracy and no malicious intentional disregard of the law. If there were, it would apparently involve multiple offices and agencies. It was an oversight that should have been noticed and corrected long before now and by multiple people including myself.
Over the past few months I have been diligently working with various state offices to correct errors that were either directly or indirectly my responsibility, but are no more than unintentional mistakes. I have walked through the process, worked cooperatively, and taken responsibility, but the facts have not been accurately presented to the public. For the errors I made, I apologize to the people of Arkansas and I will now share the actual facts.
First, what has not been stated is that in 2010, I loaned my campaign over $170,000 and had every legal right to raise money and retire that debt. This is exactly what I did. Unfortunately, I erred in how I reported those payments and fundraising activities, which has been incorrectly interpreted as my using campaign funds for personal use. When this was brought to my attention, I immediately became pro-active to be transparent and correct those mistakes by requesting that the ethics commission review my previous filings for potential errors, which included filing an ethics complaint on myself. I want you to know that at the end of the day, the only money that ever came back to me, in whatever form, was a repayment of campaign debt that was legally owed to me.
Second, over the past three years I collected almost $10,000 in travel reimbursements that were incorrect. These were reimbursements for official travel. The error was using my home as the point of origin instead of the Capitol building. As Lieutenant Governor I am constitutionally given the same privilege that the Governor has in regards to travel and security. This means that I could have spent tens of thousands of dollars of the taxpayer’s money over the past three years by using the Arkansas State Police to provide transportation and security. I could have also purchased, like my predecessor, a state vehicle which would cost the taxpayers thousands of dollars. Instead, I decided to use my personal vehicle and was reimbursed mileage an average of $3,000 per year over the past three years. This saved the taxpayers of Arkansas countless tax dollars. The Lieutenant Governor’s office is different in the fact that we submit our payment requests to the State Auditor’s office for payment. The State Auditor’s office would pay the bill or contact us when something appeared to be inaccurate. No one in my office was ever contacted to make us aware of the policy regarding the Capitol building being the point of origin instead of my home. Furthermore, in a previous annual audit, no findings were issued and the travel reimbursement was not brought to our attention by Legislative Audit.
Third, that I misused state funds by using the state credit card for personal expense. These were purchases that were either for official state use or used by mistake while traveling. As soon as the errors were realized, I reimbursed the state for those charges. For some unknown reason, it appears that the State Auditor’s office failed to deposit one of the checks, for which I have proof of payment. I will gladly resubmit this check.
These three facts are not worthy of my removal from office and certainly not worthy of personal attacks on my character and on my family. The cost of a special election would be in excess of one million dollars. This cost coupled with the facts that I have outlined concerning my actions, convince me that I should stay in office. I believe that this course would be best for the state.
Today I put a stake in the ground. Not for this office, not for the title or the job, but I put a stake in the ground for those Arkansans who are sick and tired of these types of political games and the people who play them. It would be an immediate fix to tuck tail and run but I would regret it for years to come. I am a normal citizen, who ran for office, who is trying to do my job to the best of my ability with integrity and character. I am doing what is necessary to make things right and I have a peace in sharing the truth with you today. This has been an embarrassing time for my family and me and when history is recorded I want my children to know that I have owned up to mistakes and made them right. Thank you Kim and so many others for encouraging me to share the truth.
Mark A. Darr