Lt. Gov. Mark Darr announced his resignation from office Friday night, effective Feb. 1, following pressure from political leaders after he admitted to campaign spending missteps.
Darr told 5NEWS on Tuesday, in an interview from his office at the Capitol in Little Rock, that he did not plan on resigning from office 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 earlier in the week.
Darr stepped back from those comments Friday, sending out a statement announcing his resignation from office, in which he said, "Politics can be a toxic business. I will no longer subject my family to its hard lessons."
The statement later reads, "I have been honest, forthright and acted with integrity. I made mistakes, but not one with malicious intent." (See the entire statement below the story)
State lawmakers in Northwest Arkansas reacted to the news Friday night. Rep. Greg Leding (D-Fayetteville) said Darr made the right decision and kept himself from becoming a distraction for a legislature working its way through a fiscal session.
"My first reaction on hearing the news was relief. No one is happy we are in this situation," Leding said. "No one saw this as a partisan situation. This was a regrettable situation."
Sen. Bart Hester (R-Cave Springs) said he believes Darr has been honest throughout the situation and is owning up to his mistakes.
"I think Mark made the right decision. It's been something he has been dealing with for several weeks now," Hester said. "Since this started, he's been honest and forthcoming."
Darr is fresh off of resignation, but Leding said he would not be surprised if the lieutenant governor were able to continue his involvement in state politics in the future.
"I think in politics, there are always second acts," Leding said.
Friday's news is a departure from Darr's stance a few days ago.
“Today I put a stake in the ground,” Darr said in a statement released earlier this week . “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 in Little Rock this week.
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, initially said the lieutenant governor had no intention of stepping down.
“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.
Darr's office released the following statement Friday on his resignation:
It is my great honor to be the Lieutenant Governor of Arkansas. This office has allowed me to meet so many wonderful Arkansans over the past few years. My family and I are forever grateful for the support the people of this great state have shown us for the past few years and during this extremely difficult time. We have learned that difficult days demand decisions of faith.
Throughout this process, it has been my desire to share the facts, and I feel this has been accomplished. I have been honest, forthright and acted with integrity. I made mistakes, but not one with malicious intent.
Effective 2/1/2014 I will resign as Lieutenant Governor and I submit that resignation to the people of Arkansas, not an elected official. I have spoken with Speaker Carter and Senate Pro-Tempore Lamoureux to notify them of this decision. They agree with me it is in the best interest for me, my family and the state at this point. I respect these two men for their concern: not just for the state but for me and my family.
Politics can be a toxic business. I will no longer subject my family to its hard lessons. All my forgiveness to those who play the games and all my respect and appreciation to those who serve with class and humility.