Beebe open to law change to avoid special election

LITTLE ROCK — A spokesman for Gov. Mike Beebe said Monday the governor is open to the idea of changing state law during next month’s fiscal session to avoid the need for a special election to replace Lt. Gov. Mark Darr.

Darr said Friday in a statement released to the news media that he planned to resign from office effective Feb. 1. The announcement came less than two weeks after the state Ethics Commission fined Darr $11,000 for 11 violations of state ethics and campaign finance laws.

House and Senate leaders said Friday that state law appears to require a special election to fill a vacancy in the lieutenant governor’s office, but they said that since Darr’s office is up for election in November anyway, they would like to spare the state the expense of a special election, possibly by changing the law during the fiscal session that begins Feb. 10.

During fiscal sessions, which are held in even-numbered years, consideration of a non-appropriation bill requires a two-thirds vote in both legislative chambers.

“The governor of course has always been very adamant about keeping fiscal sessions strictly about budget matters because that’s what he believes voters had in mind when they created (them), but in a specific, exigent circumstance like this he would not be opposed if there was overwhelming support to consider such a rare exception,” Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample said Monday.

DeCample said state law appears to require the governor to call a special election within 150 days of declaring a vacancy in a state office, but he said the governor’s office was still studying the law in hopes of answering questions such as whether that requirement applies to the lieutenant governor — an office that did not exist when the state constitution was enacted in 1874 — and whether the governor is required to declare a vacancy or could choose not to.

Also yet to be determined is whether Darr’s resignation will become official on Feb. 1. As of Monday afternoon, Darr had not submitted a letter of resignation to any state official and had only announced his plans in his news release, DeCample said.