LITTLE ROCK — Embattled Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Darr steadfastly refused to resign Tuesday despite growing calls for him to step down over ethics violations, prompting legislative leaders to predict that he would face a House vote on impeachment.
In an interview in his office, Darr said he and his wife, Kim, who joined him for the interview, had prayed over the matter and decided it was best for him to remain in office despite calls from Gov. Mike Beebe and others to step down after he admitted misusing thousands of dollars in campaign funds and public money.
As he has for months, he maintained that his ethics problems amounted to oversight.
“The decision that Kim and I made was to be honest, to share our story, to let the people of Arkansas know that I did nothing with malicious or willful disregard of the law, that mistakes were made and it’s unfortunate, but unfortunately we’re human beings and we all make mistakes,” said the lieutenant governor, who drew an $11,000 fine from the state Ethics Commission, its largest ever.
The Democratic governor, the five Republican members of Arkansas’ congressional delegation, the state Democratic Party and the state House Democratic Caucus have called on Darr to resign. House Majority Leader Bruce Westerman and House Minority Leader Greg Leding both said Tuesday they believe a majority of House members now support impeaching Darr.
“I hoped he would do what was in the best interest of Arkansas, and I feel like we gave him plenty of time to make that decision,” said Westerman, R-Hot Springs. “He made a decision that I think has started the process of an inevitable impeachment hearing.”
Leding, D-Fayetteville, said that “conversations with members on both sides of the aisle give me great confidence there are well more than 50 votes” in the 100-member House for impeachment.
The House has 51 Republicans, 48 Democrats and one Green Party member.
Preliminary talks have been held about possibly voting on impeachment before the fiscal session begins on Feb. 10 so that the proceedings would not be a distraction during the session, Leding said.
House Speaker Davy Carter, R-Cabot, said Tuesday he is considering appointing an ad hoc committee to look into how impeachment proceedings would be conducted and make recommendations to the House Rules Committee. No one has been impeached in Arkansas since the 1874 state constitution was enacted, he said.
If the House were to vote for impeachment, the constitution calls for the Senate to conduct a trial and requires a two-thirds vote for conviction and removal from office. The 35-member Senate currently includes 21 Republicans and 13 Democrats, with one seat vacant because of Democrat Paul Bookout’s resignation and set to be filled in a special election next week.
Darr gave a series of one-on-one interviews to reporters Tuesday and issued a written statement saying he was taking a stand.
“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,” he said in the statement. “It would be an immediate fix to tuck tail and run but I would regret it for years to come.”
Darr said Tuesday he had not decided whether he will seek re-election this year.
Last week, the Ethics Commission said it found evidence that Darr used campaign money to make about $31,500 in personal purchases, received about $3,500 in improper travel reimbursements and accepted $6,000 in campaign contributions that exceeded the individual limit, among other violations.
A legislative audit that took a more in-depth look at Darr’s travel reimbursements found that he received more than $9,000 in improper reimbursements.
Darr said Tuesday he has been working diligently for months to correct errors that were either directly or indirectly his responsibility. He apologized to the people of Arkansas for “the errors I made.”
He said that in 2010 he loaned his campaign more than $170,000 “and had every legal right to raise money and retire that debt.” Unfortunately, he said, he erred in how he reported those payments and fundraising activities, which he said has been incorrectly described in news reports as his using campaign funds for personal use.
Darr acknowledged he incorrectly collected nearly $10,000 in payments as office travel reimbursements over three years. He said the error was using his home in Northwest Arkansas as the point of origin instead of the state Capitol. He said he actually saved taxpayers thousand of dollars by using his personal vehicle instead of purchasing a state vehicle, like his predecessor, or using the state police to provide transportation.
Darr owned a pizza business and had no political experience before entering the 2010 lieutenant governor’s race and defeating Democrat Shane Broadway, a 14-year veteran of the state Legislature.
He said Tuesday his campaign had no finance director other than him. Asked what steps he took to familiarize himself with campaign finance laws, he said he studied a booklet provided by the Ethics Commission and the secretary of state’s office.
Bookout, a Democrat from Jonesboro, resigned from the state Senate in August after being fined $8,000 by the Ethics Commission for using campaign contributions to buy items for himself such as a home theater system and golf equipment. Darr said Tuesday there is “a big difference” between his case and Bookout’s.
“I didn’t use any funds for my personal gain. The campaign funds that he used were from other people, and the campaign funds that I used that were documented incorrectly were actually funds that were mine because I loaned the campaign money,” he said.