The rising tide of impeachment swelling in Little Rock against Arkansas Lieutenant Governor Mark Darr has not washed across Southwest Arkansas legislators.
In a poll of legislators taken Wednesday by the Hope Star, all four who have worked closely in the past with Hempstead County leaders expressed both reservations regarding the rush to judgment and concern over the seriousness of the situation with the Republican lieutenant governor.
State Representative Brent Talley, D-McCaskill, was in Little Rock on Wednesday in meetings prior to the start of the February fiscal legislative session of the Arkansas General Assembly.
“I am hopeful that Lt. Gov. Darr will take action on this issue personally and not force the general assembly to address the issue during the fiscal session,” Talley said. “After being in Little Rock this week for meetings and visiting with my colleagues, it appears that there are a number of members in the House who are certainly willing to propose impeachment.”
Talley did not indicate his leanings in the matter.
“If we do proceed with impeachment, I look forward to hearing all the facts in the case during the impeachment hearings in order to finalize my vote,” he said.
State Senator Larry Teague, D-Nashville, a long-time legislator and key member of the institutional memory of the legislature, kept the controversy at arm's length Wednesday.
“I have tried to stay out of the 'Darr' controversy,” Teague said. “I am told that it is extremely likely that the House will proceed with beginning the impeachment process. I continue to hope that the Lieutenant Governor will chose to remove himself from office and we won't have to.”
Teague, as well, was reticent about his position.
“I can't speak as to how I would vote because I have not seen all of the evidence,” he said. “In a sense, we would be jurors. I can say that what I know, mostly from reading the papers, looks really bad.”
State Senator Jimmy Dickey, R-Texarkana, who represents southern Hempstead County, said he will approach the situation like any juror should.
“If this comes before the Senate, I must take an oath which says that I will impartially try any impeachment proceedings brought before us,” Hickey said. “I have serious concerns and will use all due diligence to accurately listen and study any evidence brought before the Senate body to make a decision should the House of Representatives initiate a vote in favor of impeachment.”
State Representative Prissy Hickerson, R-Texarkana, said she would reserve judgment because the decision is Darr's to make about his future.
“So far, he has said he will not resign and the House Minority Leader, Democrat Greg Leding, has made clear that his caucus is seriously considering impeachment proceedings against him,” Hickerson said in an e-mail. “I know that House Speaker (Davy) Carter is reviewing procedures and has been in discussions with House Minority and Majority leadership.”
Page 2 of 2 - She said House Republicans will likely discuss the issue in caucus, but did not say when.
“I have not heard from too many members yet, except that members are looking more closely at Lt. Gov. Darr's actions to determine if they rise to the level of impeachment,” Hickerson said. “I know that, in the end, both Democrat and Republican House members will do what is best for the people of Arkansas.”
Darr said in interviews granted Monday, upon which he based a statement which he issued statewide, that he has no intention of resigning as lieutenant governor in the wake of his being fined $11,000 by the Arkansas Ethics Commission in connection with its findings of his mishandling of campaign finances.
“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,” he said. “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,” Darr stated. “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.”
He said he collected some $10,000 in state travel reimbursements that were not allowable, in part, because he used his personal vehicle and accounted travel from his residence in Springdale rather than from the Capitol building in Little Rock.
“The State Auditor’s office would pay the bill or contact us when something appeared to be inaccurate,” Darr said. “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.”
Thirdly, Darr contends that he mistakenly made certain credit card purchases with a state credit card.
“These were purchases that were either for official state use or used by mistake while traveling,” he said. “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.”