Mike Beebe Goes No-Frills with Treasurer Pick (AP Analysis)

by Andrew DeMillo, The Associated Press  on Monday, Jun. 3, 2013 7:36 am  

Charles Robinson, right, worked for 34 years in the Division of Legislative Audit, serving 28 years as the legislative auditor before retiring in 2007. (Photo by Mauren Kennedy)

LITTLE ROCK — To replace a state treasurer who resigned over accusations she accepted cash payments from an investment broker, Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe went with a pick as low-key as the office itself. He chose a veteran auditor who was so certain he was done with the Capitol that he gave away all but one of his suits to charity.

Charles Robinson, the former legislative auditor Beebe tapped to replace ex-Treasurer Martha Shoffner, offered few details on any changes he'd make to the office in charge of Arkansas' $3.3 billion investment portfolio.

He also avoided the vows to restore integrity to the office that would have been easy to make following Shoffner's resignation over accusations she accepted more than $36,000 cash from a bond broker.

Instead, he said his plans were pretty simple: "I just want the treasurer's office of the state to be what everyone expects it to be."

It's not a thrilling pledge, but reflects what Beebe and legislative leaders wanted after Shoffner's downfall: keeping the treasurer's office out of the news.

"I feel that by us working together that in a relatively short period of time, we will be able to assure all the people of Arkansas that their treasurer's office is being run efficiently and effectively," Robinson told reporters at the state Capitol last week. "I think that's what all citizens of our great state really want, and I know it's definitely what they deserve."

The treasurer's office has been known more for scandal and Shoffner's missteps than its actual responsibilities. Shoffner's resignation came days after she was arrested by the FBI and accused by federal prosecutors of taking cash payments — sometimes stashed in a pie box — from a bond broker who received a growing portion of the state's investment business.

Prosecutors say Shoffner accepted the payments at the same time she was facing increased scrutiny by lawmakers over an audit that found her decision to sell bonds before they matured had cost the state more than $400,000. Shoffner admitted to accepting money from the broker at a court hearing last week, but a federal rejected her guilty plea after she denied intentionally steering business to the broker in exchange for the payments.

Those bond transactions were uncovered by the office that Robinson once headed. Robinson, who retired in 2007, served as legislative auditor for 28 years. The political independence that office requires is partly what drew Beebe to Robinson.

"For almost 67 years, I've been apolitical and I think I'm too old to change," Robinson said.

When asked about being overseen by an audit division he once ran, Robinson joked: "I'm going to be very nice to (Legislative Auditor Roger Norman) and his staff."

Robinson is also inadvertently distancing himself from Shoffner in another way by saying he'd prefer to work for free rather than accept the roughly $54,000 salary for the position. It's a contrast to Shoffner, who came under fire for defending her personal use of a state vehicle and who, according to the FBI affidavit, complained regularly about not being paid enough.

Robinson's appointment also shows what happens when politics is taken out of the equation for choosing the state's treasurer. Shoffner was elected in 2006 in a race where she focused more on her experience in the Legislature than on what she planned to do with the office.

She won re-election in 2010 against a Green Party opponent, despite facing criticism over her defense of using state vehicles for personal business.

By choosing a longtime auditor with no political ties to replace the treasurer, Beebe has a chance to at least indirectly signal to voters the types of qualifications they should be looking for when they head to the polls next year. Robinson is barred by the state Constitution from running for treasurer next year, since he was appointed to the position.

"He's his own boss, answerable to the people," Beebe said. "In his case, he can't run for this office and in his case he didn't get elected by the folks, but I think his reputation is such and what he's already said suggests that his bosses are the people of Arkansas."

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