Unknowns Abound in How to Impeach Mark Darr

by Andrew DeMillo, The Associated Press  on Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014 9:20 am  

The Arkansas Capitol Building in Little Rock. (Photo by Stephanie Dunn)

LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas Lt. Gov. Mark Darr's impeachment over an ethics scandal may be "inevitable" unless he resigns, in the words of a fellow Republican. But before legislators could impeach Darr, they'd have to write the rules for the process, which Arkansas hasn't used in more than 140 years.

House Speaker Davy Carter said Wednesday that he hoped to appoint a bipartisan committee in the coming days to research the options for impeaching Darr, who is refusing to step down over ethics violations tied to his campaign and office spending.

Though the basic framework for impeaching an elected official is spelled out in the state constitution and state law, Carter said lawmakers face plenty of unanswered questions on how to move forward with impeachment.

"There's the beginning and the end," Carter said, referring to the state law and constitution. "All the in between in the House is not there."

Figuring out that process would be the key first step toward removing Darr from office after he acknowledged to the Ethics Commission last week that he broke ethics and campaign laws 11 times since 2010 and agreed to pay $11,000 in fines.

On Wednesday, Darr showed no signs of relenting in his fight to stay in office, saying he believed it would set a bad precedent to step down over what he insists were unintentional mistakes.

"I'm in this as long as it's right for me and my family," Darr said on KHTE radio.

Darr's comments came a day after House Majority Leader Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, said he believed impeachment was "inevitable" if the lieutenant governor doesn't resign. The top Democrat in that chamber has said he plans to push for Darr's ouster.

The Arkansas Constitution gives the House the power to impeach officials such as the lieutenant governor for "high crimes and misdemeanors." If impeached by the House, he would be suspended from office while he is tried by the Senate. He would be removed if convicted by a two-thirds majority — 24 of the Senate's 35 members.

The 100-member House has 51 Republicans, 48 Democrats and one member of the Green Party. The Senate has 21 Republicans and 13 Democrats, with one vacancy set to be filled next Tuesday.

The Ethics Commission last week said it found probable cause that Darr made personal use of $31,572.74 in campaign funds, received excess contributions to retire his campaign debt, didn't maintain adequate records, failed to itemize loan repayments and accepted improper reimbursement for travel expenses. A separate legislative audit last month cited more than $12,000 in improper expenses incurred by Darr's office.

Darr signed a letter Dec. 30 in which he accepted the commission's findings.



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