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)

State law details how the Senate trial, presided over by the chief justice of the state Supreme Court, would proceed. Several senators declined to comment on whether Darr should step down, noting that they would have to swear to "faithfully and impartially try the impeachment" at the beginning of the trial.

But procedural details are lacking in the House. House officials say they believe it would take a simple majority to impeach Darr. And just how to file articles of impeachment against the lieutenant governor is unclear.

"Is this is a resolution? Is this a bill that needs to be filed?" asked House Minority Leader Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville.

Another key question, Westerman said, is whether Carter can convene the House for impeachment or the chamber has to wait until the session begins Feb. 10. Carter has said he won't begin impeachment proceedings until at least 51 members support doing so.

Senate President Michael Lamoureux said he'd prefer to not hold a trial during the legislative session. Lamoureux said he's asked Senate staff to outline the Senate procedures for a trial.

"Until (House members) act, we really don't know if we have a role," said Lamoureux, R-Russellville.

However the Legislature proceeds, it will set a standard for future showdowns, Carter said.

"It's important not only today, but in all of the years to come," he said. "We've got to get the process correct."

The last time an impeachment was attempted in Arkansas was in 1871, three years before the state's current constitution was adopted. According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, Gov. Powell Clayton survived impeachment in 1871 when the Legislature failed to take up allegations raised by a rival faction known as the "Brindletails." Later that year, legislators sent Clayton to Washington as a U.S. senator.

Since then, the closest the Legislature has come to an impeachment fight is when former Gov. Jim Guy Tucker, believing that his Whitewater convictions would be reversed on appeal, reneged on a promise to resign July 15, 1996.

The decision led then-Attorney General Winston Bryant to file a lawsuit seeking to have Tucker declared unfit for office because of his fraud and conspiracy convictions. Mike Huckabee, who ascended to the governor's office, then gave Tucker until the next morning to quit or face impeachment. Tucker resigned that night, ending the matter in four hours.

Darr said he doesn't hold ill feelings toward those now seeking his removal from office.

"I asked the people of Arkansas for forgiveness and it would be wrong of me to ask for forgiveness if I'm not willing to forgive those people (seeking impeachment)," Darr said.

Darr's public comments are perplexing lawmakers from his own party such as Sen. Jake Files, R-Fort Smith, who wouldn't say whether lawmakers should impeach him.

"It almost appears that he's daring someone to make that move," Files said.

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