LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas Lt. Gov. Mark Darr refused Tuesday to resign over ethics violations tied to his campaign and office spending despite repeated calls from the state's top officials to quit, prompting a key member of his own party to declare Darr's impeachment by the state House "inevitable."
Darr, a Republican, acknowledged to the Ethics Commission last week that he broke state ethics and campaign laws 11 times since 2010 and agreed to pay $11,000 in fines. Darr has blamed the violations on meaningless oversights and contends he didn't profit from them personally.
"It would be an immediate fix to tuck tail and run but I would regret it for years to come," Darr said in a statement emailed as he opened a round of interviews with reporters. "I am a normal citizen, who ran for office, who is trying to do my job to the best of my ability with integrity and character."
Darr also said it would be too costly to replace him through a special election.
The lieutenant governor has resisted calls to resign from Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe and every Republican member of the state's delegation. State House Democrats have said they'll try to impeach the lieutenant governor if he doesn't step down.
House Majority Leader Bruce Westerman said he was disappointed with Darr's decision. He said that after talking to several Republicans who supported impeachment, he believed there are enough votes to begin the process to remove Darr.
"I think the impeachment is inevitable if he chooses not to resign," said Westerman, R-Hot Springs. Westerman said he, too, would vote to impeach the lieutenant governor.
In an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday, Darr rejected calls for his resignation, saying there is not a rising tide against him from voters.
"I've not heard a public outcry for my resignation," Darr said. "The people that I've spoken to have been very understanding and sympathetic that mistakes were made and they weren't willful or intentional. What other elected officials do, that's up to them. But I think they're either acting politically, they're ignorant of the true facts or they're having an emotional response."
Under guidelines set in the state constitution, Darr would be suspended if 51 or more members of the House approve an article of impeachment. Senators would then hold a trial, with a two-thirds majority, or 24 of 35 votes, is necessary for a conviction that would permanently remove Darr from office.
Though stopping short of calling for Darr's removal, House Speaker Davy Carter said his office was reviewing how an impeachment attempt might proceed. A first step would likely be the appointment of a bipartisan House committee to recommend impeachment procedures.
"Everyone is entitled to due process before substantive judgments are made, and, as we sit here today, there is no clear process clearly established in the House," Carter, R-Cabot, said in a written statement. "Accordingly, my office is contemplating a couple of avenues in which to provide a proper process should the majority of members decide to pursue impeachment."
The 100-member House has 51 Republicans, 48 Democrats and one member of the Green Party. Two Republicans have called on Darr to quit but haven't said whether they would join Democrats in an impeachment vote.
The Senate has 21 Republicans and 13 Democrats, with one vacancy set to be filled next Tuesday.
House Minority Leader Greg Leding said he planned to seek impeachment proceedings against Darr and that he was confident there would be at least 51 votes supporting the move. The Fayetteville Democrat said lawmakers could even move for impeachment before the session begins.
"Nobody is happy it has come to this," said Leding.
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 on Dec. 30 in which he agreed to pay $1,000 for each of 11 violations cited by the Ethics Commission. He also will reimburse the state for what was found in the legislative audit.
Darr was elected in 2010 amid sweeping Republican gains in the state. In 2013, he announced a run for Congress, where he wanted to follow Republican Rep. Tom Cotton. Cotton, a Republican, is challenging Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor this year.
The lieutenant governor left the race in August after questions were raised about his spending.
Darr's refusal to leave office could overshadow GOP efforts in November to build on recent electoral gains, including the GOP's takeover of the state Legislature in the 2012 election. It's already undermined GOP efforts to tie Democrats to recent scandals, such as Democratic state Sen. Paul Bookout's resignation after being fined $8,000 by the Ethics Commission for spending campaign funds on personal items such as clothing and theater equipment.
The lieutenant governor's is a mostly ceremonial position whose duties include presiding over the state Senate and casting the rare tie-breaking vote in a 35-member chamber.
Darr said he plans to preside over the Senate when the Legislature convenes for its fiscal session starting Feb. 10. He dismissed the comment by state Rep. Andy Mayberry, R-Hensley, that he would be a distraction during the session if he remained in office. Mayberry is one of two Republicans running for Darr's seat.
"If I am such a distraction for Rep. Mayberry, maybe he's in the wrong line of work," Darr said. "This is the Capitol building, and if I asked everybody in the Capitol that was a distraction to me to resign, there would be tumbleweeds outside."
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