Arkansas Lt. Gov. Mark Darr said he would leave office Feb. 1, giving in to pressure from Democrats and fellow Republicans who said his impeachment was inevitable over ethics violations tied to his campaign and office spending.
The state Ethics Commission last month had fined Darr, a Republican, for 11 separate violations, including making personal use of more than $30,000 of his campaign funds. The Office of Legislative Audit said Darr improperly spent $3,500 on his state credit card and improperly filed for an equal amount in travel reimbursements.
"Politics can be a toxic business. I will no longer subject my family to its hard lessons," Darr said in a statement released by his office Friday evening. Darr had submitted his resignation to House Speaker Davy Carter and Senate President Michael Lamoureux.
Darr signed a letter Dec. 30 in which he agreed to pay the $11,000 Ethics Commission fine, and he has pledged to reimburse the state for findings in the legislative audit. Darr insisted the violations were unintentional and had vowed to stay in office.
A day after the former pizza shop owner agreed to the Ethics Commission's fines, Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe and Republican members of the state's congressional delegation called for Darr to resign.
Darr's refusal to step down prompted legislative leaders to begin researching options for impeachment. House Majority Leader Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, said Darr's impeachment was inevitable if the lieutenant governor didn't quit.
House Speaker Davy Carter, R-Cabot, planned to appoint a committee to recommend procedures for impeachment, a process that hadn't been attempted by state lawmakers since 1871.
"Everyone recognized (impeachment) would be a difficult thing to do and embarrassing for the state," Carter said Friday night. "Nobody wanted to do that, but I think people were prepared to do that. To that end, I think this is the best ending that was possible in this circumstance."
Lamoureux, R-Russellville, called Darr's resignation sad but said he believed the lieutenant governor made the right decision.
"He spared a lot of people time and expense and probably some partisan fighting," Lamoureux said.
Darr was elected in 2010 as part of a Republican sweep into state and congressional offices. In 2013, he announced a run for Congress, but he dropped out of the race in August amid questions about his spending.
The lieutenant governor's job is a mostly ceremonial position whose duties include presiding over the state Senate and casting the rare tie-breaking vote in the 35-member chamber. He's paid nearly $42,000 a year.
Darr tangled with Beebe during the 2013 regular legislative session when he signed into law a bill that kept secret the list of residents with permits to carry concealed weapons. Beebe had left the state, which enabled Darr to act.
Beebe had planned to let the bill become law without his signature, but Darr said his passion for the Second Amendment prompted him to sign it.
"I always thought we had a pretty decent relationship," Beebe said at the time. "Obviously, I'll be much more careful. You can't turn your back now."
The Ethics Commission found that Darr violated portions of the Arkansas code 11 times. The panel said it determined that he had made personal use of $31,572.74 of his 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.
Darr's ethics case is similar to one earlier this year involving former Democratic state Sen. Paul Bookout. In that case, Bookout resigned without public pressure from Beebe. Bookout accepted the Ethics Commission's findings and agreed to pay $8,000 in fines and to repay campaign contributors.
Darr's refusal to leave office threatened to overshadow GOP efforts in November to build on recent electoral gains, including the party's takeover of the state Legislature in the 2012 election. It had also undermined Republican efforts to tie Democrats to recent scandals, including Bookout and former state Treasurer Martha Shoffner's resignation over charges she accepted $36,000 from a broker who did business with the state. Shoffner, who faces trial in March, acknowledged taking the money and quit her post but said the money didn't influence her decision to steer state investments to the broker.
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