Bill To Keep Lt. Governor's Seat Vacant Clears Arkansas House

Feb 27, 2014

The Arkansas House of Representatives' chamber.

The vacant seat of Arkansas Lieutenant Governor will likely remain that way until next year. On Thursday the state House of Representatives passed SB139, allowing the Governor to not call a special election to fill a vacant Lieutenant Governor’s post if that vacancy occurs less than 10 months from a General Election. The state Senate passed the bill last week and the bill now awaits Governor Mike Beebe’s signature to become law. After some questioning about the power it bestows to the Governor, the bill passed 72 to 10.

On the House floor, Democratic State Representative Warwick Sabin, who voted against the bill, questioned if some of the bill’s language dealing with other vacancies puts too much power in the hands of the state’s chief executive.

“In my reading of this, unless there’s a legal definition of ‘impracticable or unduly burdensome’, a Governor could just simply say ‘I don’t feel it’s a good idea right now to fill this vacancy and leave the seat open for two years or something less than that,” Sabin said, referring to a section of the legislation. “That would be my concern at least, unless there’s some interpretation that I don’t understand.”

Speaking for the bill, Republican State representative Andrea Lea responded to Sabin by saying that wasn’t the bill’s intent.

“My understanding is that no, it does not leave that power in the governor’s hands,” she said. “In my reading of [the bill], it didn’t. And [for] the bill drafters, it didn’t either.”

House Majority Leader Bruce Westerman also attempted to clear Sabin's concern, saying another subsection of the bill corrects language that appears to give a Governor the ability to call for a special election solely at his/her discretion.

Republican State Representative Bob Ballinger also spoke for the bill (though he voted against it), saying the legislature will still be able to tweak the measure in future legislative sessions

Former Lt. Governor Mark Darr resigned last month over ethics violations.
Credit Michael Hibblen / KUAR

“This is not like a lot of laws we pass, that everyone has to live under all the time,” he said. “This is so narrowly tailored to one position. And we’ll be back here next January [to reconvene for the regular legislative session] before we ever have to use it again.”

“There’s some things about it that I don’t necessarily like. I really think there’s some things that ought to be changed. But this will take care of a specific problem that we have right now,” Ballinger said.

The bill arose from concerns that a special election to fill the seat of former Lieutenant Governor Mark Darr would be too costly and unnecessary with the November General Election less than a year away. Darr resigned last month after the Arkansas Ethics Commission found he had violated 11 ethics rules for making improper campaign expenditures and reimbursing his personal travel expenses using state funds. The Commission fined him $11,000 dollars.