What Happens When Arkansas Lt. Gov. Mark Darr Resigns?

Jan 30, 2014

After months of investigations into Lieutenant Governor Mark Darr’s use of campaign and state funds the first term Republican is expected to resign Saturday. KUAR’s Jacob Kauffman looked into what Darr’s resignation means for Arkansas.

Lt. Gov. Mark Darr leaving the Arkansas Ethics Commission hearing in December.
Credit Michael Hibblen / KUAR

Kauffman: There are a number of questions surrounding Darr’s planned resignation that don’t deal with his ethics violations but rather what happens to the soon to be vacant Lieutenant Governor’s office. UALR Political Science Professor Art English joins us today to discuss the issue. Art, thank you for joining us.

English: Happy to be here.

Kauffman: The law calls for a special election after Darr steps down, what would that entail and do you think it’s likely?

English: I don’t think it’s likely. The law does call for that of course. But, I think Governor Beebe has a proposal to the legislature, the General Assembly, about this that actually works for both sides. It especially I think works for the Republican dominated legislature. What would happen is that if the office were left vacant and he has legislation to that effect that would be introduced in the upcoming fiscal session leaving the office vacant. It serves a couple of interests. One of which is that you don’t have to spend the money for a special election that could amount to several million dollars in a fiscally strapped state like ours. Also, I think leaving the office open really benefits the Republican lieutenant governor candidates because if a special election were called it’s very likely that John Burkhalter, who is the state highway commissioner, he would be a likely favorite to win that election over Representative Collins and Representative Mayberry both running on the Republican side. So, this gives additional time for a Republican primary to be held, for other issues to come up, and he would be an incumbent and it would be more difficult to defeat an incumbent in the general election in November than otherwise.

Kauffman: I’ll ask you to go a little bit more into detail about the political advantage that might be conferred on the winner of a special election and how that might affect them in the general election. You mentioned John Burkhalter, he would be allowed to run I understand it in the special election because he’s not currently sitting as a state legislator.

English: That’s correct.

Kauffman: But that isn’t the case for the Republican candidates.

English: That’s also correct which is another concern for them under those circumstances. They would have to give up their legislative seats I believe to run, if I’m not mistaken.

Kauffman: If legislators do act to halt a special election and the lieutenant governor’s office remains vacant, what would happen if Governor Mike Beebe could no longer function as Governor due to some unforeseen circumstances like an illness, injury, or death?

English: As I understand the Constitution provides for the Senate Pro Tem officer, I think that’s Michael Lamoureux, he would become Governor under those circumstances. If he could not serve then the Speaker of the House could serve. Those were actually offices in the original Constitution that provided for no Lieutenant Governor, the 1874 Constitution that would succeed to the office.

Kauffman: We reached out to Darr’s office and they said they weren’t available for comment. But, as we near the end of our discussion, how do you view Darr’s legacy? Do you feel his absence will be felt? Will there be repercussions? How does it fit in with the other recent ethics scandals with former State Senator Paul Bookout and former Treasurer Martha Shoffner?

English: Well, I think in both instances what happens are there are advantages given to the candidates that obviously are not ethically tarred. For example, in the case of Senator Bookout  he was succeeded by a Republican. That district may have changed anyway but he was a long time Democrat, his dad was in the legislature for many years, and there was a long legacy of many Bookouts in the Senate.

In the case of Martha Shoffner I think that’s given a clear advantage to any Republican candidate. That legacy is that office, which has been years, and years, and years, can’t even remember when a Republican served this century, offers an advantage for a good, solid Republican candidate to take that office. I think the same would be the case for Lieutenant Governor Darr and this particular case. That office has been tinged with the ethical problems of a Republican that might make it more difficult for a Republican to win that office. But I think both of those could change depending on the quality of the candidate and the perceived ethical status of that particular person who would be running for that office.

Kauffman: I’d like to thank our guest Art English with UALR’s Political Science Department for joining us and walking us through the next steps and what the state’s political landscape might look like after Lieutenant Governor Mark Darr steps down Saturday. Art, thank you for insight.

English: My pleasure.

Kauffman: I’m Jacob Kauffman, KUAR News