Citing a desire to spare his family, embattled Lt. Gov. Mark Darr said Friday he will resign, effective Feb. 1, in the face of possible impeachment over his misuse of campaign and taxpayer money.
"Politics can be a toxic business," Darr said in a statement released at 6:30 p.m. "I will no longer subject my family to its hard lessons. All my forgiveness to those who play the games and all my respect and appreciation to those who serve with class and humility."
Darr said he was submitting his resignation "to the people of Arkansas, not an elected official." He said he had advised Senate President Pro Tem Michael Lamoureux, R-Russellville, and House Speaker Davy Carter, R-Cabot, of his decision and that "they agree with me it is in the best interest for me, my family and the state at this point."
On Dec. 30 the state Ethics Commission reprimanded the Republican lieutenant governor and fined him $11,000 for 11 violations of state ethics and campaign finance laws. The panel said it found evidence that Darr used campaign money to make about $31,500 in personal purchases, received about $3,500 in improper travel reimbursements, accepted $6,000 in campaign contributions that exceeded the individual limit and submitted campaign finance reports that omitted required information.
A legislative audit that took a more in-depth look at Darr’s travel reimbursements found that he received more than $9,000 in improper reimbursements.
Over the past two weeks, a number of elected officials have called for Darr’s resignation and have said he likely would be impeached if he did not step down. As late as Wednesday, Darr said he would not resign.
In a series of interviews with reporters on Tuesday, Darr attributed his violations to poor record-keeping and misinterpretations of state law. He said he had mistakenly believed that because he had loaned money to his 2010 campaign, he could repay the loan by using campaign money for personal purchases.
In announcing his resignation Friday, Darr again asserted that he did not willfully break the law.
"Throughout this process, it has been my desire to share the facts, and I feel this has been accomplished. I have been honest, forthright and acted with integrity. I made mistakes, but not one with malicious intent," he said.
Darr also said it has been an honor to serve as lieutenant governor.
"This office has allowed me to meet so many wonderful Arkansans over the past few years," he said. "My family and I are forever grateful for the support the people of this great state have shown us for the past few years and during this extremely difficult time. We have learned that difficult days demand decisions of faith."
Lamoureux said he had been talking to Darr throughout the ordeal and that Thursday was the first time the lieutenant governor wavered in his refusal to step down.
"This whole thing is bad, but I think he ultimately did the right thing for Arkansas," Lamoureux said Friday.
Carter said he was sad for Darr and his family but agreed with his decision.
"I think he’s a good person and I hate it for him personally, but I’m glad he did what he did because it’s best for state," he said.
Gov. Mike Beebe, who was among the first to call for Darr’s resignation, was not advised in advance of Darr’s decision, according to spokesman Matt DeCample.
DeCample said the Democratic governor "does think this is the best thing, both for Mr. Darr and for the state."
It was not immediately clear whether a special election would be called to choose someone to complete Darr’s term. Carter and Lamoureux said state law apparently requires the governor to call a special election, but because the office is up for election in November anyway, legislators would like to spare the state the expense if possible.
"I’m hopeful we can pass legislation (during next month’s special session) that would avoid the state spending millions of dollars on a special election," Lamoureux said, noting that little time would remain in the unexpired term by the time the governor called a special session, a filing period was set and party primaries, possible runoffs and a general election were held.
" In my opinion, there’s really no point in going through all that," he said.
Asked what Beebe thinks of the idea of bypassing a special election, DeCample said, "We’re looking at all possibilities, but we have to look at the law we have now and where things will go from there."
Darr is the second state constitutional officer to resign in less than a year. Former state Treasurer Martha Shoffner, a Democrat, stepped down in May following her arrest by the FBI on federal public corruption charges. She now faces 14 federal counts of extortion and bribery. Federal officials allege she accepted $36,000 in kickbacks in exchange for steering state bond business to a broker.