By John Lyon
Arkansas News Bureau
LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Mike Beebe said Wednesday he supports a draft bill he has seen that would allow him to forgo calling a special election to fill the soon-to-be-vacated lieutenant governor’s office.
Lt. Gov Mark Darr announced in a news release earlier this month he would resign effective Feb. 1. A state law requires a special election to be held within 150 days of a vacancy being declared in the lieutenant governor’s office, but House and Senate leaders have said that with the office up for election in November anyway, they favor avoiding the expense of a special election if possible.
Beebe told reporters Wednesday he has seen an earlier draft bill that he felt left some issues unresolved, but the most recent draft he had seen was “acceptable.” The measure would leave it to the discretion of the governor whether to call a special election if a vacancy occurs in the lieutenant governor’s office within 11 months of a regular election for the office, he said.
Beebe said that if the measure were to pass, he would sign it.
“If they pass something like that, I can tell you right now I would not call a special election,” he said.
Senate President Pro Tem Michael Lamoureux, R-Russellville, said senators and a Senate staff attorney worked on the draft, which he said he believes has the support of a majority of senators. He said avoiding a special election could save the state $1.5 million — or $4.5 million if the election were to go to a runoff.
House Speaker Davy Carter, R-Cabot, said Wednesday he had not seen the draft but he believed a majority of House members supported the idea behind it.
The Legislature will convene for a fiscal session on Feb. 10. Consideration of a non-appropriations bill during a fiscal session requires a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate, though the measure itself could pass with a simple majority vote, Lamoureux said.
Amendment 29 to the Arkansas Constitution allows the governor to fill vacancies in other constitutional offices by appointment, but it does not allow the lieutenant governor’s office to be filled that way. Lamoureux said the exclusion presumably is intended to prevent the governor from naming the person who would step into his or her office in the event of death or departure from office.
“The whole idea of the lieutenant governor is that it’s sort of a backup to the governor,” he said.
Beebe also said Wednesday he has not received a resignation letter from Darr. He said he did not know whether Darr’s resignation would be official without one.
“That’s a question we’ve got to ask the A.G.,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any case law one way or the other because I don’t think it’s ever happened.”