Senator takes over staff of lieutenant governor’s office; attorney general cries foul

LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas Senate President Pro Tem Michael Lamoureux, R-Russellville, said Wednesday he has assumed the role of Senate president following the resignation of Lt. Gov. Mark Darr and is now supervising the staff of the lieutenant governor’s office, actions that Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said exceed Lamoureux’s authority.

In an email distributed by former Darr spokeswoman Amber Pool, Lamoureux said the Arkansas Constitution and the rules of the Senate require the Senate president pro tem to serve as Senate president when the lieutenant governor’s office is vacant.

Darr’s resignation, the outgrowth of an ethics scandal, was effective Saturday.

The lieutenant governor’s duties are to serve as president of the Senate when it is in session, to fulfill the duties of the governor when the governor is unable to do so because of death, resignation or disability and to serve as acting governor when the governor is out of state.

Lamoureux said the staff of the lieutenant governor’s office will aid him in carrying out his duties.

“In fulfilling this responsibility I will not be doing the following: I will not be signing legislation, I will not utilize the services of the Arkansas State Police, and I will not take the salary of lieutenant governor or take any action unless requested by or coordinated with the governor’s office except in extraordinary circumstances,” he said.

McDaniel said in a statement Wednesday:

“Sen. Lamoureux is my friend and I respect him greatly. However, I believe that the press release issued on his behalf inartfully describes his constitutional powers and duties.

“The president pro tem is an important role in our state government and that person fulfills the duties of the president of the Senate if the president of the Senate is unavailable. That unavailability could be due to death, resignation or mere absence. However, the president pro tem does not become the Senate president simply because that office is vacant. Unless the voters fill the office of lieutenant governor, no one else can supervise the staff of the lieutenant governor’s office.

“I have spoken with Sen. Lamoureux this evening to inform him that I am at his service and my office will do all that we can to assist him in accomplishing whatever goals that he wishes to achieve within our existing constitutional framework.”

Lamoureux said in response that he had acted on the advice of Steve Cook, chief counsel for the Senate, and that McDaniel’s opinion was just an opinion.

“This is what we think the right approach is, and this is what we’re doing,” he said. “Everybody is free to have a different opinion.”

On Tuesday, Gov. Mike Beebe said in a live-streamed Talk Business interview that he questioned the need to keep Darr’s four-person staff on the state payroll.

“The people of Arkansas would find it a little bit, I think, unusual to keep a staff for an office that doesn’t exist or doesn’t have an incumbent in it,” he said.

According to the state’s transparency website, the staff of the lieutenant governor’s office consists of Pool, who makes $57,565 a year; Chief of Staff Bruce Campbell, who makes $75,132 a year; Communications Director Josh Curtis, who makes $51,564 a year; and Executive Assistant Raeanne Gardner, who makes $33,660 a year.

Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample said Wednesday the governor had no immediate comment on Lamoureux’s announcement.