Darr’s resistance brings shame

It’s pretty cut and dried: Arkansas Lt. Gov. Mark Darr should resign. As reported by Arkansas News Bureau, Darr recently signed a settlement with the state Ethics Commission agreeing to pay $11,000 in fines for 11 separate violations of state campaign finance and disclosure laws.

The Ethics Commission found evidence that he improperly spent more than $44,000 in campaign contributions and office funds. The expenditures included improper travel reimbursements and personal expenditures made with campaign contributions. Darr admitted to using contributions to his 2010 campaign for personal use, accepting contributions in excess of legal limits, receiving state travel reimbursements for which he was not entitled and inadequately maintaining records.

Moreover, the commission found evidence that Darr had accepted campaign contributions that exceeded individual limits. It also cleared Darr of complaints that he had misused a state-issued credit card and committed perjury.

As if all that weren’t enough, it was revealed Thursday that Darr had skipped training on campaign finance laws offered by the state Ethics Commission. Wouldn’t you expect someone who ran pizza restaurants and had no previous political experience to avail himself of such classes? Chalk that up as another mistake.

Even in the face of all the evidence and his own admission of “mistakes,” he can’t bring himself to admit the intentionality of the acts. We don’t know whether it’s hubris, detachment or stupidity that propels Darr’s intractability, but whatever the source, he needs to relent.

In looking at the structure of his recent statements on the matter, one sees a peppering of equivocating and neutralizing language: “I don’t wish to minimize the seriousness of the mistakes I have made in campaign record-keeping and campaign disclosure. However, I think it is fair to distinguish between these mistakes and intentionally taking money that was not mine. I do not believe I ever intentionally took money that was not owed to me.”

He starts with “I don’t wish to minimize the seriousness of the mistakes I have made…” but then he attempts to do exactly that. Most of us would know if we took money that wasn’t rightfully ours to take, wouldn’t we?

Beebe was doubtful when asked about Darr’s claim that the violations were not intentional.

“We all make mistakes,” Beebe said. “I guess it becomes a matter of degree. If you mess up once or twice, or you inadvertently do something that’s explainable, that’s one thing. If it’s a pattern that’s longstanding or widespread, then it becomes a question of, is it a mistake or not? And apparently that’s what you’ve got to decide in this case.”

Eleven different violations indicate a pretty clear pattern of action. Even so, some people do make mistakes over and over and over and over again. They just don’t typically hold high elected office — at least they shouldn’t.

And if these were just “mistakes” on Darr’s part, we’d suggest that he’s over his head, professionally speaking, and should hit the exit based on that failing alone.

Thankfully, the matter hasn’t taken on the usual us-versus-them veneer that seems to predominate American politics. Both Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe as well as all of Arkansas’ Republican Congressional delegation have called for Darr to resign.

Of course there are always those who’ll back a horse no matter how lame. Among those we see are state Republican Party Chairman Doyle Webb and gubernatorial candidate Asa Hutchinson. Both have taken “wait and see” positions. We expected as much. No doubt, if Darr had a “D” after his name, they would have called for his head long ago.

In the main, Darr’s refusal to do the right thing — in the face of having been caught doing the wrong thing — only feeds growing public distrust of government. It encourages division, promotes cynicism and makes our state less than it could be.