Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has found himself in a mess.
While on his way to the 2014 Democratic nomination for governor as the heir apparent to Gov. Mike Beebe’s third term, he managed to stumble into a sex scandal. But does he still have time to dig out of the hole in which he finds himself?
That depends on how much he has actually done wrong and how well he can explain to the voters of Arkansas what happened. So far, it is not looking good.
McDaniel admitted a couple weeks ago — shortly before everyone went on vacation from politics for Christmas — that he had an “inappropriate” relationship with Hot Springs attorney Andrea Davis. This revelation came to light after Davis was accused of a whole host of transgressions by her ex-husband in a court filing involving a child custody dispute. One of the charges was that Davis had “sexual relations with Attorney General of the State of Arkansas Dustin McDaniel in 2011 or 2012.”
The public court filing began floating around the state and found its way into the hands of most political reporters and bloggers in Arkansas who then asked McDaniel if the charge was true. McDaniel responded with a short statement through a Washington-based campaign spokeswoman confirming that it was at least partially true but declining to comment further.
“With respect to Ms. Davis, I met her during the 2010 campaign. I had limited interaction with her in 2011, some of which I regret to say was inappropriate. I have no knowledge of the other allegations contained in this pleading,” McDaniel’s statement said. “My wife Bobbi and I love each other very much. I have been candid with her about this matter, and with much prayer, we have moved on with our life together. I hope the people of Arkansas will also accept my apology and know how honored I am to work for them every day.”
McDaniel obviously hoped this would end the discussion, but unfortunately for him it did not. In fact, the revelation has only led to more questions.
First of all, a “limited interaction” which is “inappropriate” is pretty broad. What was the nature of this relationship? Does McDaniel have any more skeletons in that closet of his? His potential campaign donors might want to know about these sooner rather than later.
Then there is a swirl of problems surrounding Davis.
On a professional level, she appeared as the opposing counsel in at least four cases opposite the state attorney general’s office. Obviously, McDaniel does not micromanage every case that comes through his office, but attorneys should reveal potential conflicts of interest to their clients, and this was not done.
On a more personal level, Davis is involved in an investigation of a murder in her front yard in February. Although no charges have been filed, the Hot Springs newspaper published a photograph of her being led from the scene by local police for questioning.
So far, McDaniel has avoided addressing these problems himself but instead has offered only limited explanations through the buffer of his spokespersons. It seems that he has buried his head in the sand, hoping his problems will go away and time will cause people to forget and move on.
If that is the case, he has grossly underestimated the gravity of this situation. His gubernatorial bid is in peril. His only chance to survive this is to come completely clean.
Without a more thorough explanation, including anything else that might be looming, people will assume the worse about the unknown.
• • •
Jason Tolbert is an accountant and conservative political blogger. His blog — The Tolbert Report — is linked at ArkansasNews.com. His e-mail is jason@TolbertReport.com.