LITTLE ROCK — Mark Darr’s stake in the ground turned out to be the nail in his political coffin.
Darr’s decision to step down as lieutenant governor over ethics violations tied to his office and campaign spending came three days after the Republican official vowed he wasn’t going anywhere and wasn’t afraid of impeachment threats. Rather than rallying support for him, Darr’s bold stand only seemed to invite an ouster attempt.
“Today I put a stake in the ground,” Darr said in a prepared statement Tuesday as he defended his decision to stay. “Not for this office, not the title or the job, but I put a stake in the ground for those Arkansans who are sick and tired of these types of political games and the people who play them. It would be an immediate fix to tuck tail and run, but I would regret it for years to come.”
By Friday night, things had changed.
“Politics can be a toxic business,” Darr said as he announced he’d leave office Feb. 1. “I will no longer subject my family to its hard lessons.”
Darr had hoped to win over lawmakers and voters by insisting that the violations that led to his $11,000 in ethics fines were unintentional mistakes and not signs of something more sinister. But for a political newcomer who rode the Republican wave into office in 2010, time and politics were not on his side.
Gearing up for a session that would focus on the same federal health care law Darr had vowed to fight, lawmakers were instead grappling with the possibility of a protracted impeachment fight that the state hadn’t seen of its likes. With few rules guiding the process, the impeachment fight and Senate trial likely would have stretched well beyond the session.
It was a frightening prospect for Republicans, who believe they’re on the verge of completing a takeover of state offices in November. Questions about Darr had already undermined a key argument for the GOP, which had hoped to tie Democrats to other ethics scandals.
Once a key player in the state Republican Party’s growth over the past four years, Darr had quickly turned into something else for the party — a liability.
“He spared a lot of people time and expense and probably some partisan fighting,” Senate President Michael Lamoureux, R-Russellville. “I think he spared everybody.”
Darr’s reversal came after days of public and private pleading from lawmakers who said the odds weren’t in the lieutenant governor’s favor. Even those who weren’t calling for his impeachment said they were perplexed by comments that they viewed as inviting a impeachment vote.
“It almost appears that he’s daring someone to make that move,” Sen. Jake Files, R-Fort Smith, said Wednesday.
It was a move that few in the Legislature wanted to pursue, but leaders of both parties said was inevitable.
Darr didn’t help matters with comments that seemed to lash out at fellow Republicans as much as Democrats, questioning the motives behind those who were calling for his resignation.
“What other elected officials do, that’s up to them,” Darr said Tuesday. “But I think they’re either acting politically, they’re ignorant of the true facts or they’re having an emotional response.”
It was a statement that seemed aimed at fellow Republicans who had called for him to step down, including the state’s GOP congressional delegation. Even his resignation letter, addressed to the public and not any elected officials, suggested they were the ones who needed forgiveness more than him.
“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 Friday night.