Some Republicans simply cannot bring themselves to criticize other Republicans. It’s evident — again — in the reluctance of many Republican legislators to even comment on Lt. Gov. Mark Darr’s misuse of public and campaign money, much less call for his resignation.
But a new low was struck today by Sen. Bart Hester, from Darr’s homeland in Yellow Dog Republican Northwest Arkansas. He’s actually defending Darr, in what might be an early indication of Darr’s own planned PR offensive. Hester talked to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette yesterday:
He said it’s unfair to compare Darr’s problems with those of former Democratic state Treasurer Martha Shoffner of Newport, who resigned in May, and former Democratic Sen. Paul Bookout of Jonesboro, who resigned in August after misusing campaign funds.
Hester said he would like Darr to get “his side out” before deciding whether to stay or quit.
Unfair? Apparently Darr intends to whine and ‘splain to carefully selected reporters today rather than resign. There’ll be no open press gaggle for Darr, because somebody might ask an uncomfortable question in public. He’ll take his chances with a favored few in serial 15-minute interviews to which critics like me have not been given an invitation.
But unfair? It’s simple, Senator Hester.
1) Darr’s “side” is out. He’s admitted guilt, if not in the criminal sense, in fact. He took public expense money to which he was not entitled and spent campaign money that was not his to spend. Oh, sure, he calls it bookkeeping errors. Effect is the same.
2) No one is defending Shoffner or Bookout. As I’ve written before, both resigned within days — 3 and 4, respectively — of publicity about their misdeeds. 26 days have passed since Darr acknowledged to Legislative Audit his misspending of $12,000 in PUBLIC (my emphasis) money.
3) Bookout’s misuse of campaign money was arrogant, breathtaking and huge. But he resigned, he’s under federal investigation and I suspect before it’s over he’ll face far worse than a fine from the Ethics Commission. Parallel investigations are in order in the Darr case. Credit cards are in play. Tax questions remain about the reporting of income that doesn’t qualify as an expense reimbursement.
As a technical legal matter, you could argue that what Darr has admitted to doing is worse than Bookout’s misdeeds. Darr took money from taxpayers. Misuse of campaign money is, regrettably, only a misdemeanor violation under Arkansas law. Darr used $12,000 within the period audited of TAXPAYER money for illegal personal expenses.
Forget that Darr is lieutenant governor. Let’s think of a cashier at the state office that hands out license plates. A cashier who took $12,000 from the public’s till and spent it on personal travel would likely face a felony prosecution. Darr pocketed public money, too. He says he didn’t know better. You know what they say about ignorance of the law.
Darr should be ashamed and quit. Bart Hester should be ashamed, too. Shame is apparently in short supply on that side of the aisle.
Supporting a Darr decision to hang onto the office doesn’t look like much of a political winner, by the way. This one would challenge even Frank Luntz’s skill in the dishonest messaging department.