The Arkansas Leader has a new editorial now that Lt. Gov. Mark Darr has announced his intention to resign Feb. 1.
No tears are shed for Darr, an alibier since he won office on a campaign of irrelevancy, but the Leader editorialist (Ernie Dumas, we can reveal) sees no need to waste state money on a special election to fill the meaningless office. Its one official duty, presiding over the Senate, can be handled easily by President Pro Tem Michael Lamoureux.
Governor Beebe said he might have to declare a vacancy in the office and hold a needless special election to fill the job for a few months until after the fall general election. The only need to have a lieutenant governor during that stretch will be to have someone to cash the lieutenant governor’s payroll check.
If Beebe needs a legal justification for leaving things alone, Mark Darr may have provided it. In his pique, Darr said he was not going to resign to a public official—i.e., Mike Beebe—but to the people of Arkansas. With no official notice, Beebe need not declare a vacancy and call an election to which no one in Arkansas will pay any attention.
Save the taxpayers a cool million dollars by avoiding an election and all those payroll checks. For a frugal governor, that would be a good day’s work.
It’s a powerful case. The only problem is not exactly a niggling one, the law. It seems to anticipate that the governor declare a vacancy when one occurs and set an election within 150 days. I’d still argue the law doesn’t clearly mandate that the governor act, but it certainly is suggestive. In 2006, when Lt. Gov. Win Paul Rockefeller died, no special election was held, by agreement of the parties. I don’t recall anyone who objected. And I doubt many would object should a consensus develop this go-round. But it’s a slippery slope when politicians get together and agree not to worry about a little ol’ statute.
Still no word from governor’s office about plans for the vacancy. It will occur, if Darr carries through, nine days in advance of the legislative session, well before any opportunity to take legal steps to change the statute about special elections for a vacancy in the office, as some have suggested as an option.
UPDATE: I’ve talked with Matt DeCample, the governor’s spokesman. Short take: Who knows?
DeCample says legal research is underway, in concert with the attorney general, on several different topics. One is whether Darr’s resignation will really be a resignation if it is not submitted to a state official, as his statement Friday indicated.
He said the law is clear when a legislator resigns, but less so on the lieutenant governor, a more recent creation. Does the governor have leeway in calling a special election? Might the legislature pass something to alter the requirements this year? Is there a dangerous precedent in reaching an agreement outside what the law seems to suggest? All these questions are under review, DeCample said.
“We have at least until Feb. 1 to look at it,” DeCample said. And, of course, there’s always the possibility Darr could change his mind.