LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Mike Beebe said Thursday he believes the Legislature can convene on its own initiative for impeachment proceedings, with no need for a special session called by the governor.
Democratic and Republican legislative leaders have said impeachment proceedings are likely against Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Darr, who said this week he will not resign despite being fined $11,000 last week by the state Ethics Commission for violations of ethics and campaign finance laws.
"I think it’s one area where they can call themselves in for action. Now that’s subject to verification, obviously," Beebe told the Arkansas News Bureau on Thursday.
Under Article 15 of the state constitution, if the House votes to impeach a state officer, the Senate conducts a trial. It requires a two-thirds vote, or at least 24 votes in the 35-seat Senate, for a conviction and removal from office.
A special session can only be called by the governor. Beebe said it would not make sense for impeachment to depend on the governor calling a special session.
"For example, if you ever wanted to impeach a governor and you were depending on the governor calling a special session, it would really be a hollow remedy," he said.
House spokeswoman Cecillea Pond-Mayo said Thursday that House leaders also believe legislators can convene on their own for an impeachment vote. Article 15 speaks of the House’s power to impeach without mentioning any required action by the governor, she said.
Asked whether he would prefer to see impeachment proceedings happen during or outside of the fiscal session that begins Feb. 10, Beebe said, "You know, I’ve got so many mixed thoughts about that. I wish he’d resign."
The decision of when to hold the proceedings is up to legislators, the Democratic governor said.
"In terms of telling the Legislature when and how to do it, I’ve always been — and perhaps it’s because of my 20 years of experience in the Senate — I’ve always been cautious about trying to dictate to the Legislature their own internal procedural actions," he said.
Taking up impeachment during the session would have the advantage of reducing the cost, as legislators would already be at the Capitol, but it also would cut into the time the Legislature has to conduct the regular business of the session.
A fiscal session is confined to 30 days unless lawmakers vote for a 15-day extension, with only one extension allowed.
The Ethics Commission said it found evidence that Darr used campaign money to make about $31,500 in personal purchases, received about $3,500 in improper travel reimbursements, accepted $6,000 in campaign contributions that exceeded the individual limit, accepted contributions after the amount needed to retire his debt had been raised, made personal expenditures with campaign funds that exceeded the loans he made to his campaign and submitted campaign finance reports that omitted required information.
A legislative audit that took a more in-depth look at Darr’s travel reimbursements found that he received more than $9,000 in improper reimbursements.
Darr said Tuesday that he made mistakes but did not willfully violate the law and did not misuse money for personal gain. He said he has no intention of resigning.
Beebe said Thursday the entire episode is sad and embarrassing.
"It’s sad for the Darr family," he said. "Nobody likes that. It’s not nice for anybody to have to go through that. But it’s sad for the people, it’s sad for the office. And it gives further credence to all those folks that argue that we ought to do away with the office — I mean, you’re going to get some of that reaction."
The governor said he would not take a position on whether the office of lieutenant governor — a part-time position with limited duties — should be abolished.
As for the national publicity the case is generating, and can be expected to generate if lawmakers move to impeach Darr, Beebe said, "All of that negative stuff is not good for Arkansas. I mean, it gets embarrassing."