Jim Keet, the Republican candidate for governor, held a news conference today and took questions for more than 30 minutes after a brief statement. It was sort of his Checkers speech. Neither he nor his wife had done wrong on several tax and ethics issues that have cropped up lately — erroneous homestead credits, failure to pay taxes on his personal airplane, failure to disclose ownership of the plane, an apparently improper vote in Florida in 2008. He took a number of questions, then declared the subject closed. The most serious concern his failure to pay taxes since 2005 on his airplane, registered in Nevada and rented to his campaign a la the Huckster of yore.
Some questions we'd posed beforehand for Keet and some of the answers that emerged:
1) Do you regret throwing your wife under the bus for blame on tax payment errors? (He said at the news conference she did no wrong and he hadn't intended to blame her, as news coverage has depicted.)
2) In the light of the number of errors revealed, how can you say you always pay taxes properly? (He said he wasn't perfect, but all mistakes have been corrected.)
3) Why did you stop assessing your airplane, in Arkansas or anywhere else, for personal property taxes? (He said no assessment was necessary in Florida when he moved there. The Nevada excuse he had once offered — where the company that owns the plane is based — is no longer operative apparently.)
4) Did you pay a sales and use tax when you purchased the airplane, in Arkansas or Nevada? Have a receipt? (At the news conference he said he did pay.)
5) Why did you register the plane in Nevada? ("It's easier to register corporations of all types and airplanes in the state of Nevada," Keet said. "At the time we didn't know where wer're going to be because of this assignment in Florida. We didn't know where we were going to be so we registered it in Nevada. It's just a much more business friendly state in terms of registration of corporations.")
6) Why didn't you disclose your ownership in the corporation that owns the plane on your Arkansas statement of financial interest? Isn't that required? (Keet's spokesman said in a later telephone conversation that the company did not meet the income threshold that would require disclosure on his statement of financial interest, but an amendment has been filed to the report. In fact, there are two minimum standards for reporting — income and value of ownership, which Keet's $135,000 plane exceeded.)
7) Did you violate Florida law by casting an absentee ballot in November 2008 when you moved to Arkansas in August before books had closed on registering in Arkansas? ( Keet's spokesman offered a one-word response to this question in a telephone conversation shortly after the press conference, "No." The Florida statute says a ballot may not be cast by someone who's moved to another state before that's state voter registration books have closed, as Keet did. Admittedly, voting officials aren't likely to be sticklers about it as long as Keet didn't also register and vote in Arkansas. (Under fellow Republican Tim Griffin's voter caging activities in Florida, however, Keet likely would have been caught and tossed off voter rolls. )
Keet's brief statement said questions about his taxes were diversions created by his opponent. He said the Beebe campaign hired an investigator to review his records. If he's made mistakes, they've been corrected. "Now it is time to move forward and focus on the things that are on Arkansans minds," said the statement.
PS — Keet, who appeared with his wife and defended her fervently, also wants a series of debates. Sounds a little like Blanche Lincoln, don't you think?
For those of you who missed, we unveiled a nifty little bit of new technology. We carried a big segment of Keet's news conference here live over an app on Gerard's Android phone. Worked like a charm. You can watch the recorded stream here.
More from Gerard:
Keet used today's press conference, not so much to clear up any remaining questions about his personal tax issues, but to say that each of those issues had been resolved and he was ready to talk about other things, which was to be expected. What was unexpected was Keet's charge that Gov. Beebe's campaign had hired a private investigator.
"I believe these matters have been a diversion fueled by my opponent, who spent $34,000 on a private investigator, from what is really important in this race," Keet said.
Keet said the expenditure was discovered by going through the governor's campaign finance reports. In response, Gov. Beebe's campaign had this to say by email.
"If Jim Keet wanted to avoid all of the questions with his taxes, he could have paid them in the first place, as Arkansans do. We do not employ any private investigators, but it would seem the records Jim Keet is referring to are all a matter of public record that anyone can look up, not just Sam Spade and Perry Mason."
Keet challenged Gov. Beebe to a series of four debates, one for each congressional district that he said should be televised. He also gave a laundry list of issues that he said Arkansans would rather hear about including immigration, "Obamacare," controlling government spending, ethics reform and education.