- Brian Chilson
Arkansas has at least four too many statewide "constitutional officers."
A governor? Can't do without. An attorney general? Yes. The rest are up for grabs.
Should we really elect a steward of state money, the treasurer, by popular vote? The example of Martha Shoffner is one answer. Should we elect an auditor to cut paychecks? A land commissioner, whatever that is?
Then there's the secretary of state. You could make an argument for a statewide ministerial overseer of state records and elections. Making an argument for the current holder of the office is another matter.
Secretary of State Mark Martin combines arrogance with a mean spirit. Remember his angry outburst to a Nashville newsman about the "bastards" in the press? He's stocked his staff with political hacks and wasted money on a staff retreat. His foreign junkets are pointless, but at least take him out of town.
More recently, Matt Campbell, a Little Rock lawyer, has focused attention on Martin's use of outside legal counsel for various purposes, despite well-paid lawyers on staff and a statute that requires the attorney general to represent his office. His hires include a tall-tower Little Rock lawyer who serves with Martin on the state Board of Election Commissioners. How cozy for Martin, should contested votes arise.
Then there's lieutenant governor. What with phones and computers, the governor should rarely be more than a nanosecond away. The No. 2 can do little but cause trouble.
The current governor-in-waiting, Mark Darr, demonstrated last week his (un)suitability for the job. Darr was among the Republicans triple-stamped for statewide office in the 2010 anti-Obama wave. Since then, between junkets and personal financial problems, Darr has mostly played the court jester.
Last week, for example, Darr bragged that his office had come in more than 11 percent under budget for the fiscal year ended June 30. Big whoop. The constitutional officers are traditionally overbudgeted. Darr spent $354,433 on an office staff with no official duties. None. His predecessor, Bill Halter, spent $301,739 in the last full budget year he was in office, in 2010, doing nothing. So Darr spent 17 percent more doing nothing than Halter.
He should have stopped with that empty boast. But Darr doubled down on Twitter by saying he intended to push for reducing ALL government by 13 percent. Fortunately, not even a Republican majority legislature will listen to Mark Darr when the 2014 session rolls around.
The state of Arkansas spends $21 billion each year in general revenues, cash funds and federal money. Cut $2.6 billion? Not pretty.
It would be no easier for Darr if he only set out to reduce the state's $4.5 billion in general revenue spending by $585 million. The Constitution prevents him from touching the $1.9 billion allotment for public education. The Constitutional amendment that established the lottery also said the legislature couldn't reduce spending on higher education. He COULD cut the $1.5 billion Department of Human Services, but every general revenue dollar spent there is matched by $3.50 in federal money, so you're talking catastrophe — both financially and in human terms — swinging an ax there.
The 13 percent isn't an easy cut anywhere. Would he lay off dozens of state troopers? Would he cut $40 million from the state Correction Department budget by releasing some 2,000 of the state's 15,000 inmates.
The legislature could cut 13 percent from Darr's office budget and lose nothing by way of public benefit. Otherwise, his cheap talk is so meaningless as to be surreal. Unfortunately, the Arkansas Constitution is all too real in encouraging the likes of Darr to run for a job a heartbeat away from the governorship.