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Arkansas lieutenant governor resigns over ethics violations

By Steve Barnes

LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas (Reuters) - Arkansas Lieutenant Governor Mark Darr, under political siege from fellow Republicans as well as Democrats after admitting to numerous violations of state ethics laws, announced on Friday that he would resign effective February 1.

"Politics can be a toxic business. I will no longer subject my family to its hard lessons," Darr said in a statement. Darr continued to insist that he was guilty only of "mistakes, but not one with malicious intent."

"I have been honest, forthright and acted with integrity," said Darr.

In December, Darr agreed to an $11,000 fine imposed by the Arkansas Ethics Commission and accepted its finding of 11 breaches of regulations and statutes including converting campaign funds to personal use and receiving improper expense reimbursements from taxpayer funds. The questioned sums involved about $40,000.

Darr's resignation had been urged by numerous Arkansas politicians including Governor Mike Beebe, a Democrat. But it was of special importance to Republicans, who wanted Darr out of office as they head into 2014 elections for governor and U.S. Senate.

State law prevents Beebe, who took office in 2007, from seeking a third four-year term, and the race to succeed him is considered competitive. Senator Mark Pryor, after two terms, is widely viewed as among the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents in this year's elections.

The five Republicans in the six-member Arkansas congressional delegation publicly called for Darr to step down, and Democrats in the state House of Representatives warned they would introduce an impeachment resolution when the legislature convenes next month should he refuse.

The inquiry also forced Darr to abandon a campaign for the U.S. Congress.

Long a Democratic Party stronghold, Arkansas has recently elected Republicans, who benefited from the unpopularity of President Barack Obama, a Democrat.

Darr was among dozens of Republicans swept into office in 2010 in Arkansas, when his party won control of both chambers of the state General Assembly for the first time in more than a century.

Republican dismay at Darr's refusal to leave his office was heightened by the prompt resignations of two prominent Arkansas Democratic officeholders, both of whom ran aground in similar circumstances in 2013.

In addition to the civil sanctions imposed by the Ethics Commission, Darr faces the possibility of criminal charges which a state prosecutor says he is considering.

(Reporting by Steve Barnes; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Lisa Shumaker)

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