Arkansas state senator suspended until next session over frivolous complaint

Arkansas GOP state senator Alan Clark has been suspended until the end of the current legislative session in January after he lodged what was found to be a frivolous complaint against his Democratic counterpart Stephanie Flowers. 

The Republican-majority legislature voted 26-4 to suspend Clark over the ethics issue, according to the Associated Press.

Clark accused Flowers of taking per diem payments for legislative meetings she attended over Zoom; per diems are given to cover meals and lodging while attending meetings for state business.

During COVID-19, the legislature decided to allow legislators to attend meetings virtually, but without per diems.

The investigation

When the ethics panel investigated Clark’s complaint, it found that Flowers had received the per diem payments without requesting them, and had returned them to the state.

“Rules the Senate adopted during the coronavirus pandemic allowed members to participate remotely, but not receive per diem funds. Flowers had not requested the payments and repaid the money in August after she realized she had received them because of a clerical error, the ethics committee found,” the report said.

Furthermore, the panel found that Clark had filed the complaint against Flowers in retaliation after the Senate stripped him and another lawmaker of their leadership posts for trying to get reimbursed for a meeting they didn’t attend.

“The committee felt that the comments and actions of Senator Clark, including bringing these ethics petitions for the purpose of retaliation, were bringing dishonor and disruption to the institution of the Senate,” ethics committee chair Kim Hammer (R) said.

Punishment

Clark did not attend the hearing, saying that he had a previously planned trip.

He complained about the suspension and said it was punishment for being a whistleblower.

“How can we be expected to fight corruption and wrongdoing in government if we can’t reveal and stand against our own questionable behavior?” he said. “I am saddened for this body that I love, more than anything else.”

It is difficult to see how Republicans would sanction one of their own without a legitimate reason, and it shows integrity that they did so in this case. Democrats certainly don’t have the monopoly on unethical behavior, and government won’t get any better until both sides can hold their own accountable.