Will Sen. Johnny Key of Mountain Home file for re-election to the Senate this week? Or will he decline to do so as he pursues the job of lobbyist for the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville, a $202,000 job from which Richard Hudson is retiring June 30?
Should he not file — and should another candidate well-situated to make the Senate race, such as Rep. John Burris, be prepared to file in his stead — it would add some circumstantial evidence to a widespread belief that the UA job is greased for Key.
In theory, the job is wide open, hotly contested and won’t be decided until well after the filing period is over, based on information I’ve received from the UA through FOI requests and other questions.
Ethical considerations also exist on the matter of a sitting senator seeking, negotiating for and then taking a publicly financed job with a public agency over whose budget he’s presided as higher education budget subcommittee chair. But as a matter of law, he’s probably not prevented from taking it.
Mark Rushing of the UA provided, in addition to 33 applications, some other informal expressions of interest I’d requested. He said the search committee will meet March 12 to review applicants and recommend candidates for interviews. For your information, the applicants and other communications (such as a note from former Education Director Ken James) may be reviewed at links below.
UPDATE: Rushing said today that Ken James and one other applicant — former Sen. Steve Harrelson of Texarkana — had withdrawn and a new application had arrived, putting pending applications at 32.
Ethical notes: State law prohibits sitting legislators from taking another state job. They’d have to resign first. State law also prohibits legislators from moving from the legislature to a lobbying job for a year after they leave office. But that law excepted current members of the legislature when it was passed in 2011, thus Key is exempt. CORRECTION: Because Key was re-elected in 2012, the one-year-cooling off period nominally applies. But the law also exempts state employees from registration as a lobbyist. Key’s backers are prepared to argue that — cooling off law or no cooling off law — it’s irrelevant to a legislator moving to a job for a public agency, a loophole many hadn’t thought of previously. But think about it. Many a legislator has moved straight to the head of a state agency on leaving office. There, they advocate (lobby) on legislation related to those offices, which the law allows them to do. There is an exception. Once a public employee spends $400 in a quarter on lobbying, he or she must register. So UA Lobbyist Key would have to bring along somebody else with a university credit card to pick up the tab for wining and dining during the course of his lobbying duties or else he’d have to register. There are plenty of UA credit cards out there, I’d bet.
In short: Loopholes aplenty exist for a powerful legislator to get a state lobbying job (and make no mistake this isn’t a job with a fig-leaf title like former Sen. Gilbert Baker took to lobby for UCA and work as a campaign finance bundler for Republican candidates) it is by simple definition a lobbyist job.
The do-right rule, not much in evidence at UA since the days of Lou Holtz, isn’t likely to be invoked, or honored should someone choose to invoke it.