Sen. Trent Garner, rebuffed during the Senate’s organizational meeting Nov. 6, will get another crack today at lodging an ethics complaint against Sen. Jim Hendren.
UPDATE: It’s over. The committee dismissed the complaint.
Garner surprised and/or angered some senators by rising during the session to announce an ethics complaint against Hendren. It stems from the well-publicized case in which Hendren employed people assigned to a drug rehabilitation program by a drug court, paying the rehab agency and not the workers at his plastics company. The workers received food and housing. Hendren is appealing a judgment against him in a wage-and-hour lawsuit and continues to defend the arrangement as court-approved and well-intentioned.
Several senators objected to Garner’s introduction of the issue. Ultimately, on a motion by Sen. Dave Wallace and supported by new President Pro Tem Jimmy Hickey, the complaint was dismissed as frivolous in a voice vote.
So why is it back on the agenda today? Sen. Missy Irvin, chair of the Senate Ethics Committee, apparently determined that the vote Nov. 6 was by members of the 93rd General Assembly, which begins in January, not a vote of the current 92nd General Assembly (though most of the members of the current Ethics Committee were present.)
As explained at the time by Sen. Jason Rapert, the committee meets within 10 days of receiving a complaint to decide whether to investigate, not to actually deliberate on the complaint. He said he felt ambushed by Garner’s announcement.
Politics are at play. Garner is friendly toward Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin, a candidate for governor in 2022. Hendren is considering a race for governor, too, along with others. Garner has been aligned with Sen. Mark Johnson of Ferndale, who was the target of a new Senate ethics rule sponsored by Hendren to prevent senators from using Senate offices, equipment or staff to discuss business involving public money that might produce financial benefits for the senators or their families. Hendren also spoke out about dishonest mailers in recent election campaigns, including some mailed by Republican candidates, including one, Charles Beckham of McNeil, who won a district adjoining Garner’s in South Arkansas. Hendren defended the Democratic senator Beckham defeated, Bruce Maloch, against a Beckham mailer that dishonestly depicted Maloch as soft on abortion and guns. Beckham won despite (or, who knows, maybe because of) the disclosure that he was expelled from a Mississippi high school for donning Ku Klux Klan regalia and terrorizing black students one Halloween.
The Senate Ethics Committee membership besides Irvin includes Maloch, Wallace and Rapert. Also Will Bond, Lance Eads, Ricky Hill and Larry Teague.