Arkansas Speaker: Would be best if colleague resigns

ANDREW DeMILLO
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Arkansas Lawmaker Arrested

FILE - This undated file photo provided by the Arkansas Secretary of State's office shows Arkansas state Rep. Mickey Gates, of Hot Springs, who was arrested on six felony charges after authorities said he failed to pay income taxes for several years. Arkansas House Speaker Matthew Shepherd says he told state Rep. Mickey Gates who pleaded no contest to not paying state income taxes that it would be in everyone's best interests if he resigned. Speaker Shepherd said Thursday Aug. 1, 2019, that he told Gates he would resign if he was in Gates' position. Shepherd also wouldn't rule out seeking Gates' removal if he doesn't leave voluntarily.(Arkansas Secretary of State's office via AP)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas' House speaker on Thursday said he's told a lawmaker who pleaded no contest to not paying state income taxes that it would be in everyone's best interests if he resigned, and wouldn't rule out seeking the lawmaker's removal if he doesn't go voluntarily.

Speaker Matthew Shepherd said that he told state Rep. Mickey Gates he would resign if he was in Gates' position. Gates entered the plea Monday in Garland County Court under an agreement with prosecutors to one count of not filing or paying income taxes. The Republican was arrested last year and charged with not filing returns from 2012 through 2017.

"When you look at the terms of the plea agreement, it's going to be something that's going to be hanging over him for the foreseeable future," Shepherd told The Associated Press. Gates and Shepherd are both Republicans.

Gates agreed to pay at least $74,789 he owes the state in taxes, penalties and interest for the years 2012 through 2014 and to serve six years' probation. A hearing to determine the remaining amount owed for 2015 through 2017 will be held in December. Gates entered the plea under a law for first-time offenders that will allow the case against him to be dismissed and expunged after he serves probation. Shepherd had stopped short of calling for Gates' resignation after the lawmaker was arrested last year.

Gates said Thursday he doesn't plan to step down and intends to seek re-election next year.

"I don't plan on resigning," Gates said. "I'm innocent and I plan on doing what the judge has ordered me to do, which is I wanted to do to begin with and that is sort this out with (the state Department of Finance and Administration) and have a meeting of the minds."

Shepherd said he's had some discussion with lawmakers about the process for removing Gates, which he said may be complicated since the lawmaker doesn't have a felony conviction under the law used to enter his plea. He said he wouldn't rule that possibility out, but didn't want to rush into it and said there isn't a hurry since the Legislature isn't scheduled to be in session again until next year. Removing a member takes at least a two-thirds vote under the state's constitution.

"We are somewhat in uncharted territory here," he said.

The top Democrat in the majority-Republican House also stopped short of calling for Gates' removal, but said the lawmaker should step down.

"If I was Mickey Gates, I would resign. Once you betray the public trust, I don't know how you can recover from that," House Minority Leader Fred Love said.

Other top Republicans called for Gates' resignation following his arrest last year. Gov. Asa Hutchinson repeated his call for Gates to step down on Monday. Gates won re-election to the House in November, several months after his arrest.

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