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Arkansas lieutenant governor rejects calls to step down

By Steve Barnes

LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas (Reuters) - Arkansas Lieutenant Governor Mark Darr on Tuesday rejected a request from the governor to step down after the state's Ethics Commission found that Darr violated campaign finance rules.

Amid a fight that has national political implications, Darr, a Republican and political newcomer, said in a statement his focus was on putting things right with the people of Arkansas.

"He will not resign," Amber Pool, Darr's communications director, told Reuters.

Darr accepted the Ethics Commission's finding on Monday of 11 violations. They included the conversion of campaign funds for personal use, improper expense reimbursements from public funds and inadequate record keeping.

The sums totaled about $50,000. Darr agreed to pay $11,000 in fines to settle the Commission's case, but a state prosecutor is weighing criminal charges.

Governor Mike Beebe, a Democrat, told reporters on Tuesday he had telephoned Darr to request his resignation, saying it was "in everybody's interest" and that Darr's response was "disappointing."

Darr was swept into office in 2010 on a wave of opposition to President Barack Obama, a Democrat who is deeply unpopular in Arkansas.

The fight carries national weight because Arkansas is one of the few Southern states where Democrats have been able to challenge Republicans who dominate the region.

Beebe cannot seek re-election as governor in the 2014 election after reaching a limit of two terms in office, leaving the race wide open. U.S. Senator Mark Pryor, a Democrat, is in a tough fight for his seat from the state against the presumptive Republican nominee, U.S. Representative Tom Cotton.

Beebe piled pressure on Darr by saying that two other state officials, both Democrats, resigned their offices in 2013 when faced with similar accusations.

Darr has not said whether he will seek re-election next year as lieutenant governor. Two Republicans are seeking the party's nomination for the post.

(Editing by Jon Herskovitz, Ian Simpson and James Dalgleish)

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