by Tyler Hale
In a landslide vote, members of the Arkansas House of Representatives have booted Rep. Mickey Gates (R-Hot Springs) from his House seat.
Lawmakers voted 88-4 to expel Gates, who pleaded no contest earlier this for not paying state income taxes. In order to expel a member, the House required a two-thirds vote, or 67 members out of the total 100 Arkansas House seats.
A search of the Arkansas House of Representatives’ website reveals that Gates’ legislator page has already been removed.
Gates, who represented District 22 which consists of parts of Garland and Saline counties, was arrested in 2018 on charges of failing to file tax returns from 2012-2017. Officials have said that Gates owed the state of Arkansas approximately $260,000 in back taxes and penalties.
In July 2019, Gates pleaded no contest to the charge of failing to pay state income taxes. As part of a Garland County plea deal, he agreed to pay $74,789 in taxes and penalties for the years 2012-2014. A hearing will determine the amount to be repaid for the years 2015-2017.
State lawmakers, including Gov. Asa Hutchinson, called on Gates to resign in the wake of the arrest and his subsequent plea deal.
“It is unacceptable for a public official, particularly a state legislator, to continue to hold office after being found guilty of a criminal violation of our tax laws,” Hutchinson said in an emailed statement. “He should resign or be removed from office.”
However, Gates refused to relinquish his seat. House Speaker Matthew Shepherd (R-El Dorado) initiated the expulsion proceedings in September following Gates’ plea.
In a Sept. 6 letter to members of the Arkansas House, Shepherd wrote that he and members of the House legal staff had reviewed the Arkansas Constitution and relevant state law and had come to the conclusion that Gates could not hold a constitutional office due to the passage of Act 894 of 2019, which reads, “If a person has pleaded guilty or nolo contendere to or has been found guilty of a public trust crime, he or she shall not (1) File as a candidate for constitutional office; (2) Run as a candidate for a constitutional office; or (3) Hold a constitutional office.”
Shepherd told representatives that they would convene in House Caucus to consider the expulsion resolution. “I am saddened that it has come to the filing of a resolution, but we must abide by the laws that we pass and uphold the trust of the people of Arkansas,” Shepherd wrote.
During the House Caucus, Gates told House members that he was a “flawed individual” who “still make[s] bad decisions.”
In an emailed statement, Shepherd said that Gates’ expulsion was a “clear message” that state lawmakers would be held to a “high standard” of behavior. “Today’s vote to expel Rep. Gates sends a clear message. It tells Arkansans that their elected leaders are held to a high standard and must exemplify integrity at all times,” he said. “Although Unfortunate it came to this action, the resolution and debate was necessary to safeguard the trust placed in us by the public “
In a later interview with Arkansas Money & Politics, Gates said that he objected to the proceedings, which he claims had all the trappings of a legal proceeding without taking place in a courtroom.
“The problem is that you have a proceeding that is not a court hearing, but that we discuss matters of law. I am not an attorney and cannot mount a legal defense…it wasn’t a court, but yet we spent the whole time talking about laws.”
“Normally in a courtroom, you have witnesses and you can call witnesses. I couldn’t call anyone. My attorney couldn’t challenge perspectives of the law,” he says. “And I’m not qualified to challenge what he says, and I don’t have the right to rebut what he says. Normally in a court of law, a statement that is made can be rebutted.”
However, Gates says that he does not see his expulsion as the end of the matter. He says he intends run for his seat in the next election. “I plan to, yeah, run in the next election,” he said..
Despite the outcome of the caucus, Gates says there are no hard feelings on his part.
“I hold no ill will toward anyone,” he says. “We have a House full of people who are full of integrity.”