The Arkansas House of Representatives has overwhelmingly voted to expel Rep. Mickey Gates, R-Hot Springs, after he pleaded no contest to not paying state taxes. With a vote of 88-4, Gates becomes the first member in over 100 years to be expelled from the House.
Over the course of an hour on Friday, legislators heard arguments both for and against House Resolution 1079, brought by House Speaker Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado. Shepherd, speaking for the resolution, said when Gates initially pleaded not guilty to six felony charges back in 2018, Shepherd did not call for his resignation.
"I indicated that given the allegations that were made, I believe Rep. Gates was entitled to his day in court," Shepherd said. After Gates pleaded no contest this past July to one felony count of failure to pay taxes, and was sentenced to six months probation, Shepherd said that plea changed the situation
"While there may be compelling reasons for Rep. Gates and indeed any other criminal defendant to enter into such a plea deal and take that arrangement, I believe at the point that he pled no contest, that it placed the onus on us to take steps to expel Rep. Gates," Shepherd said. He also spoke on Act 894, which legislators passed in 2019 as another reason why the House had authority to expel Gates.
"71 members of this body, including Rep. Gates voted to approve a measure prohibiting a person in the circumstances of Rep. Gates, who’s pled no contest to a felony, from filing, running or holding office," Shepherd said.
Gates spoke for about 30 minutes against the resolution. He thanked his family as well as his constituents for their support, who re-elected Gates in 2018 after the state filed its initial charges against him.
Gates also listed actions that were determined to be on the "right side of history" like D-Day and the Emancipation Proclamation, and the "wrong side of history" such as the Dred Scott Decision from the United States Supreme Court. Gates tied these events to Friday’s vote.
"Today in this chamber, we are on the verge of making history. But as I have stated previously, making history is not necessarily good, bad, right or wrong," Gates said. Speaking on his no-contest plea, he said the plea itself was not an admittance of guilt.
"It is clear by Supreme Court rulings that the current plan to have charges dropped doesn’t look anything like someone who is about to be found guilty," Gates said. "Thankfully I am still afforded the right of due process and the right of a presumption of innocence until I am found guilty. I have not been found guilty."
Gates also spoke on Act 894 and questioned its constitutionality.
"If one is to consider removing a House member solely on Act 894 of 2019, they would have superseded the Arkansas Constitution by adding another disqualification from serving in public office," Gates said.
Before closing his comments, Gates told his fellow lawmakers to vote with their conscience first, and then to vote for their constituents.
"You do what is right first, then try to make people happy. Sometimes we get to do that at the same time and sometimes the people in my district are not happy with me," Gates said. Ultimately, the House voted for the expulsion, with Gates joining three others against his removal.
After the vote to expel Gates, Shepherd said he did not know how the vote was going to go, but was cautiously optimistic.
"Unlike maybe other situations where maybe I would have tried to have a vote count going into it, I was trusting the will of the House and believed that they would be supportive. And it’s gratifying that they agreed with me on this front," Shepherd said.
Preceding the discussion of the resolution, the House acted on a motion by Rep. John Payton, R- Wilburn, to cast the ballots in secret. Payton said the lack of recent precedence of this vote warranted the secret ballot.
"Regardless of the merits of today’s case, the next case may be something where private, secret ballot is important," Payton said.
Shepherd spoke against said motion saying he believed it would be damaging to the House to cast the ballots in secret. The House voted against the measure through a voice vote.