Last week Senator Alan Clark received penalties from the Senate body after attempting to steal taxpayer dollars. Clark feigned a sincere apology before his colleagues only to turn around and make a joke of the Senate’s decision to adopt ethics committee recommendations for him and Sen Mark Johnson. 

What could possibly be so funny? The day after the penalty vote, Clark confidently walked into the Republican State Convention wearing a scarlet letter “E” around his neck – a reference to the Scarlet Letter.   

Most know the literary tale of Hester Prynne, a Puritan-era woman forced to wear a scarlet “A” on her chest after having a child out of wedlock. The “A” was meant to represent her sin and shame but later became a symbol of her ability to persist and survive despite unfair treatment. But it’s hard to see any similarities between Nathanial Hawthorne’s character and our unethical Senator. 

If Clark has any understanding of the novel’s theme, we can conclude that he was admitting guilt but using it to demonstrate his resolution to stick around. During the Senate body meeting, Clark made statements in his own defense, along with Sen. Jason Rapert, claiming that other members of the legislature abuse per diem sign-ins “all the time.” But if that’s the case, who are these members abusing their sign-in privileges? Shouldn’t they be held accountable, too? We’re looking forward to Rapert and Clark producing colleagues’ names that have abused reimbursements “all the time.”

“We have all seen members that have a habit of popping in committees and signing in, then leaving. Nobody ever says anything.”

Sen. Jason Rapert

Rapert went so far as to imply the Senate was setting a needless precedent for penalties for unethical behavior. Sure seems like Rapert is saying, “We want to keep abusing our power, so just let us.”

Arkansas falls short of ethical standards, and the main perpetrators of these standards are elected officials. Sen. Clark’s appearance with his scarlet letter is proof that the legislature is fine with making light of abuse of power; he thinks it’s funny that he was actually held accountable for attempted theft of public funds.