LITTLE ROCK — State Sen. Paul Bookout resigned his seat in the Legislature on Tuesday, the same day a special prosecutor was assigned to investigate his campaign finances.
Bookout, a Democrat from Jonesboro, said he informed Gov. Mike Beebe and Senate President Pro-Tem Michael Lamoureux, R-Russellville, of his resignation, which he said was effective immediately.
"I am thankful and grateful to the people who have allowed me the opportunity to be a voice for them in the State House and the State Senate on the important issues of our day," Bookout said in a brief statement.
His resignation came four days after the state Ethics Commission fined and reprimanded the veteran lawmaker for converting thousands of dollars in political contributions to his personal use.
Beebe’s spokesman Matt DeCample said Tuesday evening that the governor was saddened by Bookout’s departure.
"The governor thinks it’s sad, but under the circumstances it’s the best thing to do," DeCample said.
Lamoureux said Bookout "ultimately did the right thing for himself and the people of Arkansas."
The Senate leader praised Bookout for his 13 years in the Legislature, including 2011-12 as Senate president pro tem.
"You hate for someone to be remembered for the worst mistake he ever made," Lamoureux said.
Beebe is responsible for calling a special election to replace Bookout. DeCample said the governor would begin the process Wednesday.
Meanwhile Tuesday, Jack McQuary, a special conflict prosecutor in the state Prosecutor Coordinator’s Office, was named will investigate Bookout’s campaign finances. Craighead County Prosecutor Scott Ellington recused Monday citing personal and professional conflicts.
McQuary is a former deputy prosecutor in Pulaski and Saline counties.
"He has quite a bit of prosecutorial experience," state Prosecutor Coordinator Bob McMahan said. "He will proceed with an investigation, obviously law enforcement will be involved, and he will make a decision. If there’s a need to go forward, he will handle it."
Any charges Bookout might face would be misdemeanors.
The Ethics Commission concluded after a hearing Friday that senator converted thousands of dollars of campaign funds to personal use, including purchases of women’s clothing, golfing equipment an an $8,000 home entertainment system, among other things. The funds were from his 2012 re-election campaign, in which he was unopposed.
Bookout was fined $8,000 for violating four state statutes — $2,000, the maximum possible fine, for each violation. The panel issued a letter of reprimand Monday.
Bookout accepted the sanctions and said he would not appeal them. He said Friday he looked forward to serving the remainder of his term and said Monday he had nothing to add about his intentions for the office, although he did resign from his job as administrative director for St. Bernards Hospital in Jonesboro.
Ellington requested a special prosecutor to review the case Monday. He said it was appropriate to recuse because Bookout and his family attend Ellington’s church and because three of his deputy prosecutors are members of the same law firm as one of Bookout’s attorneys.
McMahan did not say how soon the special prosecutor would take up the investigation of Bookout but said the case would be added to McQuary’s existing case load.
Bookout served three terms in the state House and was elected to the state Senate in a 2006 special election to succeed his father, the late Sen. Jerry Bookout.