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Naturally, in politics, there are times when a politician needs to be a weather vane. In other words, he or she ought to be deferential to the mood of the electorate, the people the politician was put in office to represent.

It's admirable for a state legislator, for example, to seek out the thoughts of constituents on a proposed highway revenue proposal or on legislation to change way the state interacts with public schools.

What’s the point?

Lawmakers, including those from Northwest Arkansas, should vote to remove Rep. Mickey Gates from office as a result of his failure to pay state taxes.

Other times, we suggest, demand state lawmakers be leaders. Friday will be one of those times.

State Rep. Mickey Gates doesn't represent anyone in Northwest Arkansas. He's a Republican state legislator from Hot Springs. But he's garnered statewide attention with his July 29 plea of no contest in Garland County Circuit Court to failing to file a state income tax return or pay his taxes for the 2012 tax year.

Under a first-time offender statute, Gates' plea creates an opportunity for him to avoid a finding of guilt, but that's only if he satisfies the conditions of a six-year probationary period. That includes paying $74,789 in taxes, penalties and interest owed for the 2012, 2013 and 2014 tax years and filing returns for the 2015, 2016 and 2017 tax years.

How can someone elected to represent the people of Arkansas -- all of whom are expected to meet their obligations to pay taxes that, among other things, pay their lawmakers' salaries -- legitimately sit in the House of Representatives making laws the rest of us are expected to follow, when he himself decided the law didn't apply to him?

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge called on Gates to resign a day after his 2018 arrest. Later, Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin urged him to step down.

Gates has resisted, relying on the technical legal framework that allows him to claim he wasn't convicted. But just because the judicial system provides for some leniency to give a tax dodger a chance to set things right without going to jail doesn't mean Arkansans and Gates' legislative colleagues should allow him to continue in his state government role.

The House of Representatives plans to convene Friday to vote on whether to expel Gates. His removal was proposed by House Speaker Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado. If Gates is ousted, he would be the first member expelled from the House in more than a century.

That's largely because legislators who have gotten in trouble usually have the good sense and respect for the people of Arkansas to step down voluntarily.

We can't help thinking back to the start of the regular legislative session in Little Rock last spring when, on the other end of the Capitol, Senate President Pro Tempore Jim Hendren, of Sulphur Springs in Benton County, urged lawmakers to do their work with a determination that "the culture of greed and corruption is over."

"We will not participate in it. We will not ignore it, and we will not tolerate those who do," Hendren said after his swearing in.

The message of accountability came from Hendren in the wake of more than two years of turmoil in which several lawmakers were convicted or pleaded guilty to federal crimes involving their state responsibilities. For a while now, our state government has been marred by corruption.

So, yes, our state's residents needed to hear pledges of accountability from the General Assembly. Even more so now, we need to see action from state lawmakers in the face of Gates' failure to pay state taxes.

Early this week, this newspaper did some vote counting, surveying House members on the question they'll face Friday: Should gates be removed. Fifty-nine lawmakers said they support expelling Gates. Fewer than 10 undecided votes will be critical in whether Gates is removed.

Among them are Rep. Gayla McKenzie of Gravette, who is Hendren's sister. She said she remained undecided amid questions from her constituents, a lot of whom "don't know much about it" but ask good questions, McKenzie said.

This isn't the time to be a weather vane. Rather, it's time to show some of the leadership her brother spoke of at the start of this year's legislative session. Gates didn't pay his taxes and shouldn't be representing the people of Arkansas who dutifully pay theirs.

Rep. Denise Garner of Fayetteville remained undecided, too, saying she wanted to hear from Gates. It takes a bit of blind devotion to collegial House relations to suggest the facts about Gates' situation aren't known. Naturally, he'll argue the plea isn't the same as guilt, but the Legislature isn't a court of law. Does Gates' actions malign the House of Representatives' reputation? Does allowing him to remain in office shore up or diminish the people's expectation that accountability means something within those chambers in Little Rock?

State lawmakers should set high expectations for themselves. We've seen too much evidence in recent years of what happens when they set low expectations.

On Friday, the state's representatives will tell the entire state where their values are. We hope it speaks will for the members of the institution.

Commentary on 10/10/2019

Print Headline: Vote him out

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