by Max Brantley
More on Rep. Josh Johnston of Rose Bud, whose 1995 conviction on a hot check charge was discussed here yesterday.
Throwing Anvils alerts me that Johnston is running for Cleburne County sheriff. He'd told me yesterday he wasn't seeking re-election to the House, but not because of any controversy over his criminal record. Rather, he said, the legislative redistricting had left him in a large district without an obvious population center and new territory with which he was unfamiliar.
Johnston confirms to me today that he intends to challenge three-term incumbent Democratic Sheriff Marty Moss. He said he's the only Republican running so far.
Running for a county office doesn't remove Johnston from coverage of the constitutional prohibition of office-holding by people convicted of "infamous" crimes. Under Arkansas Supreme Court interpretation, this has been interpreted to include misdemeanors, typically involving dishonesty. In one case, a candidate who stole campaign signs was disqualified. Last year, a Republican candidate for legislature was disqualified for misdemeanor federal conviction involving misuse of Medicaid money.
I'm sure Jason Tolbert and the paid Republican mouthpieces on the web will shortly be citing Democratic misdeeds (tip: Bill Clinton never gets old), while pouring on the pity for Rep. Johnston. But they'll have to thread the needle to defend Johnston, given the legal effort by Republican Prosecutor Cody Hiland of Conway to remove Searcy County Sheriff Kenney Cassell for a 30-year-old count of misdemeanor possession of stolen Cornish hens.
For his part, Johnston said he'd prefer that there be a definition for "infamous" crimes. He says he had legal advice before he ran that his hot check conviction didn't qualify and so it shouldn't disqualify a run for sheriff. If somebody files a complaint, "a judge may have to look at it," he acknowledges.
Johnston says if an infamous crime involves deceit and dishonesty, this opens up a Pandora's box of potential problems. Don't you promise to obey the rules of the road when you get a driver's license, he asked. "If you get a speeding ticket, isn't that dishonest?"
As for his own record of passing more than $200 in hot checks:
"Most people knew about it. I was a kid when it happened. I'm sorry for it. I was working out of town. I didn't come back and take care of business like I should have. I'm sorry for it, but you have to move on with life."