by Max Brantley
It's ironic or hypocritical or something only because Republicans led the initial push to end partisan judicial elections in Arkansas. The impetus wasn't really good government, but to stop the flow of political filing fees to the Democratic Party from what was then a judiciary dominated by Democratic judicial candidates.
Republicans pushed, too, for nonpartisan prosecutor elections, passed this year, and unsuccessfully for nonpartisan sheriff elections.
Don't believe them, however, when they say they really want these offices to be nonpartisan. They want them to run exclusively in the image of Republican politics.
That couldn't have been clearer in the story by Michael Wickline in today's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette about the formation of a PAC to elect judicial candidates, Americans for Judicial Excellence. The PAC was announced at a Republican Party state committee meeting. It was commented on approvingly by Party Chair Doyle Webb, who you might recall led an effort to push a slate of judicial candidates a few years ago.
Already this year, we know there are judicial candidates who've long branded themselves as Republicans who'll be receiving this PAC's approval — Rhonda Wood for Supreme Court and her pal Mike Maggio, for Court of Appeals. (Ethics don't matter much, clearly, on those favored by Republicans. See Maggio. And also see Wood.)
But I'm delaying the punchline. Who is leading this effort to elect judges? Johnny Rhoda of Clinton. He told the D-G:
“The Arkansas judicial establishment is today dominated by judges who do not reflect nor represent the views and values of Arkansas voters,” Rhoda said.
“As we have seen in our federal courts and with increasing frequency in our state courts, good legislation is sometimes overturned by our judicial branch, which seems to substitute the judgment of judges for that of our Legislature or our people,” he said, without citing examples.
Arkansas judges are elected in nonpartisan races, and it is difficult for voters “to know how they stand in regards to their judicial office,” he said.
And who better to determine the qualifications of a judge than a Ph.D. like Johnny Rhoda? Remember Dr. Rhoda, a leader in the Tim Griffin campaign and a plaintiff in a Republican Party lawsuit?
He has a Ph.D. in business administration from Belford University, a fact Griffin trumpeted in naming Rhoda a campaign lieutenant.
As it happens, another resident of Clinton, Ark., ALSO has a Ph.D. from Belford University. We've featured him a time or two before. He's Dr. Maxwell Sniffingwell, the beloved bulldog of a Clinton veterinarian. The vet got the dog his Belford degree by mail order.
Humor is perhaps not in order for something so serious as a concerted effort to annex the judiciary into a political party expecting rulings commensurate with its rigid dogma. It's bad enough that business leaders are set on a similar path, too, though perhaps without some of the social issue baggage that Republicans will expect judges to carry along with animus toward anyone accused of a crime and injured people seeking help from the court system.