The Republican definition of "free speech" is "money," so affirmed by the Republican majority on the U.S. Supreme Court in the Citizens United decision. State Sen. Gilbert Baker of Conway, a man of impeccable partisanship, is only pressing his party's case when he decries efforts to prevent rich reactionaries from selecting all the judges. (Baker may be best known for finishing behind John Boozman and Jim Holt in a Republican U.S. Senate primary. Never was there a poorer third.)
Across America, the rich and the shady — people like the notorious Koch brothers — are financing campaigns to remove unbiased judges from the bench and replace them with right-wing ideologues. One of their most successful ventures was in Iowa, where they succeeded in ousting three state Supreme Court justices who'd helped knock down a state law prohibiting same-sex marriage. Everywhere the judge-makers go, they poison the political well, publishing false and outrageous accusations, stifling reasonable debate.
Arkansas has largely escaped such behavior so far, and high-minded citizens such as Supreme Court Justice Robert L. Brown and members of the Arkansas Bar Association want to keep it that way. A task force of the Bar Association and the Judicial Council is studying ways to keep Arkansas's judicial elections clean. Mere discussion of potential impediments to conservative court-stacking is something that Senator Baker cannot abide.
"[If] judges want to be thrown out on their ear they will try to eliminate the people's involvement and eliminate free speech," he protested. (Justice Brown is not seeking another term and will not be thrown out, on his ear or otherwise.)
The Republican definition of "democracy" is "rule by rich white men" and this is what Baker means when he talks about "the people's involvement." In Congress and in state legislatures, Republicans are trying to make the voting booth less accessible to people who might be inclined to vote Democratic — minorities, the poor, the elderly. Republicans backed such a bill in the Arkansas legislative session last year. That one failed, but they'll have another in 2013, and if they've gained a legislative majority by then —chilling thought — that bill will pass, and the people's involvement in their government will be substantially reduced.
The legislature will not be voting on any recommendations from the task force on judicial elections. Whatever proposals the group makes to restrain special interests' influence will be voluntary in nature, unlike the Republicans' legislation.
Baker's piping up now may be an indication that religious bigots and their corporate allies are planning a major effort to install right-wing judges in Arkansas, where the state Supreme Court and trial judges have knocked down anti-gay laws and limitations on the people's right to sue for injuries done them. No good deeds go unpunished, it's said.