Columns » John Brummett

Nonpartisan judge elections? Sure



We now have nonpartisan elections for judges. At last we have evolved past the contradiction of electing people to dispense supposed justice on the basis of party affiliation.

If you are a Republican entangled in state court litigation, you deserve a judge who didn't come out of a Democratic primary, and vice versa.

But it may be that such partisanship will always exist anyway. That may be the lesson of what's going on in Northwest Arkansas.

There we have a suddenly testy — and partisan — “nonpartisan judicial election” for a seat on the Arkansas Court of Appeals, coming in conjunction with the primaries May 20.

This is an intermediate appeals court that considers mainly workers compensation and employment compensation cases and the occasionally interesting criminal matter. It doesn't address constitutional issues affecting the great cultural debate.

Nonetheless, there's all manner of manifest zeal about this race in this seven-county appeals court district, from the big metropolian counties, Washington and Benton, outward to five rural ones.

You have the candidacy of Courtney Henry of Fayetteville, who has worked for eight years as a law clerk for judges on this very court. She has certain familial affiliations that lean Democratic. That is to say that she is the daughter-in-law of Morris and Ann Henry of Fayetteville, confirmed Clintonians.

But she has taken well to this notion of nonpartisanship. Based on her plainly relevant experience and seeming competence, she has gone out and lined up endorsements from eminent Republicans such as John Paul Hammerschmidt, Dick Barclay and Horace Hardwick. Hammerschmidt is pictured on her campaign literature and quoted there calling her the real deal.

The other candidate, Ronald Williams, is hardly without partisan entanglement. He is a Hutchinson, at least by marriage and business partnership. He is the father-in-law and law partner of Tim Hutchinson Jr. The Hutchinsons merely personify Arkansas right-wing Republicanism. And I haven't even brought up Jim Holt, the extremist right-wing Republican from Springdale who wants to take science out of the textbooks, deny humane services to illegal immigrants and punish gays for their sexual orientation. If there's one thing that bugs Holt more than anything else, it's that people appeal to conservatives without actually being conservative, at least in his opinion. He so opposed Mike Huckabee on that basis that he ventured to Iowa with Ron Paul's travel money to blast Huckabee to any Iowan who would listen. Not many did. What appears to have happened is that Holt got highly irked that an in-law of Morris and Ann Henry was co-opting Republicans such as John Paul Hammerschmidt. So he went to Williams and offered to help, pointing out that he had an extensive right-wing network in the seven counties. Tim Hutchinson Jr. became intrigued. He asked Holt whether he could become actively engaged in the campaign, by dispensing yard signs and getting the word out among his supporters. It was wholly a numbers and turnout thing. Henry will run very well in Fayetteville. Hutchinson's father-in-law needs to clobber her in rabidly Republican Benton County, where Holt bested Bill Halter in the lieutenant governor's race two years ago by nearly 9,000 votes. Holt also edged Halter in three other rural counties in this Court of Appeals district. This is an altogether uninspiring primary season. We already voted in a presidential primary. Save the occasionally hot local race, turnout will be hard to come by. Holt could be invaluable to Williams. It happens that Holt, who used to live on legislative expense reimbursements, has a new tree-service business. He told Hutchinson that the kind of political work Hutchinson was seeking would take time from this business. So Hutchinson offered to have the Williams campaign pay him a few thousand dollars as a consultant.

Holt spent a few days thinking about it, then agreed.

Holt recently sent an e-mail to people in his network decrying gay adoption and calling for votes for Williams, as if these were somehow related.

For the record: The Court of Appeals is not going to have a thing in the world to do with any constitutional issues about banning gay adoption or gay foster parenthood, or much of anything else relevant in a general way to Holt's people.

Now Courtney Henry, with all that relevant job experience and bipartisan support, finds herself running against a cabal of Hutchinsons and Holtists.

And this is supposed to be a nonpartisan election for a seat on an intermediate appeals court that considers mostly minor matters deemed unworthy of the Arkansas Supreme Court.

Arkansas politics never ceases to be peculiar.

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