Yesterday, I sought comment from Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s office regarding the record-setting amounts of money that two out-of-state conservative groups have spent on attack ads in both races for Arkansas Supreme Court.
I received a brief answer from the governor late in the day, through a spokesperson:
Our judicial races should not be typical political campaigns. I agree with the concern expressed by both Supreme Court candidates about the infusion of out-of-state special interest money in Arkansas judicial races.
The response is appreciated, but the governor did not address all of the questions I posed. For one thing, judicial races in Arkansas are supposed to be strictly nonpartisan; candidates for Supreme Court are forbidden to run as Republicans or Democrats. And yet, one of the two groups funding these attacks is a 527 organization called the Republican State Leadership Committee.
The RSLC isn’t affiliated with the Republican Party of Arkansas, as far as I know, but the group’s name, and its nakedly partisan attack flyer in the associate justice race, certainly could give voters the impression that the GOP is endorsing Shawn Womack over Clark Mason.
Hutchinson is the effective leader of the GOP in Arkansas. So, I asked, doesn’t the name “Republican State Leadership Committee” give the impression the Republican Party of Arkansas is sanctioning these ads? Does the RSLC’s involvement color these judicial races with the impression of a partisan endorsement? As the top Republican in the state, will Hutchinson condemn these ads? Can he offer any comment on the unprecedented levels of outside spending in the state Supreme Court races in general?
The governor’s response addresses the final question, but not the others.
Max yesterday wrote in from afar to remind us that removing partisan affiliation from judicial races was itself once a Republican cause — but that was in the days in which the Republican Party faced an uphill climb in most parts of Arkansas. I’ll just let Max speak for himself:
Remember that the Arkansas Republican Party campaigned to change the law so that judges no longer ran under party banners. Remove partisanship from the judiciary, they argued. Of course, they really did this to stop the flow of filing fees to the Democratic Party … . Now that the state has turned, the GOP WANTS a GOP judiciary. To that end, people like Womack, Rhonda Wood and Mike Maggio — all buddies of political fixer Gilbert Baker, a former GOP senator, it’s worth noting — have run essentially as Republicans by making the rounds of GOP committee meetings and publicly associating themselves with Republican political figures. One of the many laughable aspects of the Democrat-Gazette fact-free editorial endorsing Womack was its notion that Womack was no longer a politician. Its proof? His word. Funny for a guy designated to lobby the Republican legislature and the judicial pay commission on behalf of judges on account of his political clout.