As Judge Wendell Griffen says, courage is not a vice (though critics seem to fault him for having it) but a virtue. And Griffen has honesty, compassion and intellect to go with it. He has fully earned re-election to the Arkansas Court of Appeals.
For years, state laws and judicial rules have silenced Arkansas judges and judicial candidates, except for saying what fine fellows they are. Keeping the judges quiet has meant keeping the voters who elect them uninformed. An ignorant electorate is not what this nation’s founders aspired to.
Griffen challenged the system. Impartial where impartiality is imperative, in the courtroom, he spoke up outside of court, endorsing an increase in the state minimum wage, criticizing President Bush’s selection of federal judges and the president’s response to hurricane damage at New Orleans, calling for stronger measures against racial discrimination at the University of Arkansas. He himself told the people what Wendell Griffen believes; they don’t have to consult a lawyer. When state regulators sought to discipline Griffen, he proved that the First Amendment and the U.S. Supreme Court were on his side. The old rules no longer stand.
Maybe someday Arkansas will adopt a merit-selection system for judges in place of popular election. Maybe not. There’s substantial disagreement over which method is better. But as long as we have popular election, voters shouldn’t be forced to choose among pigs in pokes. That a judge has a soft spot for the underdog is just the sort of thing we want to know, and we know it about Wendell Griffen.
The harm done by term limits is seldom more apparent than in the case of Joyce Elliott. Now running for the state Senate in District 33, Elliott served three terms in the state House of Representatives, fighting for public education every minute, determined and able. Then she was forced out, while inferior lawmakers remained. She was chairman of the House Education Committee in her last term, crucial in raising teacher salaries and warding off efforts to weaken the public schools in favor of elitist private academies. Education was not her only concern, merely at the top. She stood up for working people, and for abortion rights, and against racial, religious and sexual discrimination. She supported state-subsidized health-care programs, and helped keep the city buses running on Sunday for the low-income residents who rely on them. Her opponent, the incumbent, is supported by special-interest groups and some of the lesser senators — Altes of Fort Smith, Laverty of Jasper, Taylor of Pine Bluff. The people of Little Rock need strong representation in the legislature, and Joyce Elliott will provide it. Again.