I had heard Courtney Goodson, a candidate for chief justice, had a fund-raiser last night in Searcy that included former Gov. Mike Beebe as a host.
Sure enough, her Twitter feed today includes a photo with Beebe and his wife. He’s a rare Democrat in her Facebook photo album. She’s been busily building cred in Republican Arkansas (despite having been elected first on alliance with Democrats thanks to her relationship with a previous husband). In Searcy, photo-featured hosts include Republican Sen. Jonathan Dismang, president pro tem of the Senate. Beebe is more of a Beebecrat, with demonstrated voter appeal across party lines.
Goodson follows a pattern others have used — notably Justice Rhonda Wood — in ostentatiously displaying grip-and-grin photos with Republican politicians. Judges nominally run as non-partisan, but they’ve found it increasingly useful to be identified with the majority political party.
Goodson’s opponent Judge Dan Kemp isn’t likely to bring in Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson to counter. A son and nephew, Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, are on board with Goodson.
Kemp did get the chair of the Republican Party, Doyle Webb, out to one of his fund-raisers.
This criticism is not Goodson specific, though it perhaps applies more to her than anyone: In theory, judges aren’t supposed to know who contribute to their campaigns. But more and more, they hobnob with them at fund-raisers and then use photos there as free advertising on social media — Facebook and Twitter. It is unseemly to be embracing special interest lobbyists — from the Chamber of Commerce, a utility company, or whoever. I happen to think it is more unseemly to pose with politicians who regularly do work on which the Supreme Court must pass judgment. It may be legal. But it doesn’t make it right.
Just by way of example, Goodson was in the 4-3 majority in a decision this year that upheld the constitutionality of Dismang legislation that provided a huge tax break for a material used in fracking for natural gas. He got a tangible way to say thank you last night. Duly noted: Beebe, who’s no longer in a position to do anything legislatively, vetoed the fracking tax — imposed by the Finance and Administration Department — with the certain knowledge the Republican legislature would override him.
TO CLARIFY: Sen. Dismang wonders if I”m really suggesting the party was a payoff for the vote on his bill. No. But I am saying the average person could be forgiven for seeing it that way. That’s why judges raising money from people with interests in their court is a bad thing, particularly legislators. Just about everything the Supreme Court does turns on a statute passed by the legislature.