Saline County Circuit Judge Grisham Phillips has offered some useful guidance for voters in the numerous “non-partisan” races for judgeships on Arkansas election ballots on Tuesday. It appeared in a guest column in the Sunday Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
This passage was important and of the moment — a warning about candidates who are either unaware of, or choose not to abide by, the law:
The Arkansas Constitution clearly states that all judicial races are to be non-partisan; judicial candidates are not allowed to identify with any political party. When judicial candidates picture themselves in photos with prominent members or elected officials of any party, it is nothing but a thinly veiled attempt to send a message to the voters that says, “I am a Republican,” or less likely, “I am a Democrat.”
One might argue with a straight face that these tactics are not technically a violation of the law or ethical considerations. Attempts to imply affiliation with a political party certainly violates the spirit of the law. One can only wonder what candidates who play fast and loose with ethics during a campaign will do if they are elected. Perhaps the conduct of their campaign is indicative of what their attitude towards ethics might be. You must decide if you want to tolerate these tactics or put a stop to them with your vote.
He also talked about dark money spending and negative advertising.
What about dark money, negative advertising, and mud-slinging? You must determine if what is said is true and if so, if it is negative or mud-slinging. You must also decide if the information is relevant. Does it tend to make one candidate more or less qualified than another? With regard to dark money and advertising, the same analysis applies. However, if the dark money is coming from a political party, then once again the spirit of non-partisanship is being violated.
Some background from me (not from Phillips’ article): In his private life, Phillips is a conservative Republican by philosophical leaning. He’s a judge in Saline County, where current Arkansas Supreme Court candidate Barbara Webb lives. Webb once briefly was a colleague of Phillips in a seat on the Salie circuit court bench by appointment of Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
Webb is the wife of the Arkansas Republican Party chairman, Doyle Webb, who has had some unflattering business in Saline circuit courts involving his handling of estate matters, including his mother’s.
Barbara Webb is using laudatory comments by Republican Gov. Hutchinson and former Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee in her advertising. She has accepted thousands of dollars in campaign contributions as well as in-kind contributions from Republican organizations. She is benefitting from hundreds of thousands in dark money spending by a national Republican group, the Republican State Leadership Committee, that uses video of her in some of its advertising. The state Republican Party is spending to encourage turnout in the Republican primary. I suspect Doyle Webb’s organization hopes his wife’s overt Republican branding will give her those votes in the “non-partisan” judicial race.
To quote Grisham Phillips: You can put a stop to this sort of thing with your vote.
In the race for Arkansas Supreme Court, the choice is Circuit Judge Morgan “Chip” Welch.
PS: Webb is not the only candidate unethically relying on partisan Republican branding to win a court seat, just the highest profile.