The Arkansas Legislative Council gave a quick and nearly silent execution to a proposal by a nonprofit group to spend $200,000 from the governor’s rainy day fund to produce a voter guide for 2022 races for the Arkansas Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.
The proposal came from the Arkansas Judicial Campaign Conduct and Education Committee. It is a nonprofit founded in 2015 that is devoted to voter education. It also has issued statements commenting on the accuracy of judicial campaign ads.
Robert Brown, a former Supreme Court justice, and Annabelle Imber Tucker, also a retired Supreme Court justice, had expected to talk about the proposal today. It had the endorsement of Governor Hutchinson. But Council Chair Terry Rice said members of the public couldn’t speak at ALC meetings, only state employees. The item was on the agenda as a request for money from the Administrative Office of the Courts, but the office said it couldn’t send an employee because it didn’t participate in elections and the idea didn’t arise in that office. Brown had told me he’d hoped the voter guide, modeled on a North Carolina practice overseen by the state Board of Elections (a body controlled by Republicans in Arkansas), could be handled by Secretary of State John Thurston. That idea didn’t emerge this morning. Also, the matter had not been considered by the Legislative Council’s expenditure subcommittee.
Sen. Jonathan Dismang asked that the proposal be sent back to the expenditure subcommittee. Sen. Scott Flippo offered a substitute motion to deny the request for money outright. He offered no reason. There was no debate. His substitute motion passed on a voice vote.
I had been told ahead of the meeting that Republicans would oppose the spending. They don’t want nonpartisan voter education in judicial races as the party moves to take over the nonpartisan seats through Republican branding of candidates. They also fear a past idea of the nonprofit committee to ask candidates to pledge to support both the letter and spirit of the judicial ethics code. That could be considered as requiring a candidate to disavow dark money spending on behalf of an opponent. That’s a tactic increasingly popular in judicial races, with one of the biggest spenders a Republican national PAC.
UPDATE: I got a comment from Brown later.
If the governor is still on board, we will continue to pursue it. We need a state agency to do the mail out. We will check all bases. Our proposal to inform voters is so reasonable, it is frustrating not to get the appropriation. North Carolina uses its Board of Elections to do t=he mail out. The secretary of state May still come around.