Republican Rep. David Ray lays as bare as anything I’ve seen what the Republican Party thinks makes a good judge — membership in the Republican Party. Period.


This is rank hypocrisy for one thing. And damaging to the judiciary for another.

In 2000, voters approved a constitutional amendment that, among others, made judicial elections nonpartisan.


It was a good idea and the then-minority Republican Party had long lobbied for the change. Two reasons, one self-interested: 1) It removed the outward appearance of partiality for judges and 2) it ended the bonanza of fat filing fees the Democratic Party received from a then-overwhelmingly Democratic bench.

But times have changed. Arkansas is now a Republican majority state and candidates for court have begun running for years in ways that identify themselves as Republicans. In case you don’t get their not-so-subtle messaging, the Republican Party announces candidates it supports and sends them contributions from Republican committees.


So now we have a seven-member Supreme Court with a former Republican senator, Shawn Womack; a justice, Rhonda Wood, who ran by campaigning at Republican committees with endorsements from Mike Huckabee, and Barbara Webb, the wife of former Republican Party chair Doyle Webb.

One more “justice” and you have a Republican Supreme Court majority. Thus David Ray’s high interest in the race by a former Republican Party executive director, Chris Carnahan, against Justice Robin Wynne. Ray’s ad calls Wynne a Democrat and a liberal. The record is that he’s a former deputy prosecutor and city attorney and he was a Democratic member of the state House in the 1980s. He’s held various judgeships since 2004, all elections since the races became non-partisan.

Other than throwing the word “liberal” around like a curse word, without specific support, Ray’s ad boils the Republican game down to its essence. Carnahan is a Republican. And proud of it. Wynne? He once was. If he has mentioned it lately and had a campaign mounted on his behalf on that basis, I’m not aware of it.

Ray has an independent expenditure committee, Liberty and Justice for All, that claims credit for this YouTube ad and he probably chuckles at getting free air time from this dastardly liberal. He formed it in September. It has filed no reports on contributions or expenditures yet. I expect other Republican groups that have played in judicial politics before will be in this race before it’s over.


A candidate who believed in the canon of ethics that governs judges and judicial candidates would, in the spirt of those rules, disassociate himself from being labeled a partisan Republican. Carnahan has dodged this issue before, saying all have the right to speech. Indeed. And he will carry the taint of David Ray’s partisan speech into the Supreme Court chamber of Arkansas if he wins.

You’ll be forgiven for not expecting a fair deal from an overt Republican court majority when one of the occasional election-related disputes reaches the court.

FYI on the Code of Judicial Conduct:

Carnahan will say he’s doing none of these things. No, but old buddy David is doing it for him. It smells.