Login

JOHN BRUMMETT: The slime of 'dark money'

I feel a backlash coming in Arkansas against "dark money." I sense Courtney Goodson is an imperfect vehicle.

But now Kenneth Hixson is happily crowing that he's been attacked by mystery slime as well.

Two things we know: We don't want the other candidate, David Sterling, the apparently intended beneficiary of all this out-of-state filth. And this remains no way to pick a member of the Arkansas Supreme Court.

This may not be the year of the woman in Arkansas. But it could turn out to be the year in which one woman, Goodson, held a key position in making headway against unregulated assault ads from rich out-of-state mystery sources.


I've already voted in this Supreme Court race, suddenly the hottest on the primary ballot. I chose Hixson, a judge with the Arkansas Court of Appeals.

I did so because he's neither Goodson, who seeks re-election, or Sterling, the intense Republican partisan and conservative fringe artist who made Leslie Rutledge seem centrist in the Republican attorney general's primary four years ago.

I endorse Hixson's theme, which is that Sterling should be a non-starter and Goodson may be a decent-enough judge, but this Supreme Court, as a group, has demeaned itself and the cause of justice with pettiness and vindictiveness and overt politicization. Hixson says rightly that the only way voters can address that is to vote for someone different--someone competent, but not petty or vindictive or overtly politicizing--as each of the seven seats comes up for election every two years.

There is a great deal of personal disapproval of Goodson in leading political and legal circles. I share that disapproval. It's an uneasy disapproval to express, but it's my job to express it, since I'm in the expressing business.

Here goes: Goodson seems to have used marriages as political and wealth stepping stones, raising questions about her judicial fitness. Her latest marriage created a politically toxic conflict for a Supreme Court jurist since it was to a politically hyperactive and super-rich class-action lawyer, Johnny Goodson, whose activities have been matters of high controversy.

I'm surprised I and others don't get accused more than we do of gender bias in that view. Would we level the same criticisms against a man seemingly engaged in an upwardly mobile and conflict-creating pattern of marrying?

I contend that, if a male judge married a woman who was the longtime ringleader of a controversial class-action ring in Texarkana and an inside political operator to boot, I'd write about him precisely as I write about Goodson.

But that a woman is more vulnerable to that circumstance because of embedded gender-biased attitudes and roles ... that's where I and others stand at risk of a more deeply contemplative criticism.

There also is the school of thought that whom Courtney Goodson loves is none of my business.

Regardless, nothing justifies the lying assault ads against her from an out-of-state group called the Judicial Crisis Network, an ultra-right outfit often favorably quoted on Breitbart News.

The fairest criticism in that ad is of Goodson's yacht trip. It's obscene for a Supreme Court justice to go on an extended luxury excursion largely on the tab of a state lawyer who has long done class-action partnerships with her wheeler-dealer spouse.

It's fair to hold the view that a judge should have said, "Sweetheart, as much as I'd love to go on that trip with you and Bill, it just wouldn't look right. So you go ahead. I'll miss you."

Otherwise, the assault ad is sleaze, and people seem to be sensing that.

Those high-dollar gifts Goodson took? Those were mostly from her husband-to-be when he was courting her and not yet exempt as her husband from public disclosure laws. As for others, she has recused when cases posing conflicts have arisen, so far as we know.

She didn't need that inordinately big raise the Supreme Court members sought for themselves. The poor beleaguered chief justice, Dan Kemp, wasn't so much for it either when he did his woeful duty as chief and conveyed the request from most of his members.

They wanted it because, in their chronic pettiness, they resented that the Arkansas Court of Appeals judges, by representing remote districts, get to claim mileage to and from Little Rock on top of their salaries. That narrows the pay gap that some of the Supremes want to be wider and more reflective of their superiority.

And now the Judicial Crisis Network has scoured Hixson's opinions on the Court of Appeals and found one of those criminal reversals with which to smear him in a new and obviously unfair assault ad. All Hixson did was join other judges in ordering a new trial.

But I'm wondering how much Hixson really minded. Now he, too, can be a vehicle--a newer and better model--for backlash. It's a new kind of me-too movement.

At least we can surmise the motivation of the Judicial Crisis Network.

It wants Sterling, which means you shouldn't.

------------v------------

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 05/15/2018

Log in to comment