Are Arkansas court seats for sale? Maybe in one race, no in another | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Are Arkansas court seats for sale? Maybe in one race, no in another

Posted By on Wed, May 23, 2018 at 5:42 AM

  • COURTNEY GOODSON: In the lead
UPDATE: Outside money propelled one candidate into a runoff for a state Supreme Court seat but failed to elect a favored candidate in a race for Arkansas Court of Appeals.

Supreme Court Justice  Courtney Goodson, the primary target of more than $1 million in outside spending by dark and partisan independent groups, led the ticket with 37.4 percent of the vote. She'll be in a runoff with David Sterling, a Little Rock Republican lawyer in state employment who positioned himself as a conservative Christian gun-=toting conservative and enjoyed huge dark money support. He had 33.6 percent of the vote. Court of Appeals Judge Kenneth Hixson, a late entrant to the race who enjoyed the backing of major Arkansas business interests who soured on Goodson, whom they'd supported in her original race for court, trailed with 28.9 percent.

Arkansas Court of Appeals Judge Bart Virden, facing a candidate, Johnnie Copeland, heavily supported by out-of-state Republican money, prevailed with 52.8 percent of the vote.

By midnight last night, Copelad hadn't conceded. But early this morning she posted a statement on her Facebook page:

I congratulate Judge Virden on his win tonight. My family and I have been blessed with the votes, support, and prayers from friends, both new and old. We would like to thank everyone involved in this journey. I believe that God has a purpose for all things and I look forward to following His plan for my career.
At last report, each candidate had raised less than $50,000 forthe campaign, amounts dwarfed by the Republican group's $80,000 worth of attack advertising on Virden and in support of Copeland. The group makes no disclosure of donorsin Arkansas, though fedral tax records filed on a quarterly basis provide some insight into the money sources.

From earlier:

Too early to say if the increasing effort by dark money or partisan money groups to buy court seats can claim more successes this year after electing Dan Kemp as chief justice over Courtney Goodson two years ago,

This year, some $2 million has been spent by the totally dark money Judicial Crisis Network and the overtly partisan and not fully transparent Republican State Leadership Committee to beat Goodson in her re-election race with Republican partisan David Sterling and to unseat Court of Appeals Judge Bart Virden with a Baxter County Republican, Johnnie Copeland (whose name I listed incorrectly earlier).

click to enlarge AHEAD IN EARLY RETURNS: Bart Virden
In early returns for Court of Appeals, a district sprawling from Virden's Conway County home to far northeast Arkansas, Virden has 54 percent of the vote. Big margins close to his home have overcome margins for Copeland in Republican Baxter and Boone Counties.

With about 100,000 votes counted in the Supreme Court race, the tally has Goodson on top with 37.9 percent, Sterling with 31.9 percent and Kenneth Hixson with 30.8 percent. Hixson has enjoyed some Arkansas corporate support. But if the November runoff pits Goodson against Sterling, the dark money outpouring seems likely to be enormous. But does Goodson's effort tonight indicate there's some backlash to dirty advertising? We could hope.

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