Why Supreme Court races matter: Lake View

golden balanceBy Steve Brawner
© 2016 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

How important are the two Arkansas Supreme Court races on your ballot March 1? Two words provide the answer: “Lake View.”

In a case that drug out over 15 years, the Lake View school district, which no longer exists, argued that the state’s school funding system didn’t meet standards set forth by the Arkansas Constitution. The Constitution requires that the state “shall ever maintain a general, suitable and efficient system of free public schools and shall adopt all suitable means to secure to the people the advantages and opportunities of education.” The Lake View district said the state wasn’t doing that because it didn’t fairly serve small, poorer districts like itself. The Supreme Court repeatedly agreed, demanding that the state revamp its system to provide an “adequate” and “equitable” education for all students.

Priorities and the Hogs

Football on tee - transparentBy Steve Brawner
© 2016 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines “juxtaposition” as “the act or an instance of placing two or more things side by side.” On January 27, an interesting one occurred at a University of Arkansas System Board of Trustees meeting.

The trustees were led on a tour of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences hospital campus in Little Rock. While parts are new and gleaming, what once was the main hospital needs $13 million just to become fire code-compliant, and even then it would be badly outdated and inefficient. UAMS would like $97 million to spruce up that building and other facilities, all for administrative space. Tearing the building down and replacing it would cost $250 million.

Still want to elect judges?

Hand with ballot and boxBy Steve Brawner
© 2016 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

There are times when the work of journalists doesn’t really change much, and there are times when it might help. This might be one of those times when it helps.

I’m referring to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s recent series detailing how six class action law firms, all but one based out of state, have contributed $296,000 in campaign funds to current Arkansas Supreme Court justices, and then argued cases in front of those justices, winning more than they lose. A partner in the one Arkansas firm, John Goodson, is married to Associate Justice Courtney Goodson, who recuses from cases involving his firm.

Justices must raise money like any other candidate, and most probably don’t like it and do the best they can within an imperfect system. Still the series has called into question whether they are being unduly influenced by those donations. 

How Conner Eldridge thinks he can win

Conner Eldridge
Conner Eldridge
By Steve Brawner
© 2016 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

The campaign headquarters office where Conner Eldridge and I visit Jan. 19 is spacious but sparsely furnished – still developing, in other words, like his candidacy.

The 38-year-old former U.S. attorney knows he faces an uphill battle trying as a Democrat to win the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Sen. John Boozman, a Republican. Since 2010, the state’s allegiance has flipped. After a century and a half of Democratic dominance, Arkansas’ congressional delegation is now entirely Republican, as are all of its constitutional officers and two-thirds of its Legislature.

Eldridge, however, believes he can buck that trend. He thinks he has advantages this year that haven’t been available to the last two Democrats running for Senate: Sen. Blanche Lincoln, who won only 37 percent against Boozman in 2010; and Sen. Mark Pryor, who won 39 percent against now-Sen. Tom Cotton in 2014.