A day after the state's new chief justice was sworn in, a sitting Arkansas Supreme Court justice announced her plans to run for the post in 2016.
On Wednesday, Justice Courtney Goodson officially began her campaign for chief justice -- the state's top judge and court administrator -- with the unveiling of a campaign website and scheduling of two campaign events.
Goodson, who was first elected to the state's top court in 2010, received fundraising help that time from former President Bill Clinton, former U.S. Rep. John Paul Hammerschmidt, the chairman of the Democratic Party of Arkansas and others.
In a campaign advertisement on YouTube promoting her campaign for chief justice, Goodson presents herself as an outsider.
"I've never been the favorite of the establishment crowd. I don't take my marching orders from them. I work for you," she said.
At the start of the advertisement, she tells viewers: "TV ads for lawyers are full of law books and gavels. They're props to show how powerful the courts are, but the power of the Supreme Court does not rest with the justices. It rests with you, the people. ... Let's stand together. After all, it's your court and this is your campaign."
Goodson is not taking campaign-related calls at her Supreme Court office, her administrative assistant said. A message to her campaign for further comment was not returned Wednesday afternoon.
So far, Goodson is the only announced candidate to succeed Howard Brill, who is completing the term of Jim Hannah, chief justice for the past 10 years. Hannah retired because of poor health at the end of last month.
Brill, a University of Arkansas School of Law professor and former teacher of Goodson, was appointed to the post by Gov. Asa Hutchinson. Appointees are ineligible to run for the seat they temporarily hold.
Goodson, 43, earned both her undergraduate and law degrees in Fayetteville, where she lives.
She clerked at the Arkansas Court of Appeals from 1997 until 2005. In 2008, she was elected to the Court of Appeals.
In her 2010 Supreme Court campaign, Goodson, then Courtney Henry, defeated Circuit Judge John Fogleman of Marion, receiving 57.5 percent of the vote.
In her advertisement on YouTube, Goodson touted her commitment to representing "common sense, conservative values" as well as upholding the law and looking out for "your rights."
Since 2000, judicial races in Arkansas have been nonpartisan.
But language employed by Goodson in the ad, known as "trigger" terms like "common sense" and "conservatives," were likely crafted to grab the interest of voters in a state that has been trending conservative for several years, according to Hendrix College political science professor Jay Barth.
"My takeaways from the ad are, obviously, Justice Goodson is a very talented politician," Barth said. "It was a well-crafted ad stylistically and seems to be based on what we know about the Arkansas electorate targeted."
Hal Bass, a professor of political science at Ouachita Baptist University, said that nonpartisan races are complicated matters because they lack the benefit of labels to signal to voters whether they are likely to support a candidate.
The language used by Goodson, he said, is a way to overcome that absence of a party label.
"Without the party, judicial elections are hard to predict. In a nonpartisan race, those cues are absent," Bass said. "I think Arkansas is a conservative culture; she's trying to demonstrate her connection with it."
Barth also said it was interesting that Goodson --who has nearly seven years of experience on the bench -- has positioned herself as something of an "outsider" or anti-establishment candidate.
"What I saw in terms of content was a little bit of populism. She's really trying to distance herself from the traditional judicial robes," Barth said. "She said, 'I've never been part of the establishment.' I think some people might question that in terms of her supporters during her first campaign."
Among the many that contributed to a campaign that ultimately raised $574,737 in 2010 was Hammerschmidt, the former congressman from Harrison.
The Republican, who died in April, joined Democrat Bill Clinton to put on a fundraiser for Goodson that year.
In addition to various current and former state lawmakers, a former chairman of the Democratic Party of Arkansas, Will Bond, and its current chairman, Vince Insalaco, were also contributors.
Fort Smith nursing home magnate Michael Morton -- one of the state's most prominent political campaign contributors -- along with his businesses gave about $25,000 to Goodson during her 2010 campaign.
Morton also gave $40,000 to Justice Rhonda Wood's 2014 campaign, and has given to Justices Karen Baker, Jo Hart and Robin Wynne as well.
An Arkansas Democrat-Gazette analysis found that Morton and more than 40 of his businesses have given nearly $1,245,000 to statewide and legislative candidates in the past 15 years.
Shortly after being elected in May 2010, Goodson filed for divorce from her husband, Fayetteville attorney Mark Henry, who had handled Goodson's campaign finances.
She went on to marry a contributor to that campaign, Texarkana class-action attorney John Goodson, who gave her nearly $100,000 in gifts, including a $22,500 watch and $6,700 coat, according to her 2010 statement of financial interest.
In early 2013, Goodson reported that she went on a $50,000 summer trip to Italy paid for by W.H. Taylor, who was a business associate of her new husband.
John Goodson, who has plans to start a lobbying firm in Washington, D.C., was one of the biggest campaign contributors in Arkansas that year. In 2010, he gave $108,400 to federal races in Arkansas, with all but $2,400 of that going to Democrats.
Bass said that judicial elections used to be won by galvanizing support from attorneys and other legal insiders. But that's not the case anymore, he said, because the races are starting to mimic partisan elections in both cost and style, which heightens the need for more fundraising.
"[Nonpartisan campaigning] makes elections much more about name recognition, much more about individual personality, campaign skills, money," Bass said. "You've got to advertise to make your candidate stand out."
Money, Barth said, is key in any political race but is no less important in judicial races where there are no party labels and candidates are limited in what they can discuss by judicial ethics standards.
"The question is if there is anyone that will run against her," Barth said. "This is obviously an effort to get out of the gate as early as possible. ... her camp's hope is to push anyone else out of the race. If anyone else get in, the key question, is are they somebody with the kind of support, either in their own coffers or in [outside money], that could make a difference."
Goodson will be hosting a campaign tailgate at Saturday's season-opening football game for the Arkansas Razorbacks. Next week, she will hold a reception in Saline County.
Metro on 09/03/2015
Print Headline: Goodson to run for chief justice, touts 'conservative values'