Just a few hours ago, the House State Agencies Committee narrowly approved HB 1380, which would establish non-partisan elections of prosecutors (full text of bill here, in PDF file). I think this was the correct decision: just as judges are currently elected without regard to party, I think partisan affiliation should play no role in prosecutorial elections.
As Prosecuting Attorney Thomas Deen noted in a letter to Rep. Andrea Lea, the bill’s sponsor, prosecutors are supposed to make decisions in the interests of justice, not interest groups, political parties or partisan considerations. The Arkansas constitution says that prosecuting attorneys are members of the judicial branch of government, and requiring nonpartisan elections for prosecutors would remove any appearance of partisanship in their campaigns or their job performance.
We didn’t discuss the bill much before we voted on it. Two years ago, when a similar bill appeared in committee, one legislator in favor of partisan prosecutorial elections noted in discussion that eliminating them would cost the state Democratic party lots of money in filing fees. Such raw political considerations are improper to rely on, let alone to discuss, in committee meetings, and I am happy to report that they were not raised again this year.
According to my sources, however, at the House Democratic Caucus earlier today, similar concerns were raised by Democratic leaders, who called HB 1380 an “incredibly partisan bill.” That is a nice example of the inverted morality that is one product of impassioned political rhetoric.
It reminded me of the accusations that were levelled against me at the beginning of the legislative session, when I protested the way that the House of Representatives was going to be put in recess for President Obama’s inauguration, just as it had been in recess for President Clinton’s inauguration — but, oddly, we never recessed for Bush’s or Reagan’s inaugurations.
Naturally, when I objected to this, I was accused of being partisan.