James D. Johnson

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James Douglas Johnson
Member of the Arkansas State Senate
In office
1951–1957
Associate justice, Arkansas Supreme Court
In office
1959–1966
Personal details
Born (1924-08-20)August 20, 1924
Crossett, Ashley County
Arkansas
Died February 13, 2010(2010-02-13) (aged 85)
Conway, Faulkner County Arkansas
Political party Democrat 1950-1980;
                Independent 1980-1983;
                Republican Party (United States) Republican 1983-Present
Spouse(s) Virginia Lillian Morris Johnson (married 1947-2007, her death)
Children Mark Johnson
John David Johnson
Joseph Daniel Johnson
Occupation Attorney

James Douglas Johnson (August 20, 1924 – February 13, 2010), known as Justice Jim Johnson, was a former associate justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court, a two-time candidate for governor of Arkansas in 1956 and 1966, and an unsuccessful candidate for the U.S. Senate in 1968.[1]

Early years[edit]

Johnson was a native of Crossett, the seat of Ashley County in southern Arkansas, near the Louisiana line. Johnson was said to have admired the political style of Huey Pierce Long, Jr., but was to Long's political right. In 1950. Johnson was elected to the Arkansas State Senate and served until January 1957. In 1956, he did not run again for the legislature because he challenged Governor Orval Eugene Faubus in the Democratic Party primary. Johnson accused the segregationist Faubus of working behind the scenes for racial integration. Johnson finished second in the pivotal Democratic primary with 83,856 votes (26.9 percent). Faubus then defeated the Republican Roy Mitchell to win a second consecutive two-year term as governor.

Being a staunch and lifelong segregationist, Johnson also played a role in the Little Rock Nine crisis. He was elected to the Arkansas Supreme Court in 1958 and served until 1966, when he resigned to run again for governor. During his legal career, his wife, Virginia Lillian Morris Johnson,[2] a Conway native whom he married in 1947, served as his legal secretary.

Campaigns of 1966 and 1968[edit]

In 1966, Johnson entered the Democratic gubernatorial primary and led the six-candidate field with 105,607 votes (25.1 percent). He went into a runoff election with fellow former Justice J. Frank Holt (1911-1983), who polled 92,711 votes (22.1 percent). Liberal former U.S. Representative Brooks Hays of Little Rock finished third with 64,814 (15.4 percent). Another former U.S. representative, Dale Alford, who had unseated Hays as a write-in candidate in 1958, ran fourth with 53,531 votes (12.7 percent). Prosecuting attorney Sam Boyce of Newport ran fifth with 49,744 (11.8 percent), and Raymond Rebasen finished last with 35,607 votes (8.5 percent).[3] In the runoff primary, Johnson prevailed with 210,543 ballots (51.9 percent) to Holt's 195,442 votes (48.1 percent). However, Johnson then lost the general election, 257,203 votes (45.6 percent) to the moderate Republican Winthrop Rockefeller, who polled 306,324 ballots (54.4 percent).[4] Rockefeller was a younger brother of New York Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller, later a Vice President of the United States. Jim Johnson won majorities in forty counties to Rockefeller's thirty-five counties. Every major population center supported Rockefeller, who prevailed in the northwestern counties, in Little Rock, and in many eastern counties with large African American populations. Black voters provided Rockefeller's margin of victory.

Johnson then ran against incumbent J. William Fulbright in the 1968 Democratic primary for the Senate but was again defeated, 132,038 (31.7 percent) to 220,684 (52.5 percent); a third candidate, Bobby K. Hays, received the remaining 12.7 percent.[5] Fulbright then defeated the Republican nominee, Charles T. Bernard, a farmer and businessman from Earle in Crittenden County in eastern Arkansas, who is believed to have drawn considerable support from Johnson's former primary voters.

Johnson's then 40-year-old wife, Virginia, meanwhile, ran for the governorship in the same primary election, making her the first woman in Arkansas to run for governor. She lost the nomination by a wide margin in a runoff with State Representative Marion H. Crank of rural Foreman in Little River County, who was in turn was narrowly defeated by Rockefeller in the general election. Another candidate in the primary was former Arkansas Attorney General Bruce Bennett of El Dorado, who was first elected in 1956, the year that Johnson challenged Faubus. Bennett, at the time a segregationist, himself unsuccessfully opposed Faubus in the 1960 gubernatorial primary.

Johnson made three more bids for office. In 1976, he unsuccessfully challenged the re-election bid of Chief Justice Carelton Harris of the Arkansas Supreme Court, but lost with 44% of the vote. In 1980, expressing alarm that Pulaski County Circuit Judge Richard Adkisson, who Johnson considered too liberal, would succeed Harris as Chief Justice, mounted a petition drive to get on the ballot as an Independent, but fell short of the required signatures. Adkisson won the Democratic Primary and was unopposed in the General Election. After his son, Mark, was appointed to Governor Frank White's cabinet, Johnson more vocally hinted he would switch parties. In 1983 he did so and ran as the GOP nominee for Chief Justice in 1984, but lost by a 58-42% margin to Jack Holt, Jr., who was a nephew of Frank Holt, whom Johnson defeated for Governor in 1966.

Later years[edit]

The Johnsons resided in Conway until their deaths, three years apart. Virginia was Jim Johnson's legal secretary for his entire law career. She died of cancer in 2007, and Johnson himself was stricken with the same disease. Ironically, their old intraparty rival, Faubus, also spent his last years in Conway.

In the 1980s, Jim and Virginia Johnson supported the reelection of Governor Frank D. White, only Arkansas' second Republican governor since Reconstruction. White, however, was unseated after one two-year term by Bill Clinton, with whom Johnson had a long-standing enmity. While he had been a student at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., Clinton was a campaign aide for Johnson's 1966 runoff opponent, Judge Frank Holt. Twelve years later, Clinton would win the governorship. In reference to Johnson's overtly racist views and dirty campaign tactics Clinton once told Johnson, "You make me ashamed to be from Arkansas."[6]

During the Whitewater scandal, Johnson made accusations against Clinton based on a continuing opposition research campaign conducted by Republican political consultants, Floyd Brown and David Bossie. A client of Johnson's, David Hale, a former municipal court judge, was the special prosecutor's chief witness attempting to link Clinton to the Whitewater scandal. Hale's testimony was deemed to have been of no import, as he had agreed to testify under plea bargaining to secure a better deal on his own indictment for fraud.[7]

Death[edit]

Lt. Matt Rice of the Faulkner County Sheriff's Office reported that Johnson was found dead about 10 a.m. Saturday, February 13, 2010, at his home off Beaverfork Lake with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest. Rice said a rifle was found, and authorities had no reason to suspect foul play. Johnson reportedly had ongoing medical problems.[8] The Johnsons had three sons, Mark of Little Rock, John David of Fayetteville, and Joseph Daniel of Conway.

Johnson's life story and death were remarkably similar to that of an unrepentant segregationist leader in Louisiana, William M. Rainach of Claiborne Parish, a state legislator and an unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate in his state's 1959 primary election.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Former Justice Jim Johnson dies". Log Cabin Democrat. February 14, 2010. 
  2. ^ "Social Security Death Index". ssdi.rootsweb.ancestry.com. Retrieved April 21, 2010. 
  3. ^ Congressonal Quarterly Press's Guide to U.S. Elections, Vol. 2, Washington, D.C., 2005, p. 1548
  4. ^ CQ, p. 1548
  5. ^ CQ, p. 1366
  6. ^ quoted in Joe Conason, "Will McCain Denounce Floyd Brown?" Salon.com, April 25, 2008.
  7. ^ Ronald Smothers, "Witness in Fraud Trial Denies PersonalMotive for Implicating Clinton," The New York Times, April 6, 1996.
  8. ^ Garrick Feldman (February 16, 2010). "Justice Jim fought tough final battle". The Arkansas Leader. Retrieved February 23, 2010.