When Justice Charles Smith stepped down from the Washington state Supreme Court six years ago, Jim Johnson ran for the job largely to bring balance to the court, he says.
That’s the same reason Tacoma attorney Stan Rumbaugh now gives for challenging Johnson in his first bid for re-election.
Balance is in the eyes of the beholder, it seems, especially in the kind of political contest in which candidates traditionally shun any discernable ideological leanings.
Let’s be clear. Johnson’s idea of an appropriate midpoint is somewhere toward the right end of the spectrum; Rumbaugh’s toward the left. It would be an oversimplification to say business likes Johnson and labor likes Rumbaugh, but there’s a measure of truth in it, as reflected in their endorsements and contributions.
That’s not to say either man would be unfair in his application of the state and U.S. constitutions or that he is beholden to the interests that have aligned themselves behind him.
Unfortunately, that’s the picture Rumbaugh has painted in his campaign, asserting that Johnson is “repaying” campaign backers by “repeatedly siding with their positions.”
That’s unfair. Before he was on the court, Johnson was a skilled lawyer, highly visible, helping to write initiatives and battling for them in court. He was an ally of anti-tax crusader Tim Eyman and the Washington State Grange. Now as then, his reading of the constitutions reveals strong recognition of private property rights, open government and the First Amendment.
We never expect to agree with every opinion handed down by any Supreme Court justice, but we appreciate the guidance such decisions provide for elected legislators whose proper job it is to enact laws that can survive judicial inspection.
In his six years on the job, Johnson has won the trust of fellow justices Tom Chambers, Susan Owens, Charles Johnson and Gerry Alexander – all now endorsing him from their positions to his political left. Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna and Democratic state Auditor Brian Sontag, both strong defenders of the state’s open public records law, have endorsed him, too.
To win his initial 2004 race, Johnson had to prevail over a strong field. One of his three rivals from that year now sits on the state Court of Appeals. Another, Mary Fairhurst, is now one of his fellow justices.
In the ensuing years, he’s done the solid job that voters could have expected from his well publicized activities. Johnson is a proven candidate who has earned a second term.