High court candidates welcome party endorsements

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – Both state Supreme Court Chief Justice William Waller Jr. and his challenger, state Rep. Earle Banks, D-Jackson, said while they are running in nonpartisan elections they welcome political endorsements.
Waller has been endorsed by the state Republican Party while Banks has the backing of the Mississippi Democratic Party in their Central District contest.
“I want all the endorsements I can get,” Waller said Monday where he and Banks appeared jointly at a luncheon meeting of the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute/Capitol press corps. “I would have been happy to talk to the Democrats, but I was not given that chance.”
Banks said he has served in the House since 1992 as a Democrat, but acknowledged judicial candidates must run nonpartisan.
He described the nonpartisan law as “a farce” since the federal courts have ruled that the law could not prevent political parties from endorsing candidates.
“I would have talked to the Tea Party if they had invited me, but they did not seem to have wanted me,” said Banks.
At the Stennis luncheon, Waller, who was first elected to the Supreme Court Central District post in 1996 and re-elected in 2004, touted administrative accomplishments of the state’s judiciary during his tenure as chief justice.
Those included:
• A drug court in every circuit court district, saving the state money by putting nonviolent drug offenders in a program that has a proven record of rehabilitating its participants.
• Mississippi becoming the second Southern state to allow cameras in the courtrooms.
• Work to place court cases online.
Waller said he has strived to be a judge who applied the law fairly.
Banks, who was first elected to the House in 1992, said he also would apply the law fairly. He said he also would apply the law as a member of the judiciary even if he opposed it when it first was proposed in the legislative process.
While the event was civil, Banks did criticize Waller for the large number of donations he has received from political action committees.
Banks said he wanted to be a judge of all Mississippians – both individuals and businesses – and not for political action committees.
Waller said he did not know who had contributed to his campaign, leaving fundraising to his finance chair, but acknowledged it took a lot of money to run campaigns.
Northeast Mississippians won’t vote in this race. They will choose between Richard “Flip” Phillips of Batesville and Josiah Coleman of Oxford in the Northern District race to succeed retiring Justice George Carlson.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com