Keeping things on an even keel

Thursday, March 16, 2017 8:00 am

By Christy L. Smith
AAC Communications Director

Lynn Montgomery doesn’t have any campaign secrets to share. Though the 76-year-old justice of the peace has faced opponents in the past, he claims to never have waged a traditional campaign with signs, push cards and the like. Now that’s a feat considering he just began his 52nd year on the Hempstead County Quorum Court.

Let that sink in for a moment …

According to records maintained by the Hempstead County Clerk’s office, Montgomery’s name first shows up on the quorum court rolls in January 1965. Orval Faubus was governor of Arkansas at the time.

Montgomery has served every two-year term since then — except for one, when Amendment 55 was passed by voters in 1974 and implemented in 1977. Among the things it did was lay out the legislative power of the quorum court. It also stipulated that there should be between nine and 15 justices of the peace on a quorum court. To determine the number, the county’s election commission was instructed to divide the county into districts with equal populations of constituents. When it came time to run for re-election, justices of the peace had opponents.

“Before they changed things up, we had about 25 JPs in Hempstead County,” Montgomery said. “Then when this law changed in the 70s, well it put some of us in the same district. I was running against a good friend of mine, and he beat me. But the next time I ran, I beat him, and I’ve been there ever since.”

That translates into 26 two-year terms.

No centralized association maintains such records, so there’s no way to verify whether Montgomery is the longest serving justice of the peace in Arkansas. However, it’s safe to say he’s one of the longest serving.

Montgomery was born and raised alongside two brothers in Hempstead County. Their father owned a grocery store in Hope. After graduating from Hope High School, Montgomery attended what is now Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia. He returned home to Hope to farm (first chickens and cows, now hay) and start a car dealership. It was a family friend who first convinced him to run for justice of the peace.

“He had been a JP for a long time,” Montgomery explained. “He encouraged me to run because they needed some young folks to serve as JP. When I started, I just didn’t quit.”

Montgomery was already serving on the quorum court when he and his wife, Karen, married in 1967. Karen Montgomery, who worked as a nurse, said she never had a problem with her husband’s political career.

“If that’s what he wanted to do, it was fine with me,” she said.

Karen Montgomery said she’s attended only one quorum court meeting during the couple’s marriage. Back in 2010 she had to drive her husband to and from his monthly meeting. He had broken his hip 10 days earlier, but it didn’t stop him from going to work.

“To my knowledge, I’ve never missed a meeting,” Montgomery said.

The Montgomerys have a son and two grandsons. The elder grandson, Blake Montgomery, practices law in Hope. He said his practice is keeping him busy for now, but he might consider running for justice of the peace one day.

“I’ve just recently moved out of his district,” Blake Montgomery joked of his grandfather’s winning streak. “So I might have a chance of winning election.”

Montgomery said he’s “not real big on events” and likes to keep things running on an even keel. When asked about his justice of the peace career, he’s fairly nonchalant about it.

“There’s really nothing fascinating about it,” he said. “I’ve just been there a long time.”

He’s been there long enough to have worked with seven county judges. And history buffs might get a kick out of flipping through the stack of commissions Montgomery has kept all these years. Dating back to 1965, the signatures of Governors Faubus, Rockefeller, Bumpers, Pryor, Clinton, Tucker, Huckabee and Beebe on those commissions show how Arkansas’ political landscape has changed during the years. [Montgomery received his first commission signed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson when he was sworn into office this year.]

Then there’s Montgomery’s copy of the 1965 Arkansas Justice Guide published by the Arkansas Secretary of State’s office. On Jan. 10, 1977, Montgomery started logging the names of every couple he married. The last one recorded was on Sept. 13, 2014. The list is 101 couples long.

Montgomery said he married one couple on three different occasions.

“They’d get divorced, then remarry,” he said. It’s unclear whether the third time was the charm for that couple, but the very first couple Montgomery married seemed to be doing well the last time he checked.

“The first couple I married way back in the early 60s moved out of town, and they came back through several years later and told me they were still married, so I think that one held up,” he said with a chuckle.

Montgomery is probably proudest of the $1 million cash “cushion” Hempstead County has maintained since selling the old county hospital.

“Back before we sold that hospital and got that million-dollar cushion, we had a lot of trouble with cash flow,” said Montgomery, who is chairman of the quorum court’s budget committee.

Montgomery said the county has used interest from that $1 million to purchase things such as sheriff’s cars and to make capital improvements. And he would hate to see the county spend the “cushion,” so he’ll probably run for re-election in 2018.

“I might as well, as long as I enjoy it,” he said. “I kind of like county government.”

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