In some ways, the primary contest for a Washington Supreme Court seat was a mismatch. The challenger didn’t raise money, didn’t attend candidate events and didn’t meet with editorial boards. His opponent did all of those things, and he was an incumbent.
Yet challenger Bruce Danielson (photo on left of pair) was pulling down 42 percent of the vote, and winning 30 of Washington’s 39 counties, in his unsuccessful race on Tuesday against Justice Steven Gonzalez (photo on right of pair). Afterward, the news media asked why. Here is some of the speculation:
- Hugh Spitzer of the University of Washington suggested that many voters opposed Justice Gonzalez because of his Latino surname, according to a Seattle Times article. It was headlined, “Justice Gonzalez’s win raises questions about role of ethnicity.”
- University of Washington political science professor Matt Barreto offered a similar view. “When voters find themselves with very limited information, that’s when names and race absolutely factor in,” Barreto told the Associated Press. “They’ll try to infer positions about the candidates by their names, and they’ll misapply stereotypes to the candidates.
- Justice Gonzalez thought the outcome had a lot to do with the fact that voter guides listing his contest were published only in King, Pierce, Snohomish and Kitsap counties. He soundly defeated the challenger in each of those counties. ”That’s a dangerous state for our democracy and the outcome shows that,” he said. No statewide voters’ pamphlet was published, due to budget cuts.
- “I’ve been called a bigot and everything else just because I’m running against a guy named Gonzalez,” Danielson said. “I think it had no significant effect whatsoever.” He added, ”Philosophical differences are largely what accounted for the difference in our vote totals.” On his website, Danielson stated, “I believe the Constitution speaks for itself – and is not a living breathing document subject to the whim of the people of the times.”
It will take further analysis for experts to move from speculation to analysis. The Associated Press noted, however, that “one trend strongly suggests that a subtle anti-Hispanic bias played a factor in Danielson’s showing: In a number of counties, he outperformed Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna.”
The primary’s winner will move without opposition to the general election. ”This is the first time someone with a Latino surname has ever been elected statewide in the state of Washington,” Justice Gonzalez said. “So, it’s progress.”