Questions in a judicial race

Last Tuesday’s primary election, a low-turnout profile in voter indifference, pulled back the curtain on voter choice. When in doubt, is ignorance bliss or an inconvenient expression of our lesser angels?

State Supreme Court Justice Steven Gonzalez, a celebrated jurist with strong, bipartisan backing, throws the question into relief.

Gonzalez, an eminently qualified former King County Superior Court Judge, was appointed by Gov. Chris Gregoire earlier this year to fill the remaining term of Justice Gary Alexander, who was forced to retire at age 75 (an ageist requirement that needs to be nixed.) Gonzalez’s stellar record earned him unprecedented bipartisan support, from Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna to former Democratic Rep. Jay Inslee. Blessed are the peacemakers such as Gonzalez who can corral endorsements from both the conservative Association of Washington Business to every union imaginable.

A little-known attorney from Kitsap County, Bruce Danielson, became the self-appointed, sacrificial opponent. Danielson raised zero dollars, appeared never to campaign and was, in political-science parlance, a nobody.

Arguably, however, Danielson was enough of a somebody to win in 28 of Washington’s 39 counties. Fortunately, Gonzalez triumphed, earning 58 percent of the statewide vote because voters in high-population counties like Snohomish (and enlightened rural counties like Island) could separate the wheat from the political placeholder.

Gonzalez boosters anticipated trouble in Tuesday’s deciding vote, and the Stranger’s Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, Eli Sanders, flagged the question as an impassive electorate received ballots with the names of two souls running for a judicial office that demands judgment, seasoning and intelligence. Is it prudent, when in doubt, to surmise based on a gut sense? Could the absence of a printed, statewide voters’ pamphlet be to blame?

No one likes to drudge up what W.E.B. Du Bois called “the color line.” Nevertheless, we can avoid discussing religion and politics with our in-laws, but we’re obliged to be forthcoming in the public sphere. At times a culture of “Northwest nice” militates against highlighting the obvious. So take note of the elephant in the election returns, that in many parts of Washington, Gonzalez fared poorly because he has a non-Anglo surname. Period.

Latinos, who continue to be politically underrepresented, are the state’s largest-growing ethnic group. As a population, Latinos brace against a current of invidious, cross-class discrimination compounded by an acrimonious debate over immigration.

So, let’s confess that anti-Latino bigotry is a problem in Washington, and invest in educating the next generation about the consequences of racial ignorance. We can’t do much with bigoted adults. The solution, as Frederick Douglass noted, is to build strong children.

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