To the Editor:
I share some of the frustrations with judicial elections expressed by Gabriel Galanda in his thoughtful October article ("Off-Color Judicial Elections"). But I don't think the results in the August Gonzalez-Danielson contest "def[y] all logic"; and I think other factors shed more light on them than do candidate surnames.
Many voters appreciate that Supreme Court justices face hard questions implicating delicate issues of social policy, questions involving conflicts between public and private interests in the use of property and questions about the boundaries between government authority and individual liberty. We often hear public statements that candidates' personal social, economic or political views are not relevant to judicial selection. I doubt, however, that readers of the Bar Bulletin know a great many voters who say such things in private when talking about Supreme Court candidates.
Washington voters hold genuinely different social, economic and political views. Two recent illustrations: in 2008, some of the differences were reflected in the divide between Christine Gregoire, who got 53% of the vote, and Dino Rossi, who got 47%; in 2010, some were reflected in the divide on Referendum 71 (on extension of domestic-partnership rights), with 53% supporting the extension and 47% opposing it. And the different views are not distributed randomly over the state. This August, Justice Gonzalez got majorities in (with few exceptions) the same western counties in which a majority supported Governor Gregoire in 2008 and the extension of domestic-partnership rights in 2010; he trailed his opponent in the other counties.
Though an extraordinary candidate, Justice Gonzalez was virtually unknown around the state at the beginning of the year; he was appointed to fill a vacancy by a Democratic governor with an approval rating in the neighborhood of 40% (publicpolicypolling.com, February 2012); and he was running against an opponent who, though with minimal personal effort, staked out what popularly passes as a "conservative" position - for example: "The Constitution should not be a living, breathing document ...." (statement on votingforjudges.org site.)
Some people who were paying attention - for example, some vocal social conservatives and some county Republican organizations - got the message and passed the word. Nevertheless, Justice Gonzalez got 60% of the total vote. Some people, I think, underestimate the significance of his impressive victory and its positive reflection (by my lights) on the primary electorate.
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