Could Hispanic name be a factor in outcome of state Supreme Court race?

Aug 1, 2012

As candidates go, Washington Supreme Court Justice Steve Gonzalez seems to have everything going for him. But his supporters worry his name may hurt him.

Gonzalez, who was appointed by Governor Christine Gregoire, is the incumbent.  He’s raised more than $300,000.  And he has the endorsement of powerful Democrats and Republicans.  In contrast, his opponent , Bruce Danielson, has no money, no endorsements and , according to Gonzalez, been missing in action.

" My opponent I’ve never met.  He’s never shown up to a single forum or answered questions," siad Gonzalez.

Danielson has also failed to respond to interview requests from media organizations, including KPLU. And he’s declined to participate in local bar association candidate rating systems.

All of this might make you think, with more resources and recognition, the race would be a slam dunk for Justice Gonzalez. 

But, legal watchers say not necessarily. Why? Because of the uninformed way we often choose our judges. In a Seattle coffee shop, one voter describes his method this way.

“It’s called the old grade school eeny, miny moe principle. If someone has a nice name and they're attractive. then I’ll vote for them,” he said

And when it comes to names, some research suggests Gonzalez name could hurt him, that voters are more likely to choose an Anglo-Saxon name, such as Danielson, than a Hispanic one.

According to a story in The Seattle Times:

Matt Barreto, a political-science professor at the University of Washington who has studied the issue, says research in other states "far and away" shows that when Hispanic candidates run, they get less support than they would if they were not Hispanic.

Gonzalez also worries that people are not aware this race will be decided in the primary. He says the instructions on the ballot are confusing.

“It doesn’t clarify that in judicial races, if any candidate gets more than 50% of the vote, that’s the end of the race. And, since there are only 2 of us running, one will win,” he said. 

For budget reasons, most counties in the state did not mail out voter pamphlets this year, although King County did.  For more information on the candidates:

      King County Voters' Pamphlet State Supreme Court Position No. 8 

     Votingforjudges.org