Most folks think of Washington as a solidly "blue" state full of Seattle-esque progressives, but unfortunately, that's really not the case. It's largely (though not entirely) true of the western side of the state, which is geographically and culturally divided by the Cascade Range. On the eastern side of the divide, as we saw during the outbreak of right-wing ugliness during the 2010 elections, things are decidedly very different.
The Tea Party rules there. Most of the radios, it seems, are tuned to Rush Limbaugh, and Fox News plays in all the public spaces.
And it's white. Very, very white. It's that way throughout the interior Northwest. This whiteness was one of the reasons the Aryan Nations chose northern Idaho -- and by extension, eastern Washington -- for relocation from southern California in the 1970s.
Of course, eastern Washingtonians heatedly deny that there is any racism inherent in their cultural conservatism, that the violent activities and the ongoing presence of white racists in the region is purely accidental.
Now, the evidence provided by the results from the August 7 primary election in Washington have established, definitively, that anti-Latino racism is rampant in central and eastern Washington.
The evidence is apparent in a single peculiar race, that for the state's Supreme Court, Position 8. The only serious candidate, a fellow named Steve Gonzalez, wound up winning because he easily took the massive vote of western Washingtonians. His opponent, a fellow named Bruce Danielson, had not campaigned at all, had raised exactly $0 for his election, and was described as having "zero qualifications to be on the bench" by the head of his local bar association.
But in eastern Washington, Danielson won handily in every county, taking 29 in all. The obvious answer lay in the two men's names.
And it wasn't an ideological, Republican thing, either. A couple of University of Washington researchers delved the actual numbers from the election and reached the clear conclusion that race played a significant role in the voting patterns.
Racial bias did play a role in the primary election battle between Washington State Supreme Court Justice Steve Gonzalez and his challenger Bruce Danielson.
That’s the conclusion of research conducted by Matt Barreto, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Washington.
In the August primary, Justice Gonzalez was re-elected to the court by an overwhelming margin. But in some areas of the state, Danielson, who didn’t even campaign, drew a surprisingly high number of votes.
The suspicion has been that race played a factor, that many voters passed over the Hispanic name of Gonzalez to choose Danielson because he was white.
Barreto, who reviewed voting patterns in every precinct in the state, says the evidence proves that was true.
“What we found was that in central and eastern Washington, in particularly in Yakima and Grant counties, that there was a very high degree of racial bloc voting. That meant that in very heavily white precincts Danielson did exceptionally well winning as much as 75 percent of the vote," Barreto said.
And Barreto says it wasn’t just whites who voted in a bloc. In heavily Hispanic precincts in Yakima, Gonzalez garnered as much as 70 percent of the vote.
Eli Sanders at The Stranger has more:
Barreto's findings show, for example, that in Eastern Washington's Yakima County, Danielson drew a full 75 percent of the non-Latino vote (helping Danielson receive 64 percent of the vote overall in that county to Gonzalez's 36 percent). In fact, non-Latino voters flocked so decisively to Danielson in Yakima County that he outperformed fellow conservative Rob McKenna there by 14 points. "Danielson should not have outperformed anyone," Barreto says, "because he had no name recognition and no money."
Same story in neighboring Grant County: Danielson won the county 67 percent to 33 percent, outperformed McKenna by 7 points, and pulled in 70 percent of the non-Latino vote.
Contrast those results with the results in Western Washington's Snohomish County, where Gonzalez won. In Snohomish, Danielson polled roughly even with McKenna, which makes sense, and is a sign that voters there were making choices based on ideology rather than on a candidate's last name. This allowed the non-Latino vote in Snohomish to be more evenly distributed: 44 percent of non-Latino voters there went for Danielson, while 56 percent went for Gonzalez.
Baretto and David Perez published an op-ed this morning explaining why these results underscore the need for the state to pass its own voting rights law:
Our data proves what many have suspected for a long time: Race still matters. That’s why we need the Washington Voting Rights Act to provide an equal opportunity for minority candidates. Equality has eluded Latino candidates for too long in Washington. It’s time to pass the Washington Voting Rights Act.
Perez wrote a piece for The Stranger last month with an explanation of the law:
After encountering similar problems in their state, California legislators adopted the California Voting Rights Act of 2002. The Washington Voting Rights Act is modeled after the California version.
Some say that the legislature ought to leave it to the local governments to decide for themselves how to conduct their elections. But these advocates of “local control” are missing the point. A system that gives 49.2% of one county’s population less than 3% of its elected offices is not local control (see: Franklin County). A system that silences 41% of Yakima City is not local control. Using at-large elections to circumvent our democratic principles is not local control.
True local control would empower the people by making sure local government represents local constituencies. Under the Washington Voting Rights Act, local control would flourish once again.
The González race is a sobering reminder that our country’s first principle—that all persons are created equal—may be self-evident, but it certainly isn’t self-enforcing. We have yet to reconcile the values of the American Republic with the hopes of the American people.