The 550-strong crowd that packed the Crocodile last night didn't reflect Ben Harper's* typical fan base: Lawyers in button-downs stood in tight circles talking shop, politicians circled the room, and an impressive herd of King County judges and State Supreme Court hopefuls milled about, sipping on Jagerbombs and trading lawyer jokes.
These loafers and heels (as far as the eye could see!) had collectively paid over $30,000 to stand around with Harper for a common good: Retaining Justice Steve Gonzalez for State Supreme Court position 8.
"Let's get my cousin Steve elected!" Harper said (their mothers are sisters). The cousins embraced and the music began.
Unless you're a law freak, chances are you're not familiar with Justice Gonzalez, the former King County Judge with a magnificent pelt of hair who was appointed to the court just six months ago by Governor Chris Gregoire.
In January, Gonzalez became the first Latino to ever serve on the court. But on August 7, he risks being unseated by a white gun nut from Kitsap County who seems to be banking that the majority of uninformed Washington voters would rather check "Danielson" on their ballot over "Gonzalez." (That strategy has proven successful in judicial races before, as Eli Sanders is writing about in this week's Stranger.)
"My opponent's campaign is based on two things: ignorance and bias," Gonzalez explained to last night's crowd. "He’s hoping the voters will be ignorant of my qualifications and his lack of qualifications. We can’t change bias, but if we can overcome the ignorance, I win."
"He'll be my hero if he wins," said the man in front of me to his friend. "If he wins, I might get his face tattooed on my back."
That dourly optimistic sentiment cut through the party vibe—that being the incumbent with pages of endorsements, Ben Harper in your family tree, and $30,000 fresh in the bank can't trump race, ignorance, and low voter turnout in the August primary.
Which is why last week during our endorsement interview, I suggested Gonzalez change his name to "Winner," "Free Money," or "Jobs" to even the playing field. He politely declined. In this race, success made easy means having an Anglo-Saxon surname; success made hard means someday seeing your face smiling at you from someone else's back.
*On an unrelated note, I've always had a soft spot for Ben Harper, I think because compulsive flatterers say that my mother looks like Laura Dern would look if she'd been lightly kicked in the face by a horse. So at a young age, I welcomed Ben Harper into my fantasy fold of absentee fathers, along with Bill Clinton, Walt Disney, and Anyone Who Owned a Horse.