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Herb Rothschild Jr.: Partisanship and District 3

Be forewarned: This is a partisan column. I’m an admirer of Jeff Golden and an active supporter of his candidacy for State Senate District 3. But the column isn’t about why you should share my enthusiasm for him. It’s a reflection on partisanship itself.

What’s odd about the race between Golden and his opponent, Jessica Gomez, is that Gomez doesn’t seem to want voters to know her party affiliation. Deborah and I stopped by her booth at Ashland’s Fourth of July celebration. There was no indication at the booth that she was running as a Republican. Deborah asked her why. She said, in effect, that party labels evoke preconceived notions, and that she wants people to see and evaluate her for herself. And in the campaign mailer I got from her last month, there is no mention that she’s the Republican candidate.

Gomez’s response at the booth prompts interesting considerations, some specific to her campaign, some generally applicable to electoral politics. First, the specific ones.

Gomez’s explanation can be taken skeptically or at face value, and the two takes aren’t incompatible. On the one hand, our state Senate district leans Democratic, and a strong Trump message didn’t prevail even in the Republican primary, although her opponent, Curt Ankerberg, a Trump Republican, got 48 percent of the vote. So the Gomez campaign is probably making a smart decision to downplay her party affiliation, although it risks losing the support of the Republican base. Since losing the primary, Ankerberg has said he would prefer a Golden victory.

On the other hand, I’m convinced that Gomez is genuinely uncomfortable representing the Republican Party as it now exists. She was a Democrat who changed her affiliation to Republican some time before Alan DeBoer, our incumbent state senator, brought her onto his staff and then designated her his heir apparent when he decided not to run again. A child of immigrants, Gomez opposes the party’s hostility toward immigration from Latin America and toward Hispanics generally. And she supports reproductive freedom, although not public funding of abortion services.

Given Gomez’s discomfort with her party’s label and her wish that voters evaluate her as she presents herself, we might ask whether she should have run as an independent. That question raises considerations transcending her campaign.

The most obvious answer is that, without Republican Party affiliation, Gomez wouldn’t have gotten the contributions from businesses and PACs that are allowing her to greatly outspend Golden, who won’t take any PAC money. Without wearing the label of a major party, a candidate can’t raise large sums. Additionally, independent voters are precisely that, whereas a sizable percentage of Democrats and Republicans will vote straight party tickets.

But shouldn’t it be possible to run successfully as independents for offices that require more money than races for city councils and county judgeships? Given how toxic partisan politics have become, wouldn’t it be better if everyone had to run as an independent, free from the strings of party affiliation? The best answer to these questions isn’t obvious. One has to consider not only the heavier burden of discernment it would put on voters, but also how large governing bodies organize themselves to conduct business.

I haven’t space to work through these matters here. I’ll just end by saying that I cannot applaud Gomez for trying to have her cake and eat it too. If she wins, she’ll have to caucus with the Republicans, and she’s already signaled that she’ll vote the economic self-interests of her large donors.

Herb Rothschild’s column appears in the Daily Tidings every Saturday.