Dear Dan,

I am starting to worry about you.

I had hoped that your race for Secretary of State would have gotten the whole non-partisan candidate thing out of your system. But there you were last week on KQED, talking about your hopes for another such campaign in the future. When you were pressed to explain your fourth-place finish, trailing the indicted Leland Yee, you blamed yourself, saying that in the future, an independent could prosper if he or she was a better candidate than you were and raised more money. You later made a similar case in the Sacramento Bee.

You are being terribly unfair – to yourself.

Trust me. Your problem is not you. You were a very strong candidate, who won endorsements and drove huge amounts of press coverage for a Secretary of State’s race. This was no surprise; you’re both a terrific person and a very smart political player. You have incredibly deep knowledge and experience, you work hard, you’ve tried to do the right thing, and you’ve given back, being open with the press and the public, and devoting yourself to teaching young people and encouraging them to get into public service. You would make a terrific secretary of state, or state legislator, or Congressman. California would be lucky to have you in public service.

No, your problem is your addiction – and I think at this point, that’s the right word – to independent, non-partisan politics. The reason you finished behind Leland Yee, despite the fact that he’s a scoundrel and had dropped out of the race, is pretty darn simple:

He is a member of a political party, and you are not.

So when voters, who have lives to lead, go looking for a candidate in a race they haven’t been following, and they see a fellow Democrat who has an impressive title (state senator), they figure, why not? This doesn’t mean they’re clueless. It means they have lives (why should someone be following all the candidates in a down-ticket race anyway?) And it means that the party cue is an incredibly strong cue for voters. Around the world, democracy is practiced through parties. This should not be a surprise.

Here’s your problem, really your only problem from a political perspective. You are fighting against a reality you can’t change. And that puts you on the wrong side. California has been trying to diminish parties for 100 years, but still people vote for the party. People don’t vote for the person. You’re emblematic of that – a terrific person with no party.

The election should have taught you this lesson. But instead, you’re running further down the wormhole. Your solution is an independent candidate with more money? One of the strongest points of your campaign was that politicians spend too little time working and talking to constituents and too much time raising money – so how does that square with your notion of an independent politician who would have to raise even more money?

You’re also concerned about hyper-partisanship — and here, once again, your non-partisan obsession works against your goals. To the extent non-partisans gain, they won’t decrease partisanship. They’ll increase it, by making the parties smaller. And as the Democratic and Republican parties become smaller, their membership becomes less diverse, more narrow, more ideological and partisan. The way to reduce partisanship is to encourage people, and candidates, to join parties. More centrist people like you, by joining parties, would help solve the problem.

Now, if you’re going to just be an above-the-fray pundit, feel free to stay a nonpartisan. But if you intend to run for office again (and I think you should), you should stop being a nonpartisan today.

To diminish hyper-partisanship and money in politics, you should set an example by joining a party (either major party, it doesn’t matter), and try to stay in that party each and every day for the rest of your life. It won’t be easy. But you could go to meetings of your party, and stay connected to other people who are trying to stay in your new party as well. That’s one of the great things about parties; there are people in them, people you can talk to, people who can help. Parties are the most human way to participate in politics.

Once you’ve established party membership, please, by all means, run again for Secretary of State, or another office, as a member of a party. I’m confident that you’ll be an even stronger candidate, and your personal strengths will shine through.

Joe Mathews