Over the years, I have written a number of editorials and columns encouraging folks to attend their precinct caucuses. For those who think I’m a hypocrite, this would be the leading example. I probably haven’t attended a caucus as a participant in 30 years. Newspapers have enough trouble maintaining their credibility without actively participating in the news they are supposed to be covering objectively.
Caucuses can be mundane or they can be controversial. As I think back, however, one stood out. About 25 years ago, a rural precinct was designated to elect only two delegates. As fate would have it, only two citizens showed up for the caucus, two neighbors, a man and a woman, who didn’t like each other.
One reason for precinct caucuses is to elect delegates to the county and legislative district conventions. It seemed like a slam dunk who the delegates would be.
The caucus took only a few minutes. After saying hello, it came time to vote for delegates. The woman nominated the man, and he was duly elected. But then the man refused to nominate the woman. He didn’t have another delegate in mind; he just didn’t like her. Needless to say, the woman was peeved.
Unofficially, I think that particular caucus is still in session because the man then moved to adjourn, and the motion died for lack of a second.
That caucus would be exhibit one in how not to run a caucus, and the likelihood of the same thing transpiring today is remote. Most people get along with their neighbors. Even if one doesn’t, another party’s caucus remains available to attend.
Alas, my attempts to encourage others to caucus has met with little success. Today’s liberals are trying to drum up support among the 99 percent against the economically elite 1 percent. However, there is another kind of elite, the political elite — the 7 percent of the citizenry who show up at the caucuses. Among the masses, 93 percent can’t tear themselves away from watching “American Idol” tryouts and other compelling TV fare.
However, the 7 percent don’t have to pay a nickel to participate, and they can choose whether or not they want to be a candidate to become a delegate. In many precincts — and I’m not exaggerating here — if you bring 5 or 10 friends with you, you and your friends can win all or most of the delegate slots.
Minnesota’s caucuses are coming up in nine days, beginning at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 7. This year’s caucuses are unusual because none of the caucus attendees will know what legislative or congressional district they will end up in.
This is the first election after the 2010 census, so reapportionment will occur. This means that all legislative and congressional district lines will be redrawn. As usual, the Democrats and Republicans disagree on how to do it, so the courts have said that, barring an agreement, the courts will draw the lines on Feb. 21.
Much has been made in recent years about the seeming paralysis that has gripped government. My advice for all Minnesotans who love this nation is to choose a party and get involved, starting at the caucus level. If we end up with split control between parties again, we will end up with plenty of finger-pointing but not much progress on any front.
The county and/or legislative district conventions are used to endorse candidates to run for the state Legislature and to elect delegates to the congressional district and state conventions. The congressional district and/or state conventions elect delegates to the national conventions. Delegates endorse candidates.
This year, most of the action seems to be on the GOP side because the top two incumbents, President Barack Obama and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, are both Democrats.
However, depending on redistricting, DFLers will be looking for candidates who can help them regain control of the state Legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives. Without that control, the DFL agenda has no hope of being passed.
Similarly, Republicans are looking for ways to defeat Obama and Klobuchar and to pass their agenda.
The GOP has narrowed its presidential field to four. Mitt Romney, the early favorite, has plenty of support within the party’s establishment. Newt Gingrich, an inspirational and at times combative speaker, appears to be gaining rapidly in spite of carrying a ton of personal baggage. Ron Paul has an exceptionally devoted following, but has given many pause because of his isolationist foreign policy views. And Rick Santorum is courting the conservative Christian faction of the party.
The precinct caucus is the first step in determining whom Minnesota Republicans will support for that office, but just as important is who both parties put forward as their candidates for all the other offices beneath the presidency.
The differences between the two parties are sharp and easily identified. I won’t reiterate them here. Choose the party that offers the best solutions to you and show up at its caucus. Even better, show up with five friends and get yourselves elected as delegates.
This nation doesn’t belong to the parties. It belongs to the citizens and this is theirs — at least the ones who show up — and your chance to control the process. We need better government; we need you.
Tom West is the editor and general manager of the Record. He may be reached at (320) 632-2345 or by e-mail at [email protected].