Sunday, February 10, 2008

Raucus Caucus in Washington

I hate caucuses, but I enjoy participating in them. What I mean is that they are a lousy way of picking a candidate for public office. Political parties use them to solicit donations and sign up campaign workers, so they are good for parties. But they involve too few people in the process, and they seem to produce skewed results--not always electing the most reasonable or electable candidates. What makes them fun is the interaction with other voters and the chance to debate the issues at a grass roots level.

The Democratic party in my home state of Washington was forced to accept a primary system a few years ago by popular referendum. Failing to win the popular vote, Democratic and Republican party officials went to court to get the primaries nullified. The courts agreed, and Washington therefore has tax-supported primaries that only the Democratic party ignores. The Republican party was more sensible about it. They decided to assign half their delegates to the choice made by the primary. Hence, I had to attend a caucus on February 9 in order to elect my choice--Barack Obama. On February 19, I will still vote in the primary, even if it is just a beauty contest. I prefer a primary, and I resent the state Democratic party for thumbing its nose at the voters.

Anyway, I showed up on February 5 and got myself elected as a precinct delegate for Obama. My wife and I arrived 10 minutes early, but we could barely squeeze in the door. The organizers seemed to have only a hazy idea of how to plan for a large turnout. My caucus was moved into an overflow room in the school where it was taking place. A young man volunteered to lead the caucus, but he had never been to one before. So a few of us older members had to kibbutz. We divided into 3 groups--Obama supporters, Hillary supporters, and undecided. The Hillary supporters were only a third of the caucus, so they got 2 of our 6 delegates.

After sitting in a circle, nobody in any of the groups had a clear idea of how to proceed, so most people, having already declared their candidate, went home. It was a very inefficient way to do what could have been done more efficiently with a primary. The remaining Obama and Hillary supporters converged on the undecideds to make their case. There was a lot of shouting back and forth until people settled down to taking turns. Some interesting pitches were made, and several got rounds of applause. Two of the most memorable were from independents. One was an Asian immigrant who admitted that he had always voted Republican, but he was there because he liked Obama. The other was the young son of Iraqi parents. He made an impassioned plea for Obama because of what he said was happening to his family in Iraq. The Obama and Hillary supporters made their case, mine being that Hillary's experience would count for less against McCain than Obama's charisma.

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