Utah’s bi-annual precinct caucus nights are fast approaching. Democrats will hold their precinct caucuses on March 13, 2012, at 7:00 PM, while Republicans will hold their caucuses two days later on March 15, 2012, also at 7:00 PM. The Democrats have announced their meeting locations, Republicans plan to announce their early next week.
I’ll add my voice to the chorus of people urging their friends and neighbors to make all efforts to attend and be involved.
The importance of attending your caucuses cannot be overstated if you want your voice heard in Utah politics during the next two year. For better or for worse (and regular readers of this blog know that I have serious misgivings about Utah’s caucus system), your precinct caucus — not the November election — is where politics happens in Utah.
Because, in Utah, politics is dominated by the Republican Party and the convention system. More than 3/4 of the time statewide, the Republican candidate — and it can be pretty much any Republican candidate — defeats his or her Democratic opponent. This means that in most districts in Utah, an election is, for all intents and purposes, over once the Republican candidate is chosen. And Republican Party candidates are usually (though not always) chosen at the party convention or in special elections to fill vacancies. And the only people allowed to vote at those conventions or special elections are Republican Party delegates, who are selected once every two years on precinct caucus night by the people who happen to show up there.
Delegate, or Not?
Being elected as a delegate (especially a Republican Party delegate) in Utah is a bit like winning a political lottery. There are only 3,500 positions statewide to be filled by all registered Republicans in the state. Since you are part of the elite group of people who determine the fate of candidates for public office, your representatives (and aspiring representatives) pay close attention to you. They’ll give you personal phone calls. They’ll invite you to exclusive “delegate only” lunches, dinners, and cottage meetings. They’ll provide personal answers to your questions. They’ll respond to your emails. They’ll address your concerns. They’ll write you letters and send you written explanations of their positions on issues. They may even drop cookies or other treats by your home at Christmas time.
And you’ll be one of the select group who decides whether they stay in politics or go home. Don’t like the way they voted on a pet issue? Rather than being only 1 of 2.8 million Utahns, or even 1 of 37,000 members of a legislative house district, you are, at most, 1 of 3,500, and may be, in many cases, 1 of 100. You have super-voting power.
Whet your appetite, yet?
In case you need more encouragement to show up, here’s the bleak alternative. If you don’t show up to your precinct caucus meeting, politics happens without you. Delegates will be elected whether you are there or not. You won’t know who’s really representing you when it comes to choosing party candidates, because no one will bother to tell you. And your voice won’t be heard in your party’s choice of candidates for two more years. Chances are the only thing you’ll hear from candidates for election over the next two years are irrelevant attack ads in general elections where the outcome is a foregone conclusion. And we all know what we (non-delegate types) hear from candidates after they’ve been elected . . . .
Some History, and an Exhortation
Here’s what has tended to happen in the past.
Attendance on caucus night has been sparse, and has been skewed toward excessively passionate politico types who run either (1) because of a single pet issue that they are passionate about, or (2) in order to get a specific person elected the following November. Rarely do you hear anyone on caucus night talk about their desire to represent their friends and neighbors, instead, they talk about their personal political philosophy and goals for Utah and the United States. And it’s even rarer for a delegate to actually take the time to bother to (1) ask their constituents how they feel about particular issues, or (2) bother to explain to their friends and neighbors how they voted on specific questions or candidates. People who are not delegates feel totally disconnected from the political process, and no wonder.
There are lots of good things about Utah’s caucus system. But its flaws are amplified by the lack of participation from average Utahns. And the disconnection it engenders further erodes Utah’s abysmal voter participation levels, which are already beyond unacceptable.
I think our situation — when it comes to electoral politics, representation, and participation — in Utah is desperate.
We desperately need people to run as delegates who are serious about their obligation to represent their neighbors. We desperately need people to run as delegates who are not political operatives coordinated by a specific campaign. We desperately need people to run as delegates who will keep their friends and neighbors connected to the process by seeking out their opinions and making sure their voting record is available for review. We desperately need people to run as delegates who will decline invitations to delegate only meetings unless non-delegate constituents are also allowed to attend. In short, we desperately need people to run as delegates who will demand that representatives represent their entire constituency rather than a select club of politically passionate individuals who don’t take seriously their own obligation as representatives.
We’ll start to get these things if people attend their caucus meetings and demand them of the delegates. And we won’t get it before then.
So, let’s make the best of caucus night this year and make sure it really is about representation.
Here are some details:
Democratic Precinct Caucuses
Anyone can attend and vote, even if you are not a registered Democrat.
Precinct caucus locations are available here: http://utahdemocrats.org/caucus-location-information/
Republican Precinct Caucuses
Anyone can attend, but you must be a registered Republican to run as a delegate and vote. Registration forms will be available at the caucuses if you want to register there.
Precinct caucus locations currently not available, but will be available soon at: http://utgop.org/