Wednesday, March 19, 2014
A Look Back at Eight Years as a Republican Delegate
For the first time in about a decade, I don't plan to run for delegate at my precinct's caucus tonight. But here on some thoughts on my work in that role in the past eight years and related themes.
It's caucus week in Utah. Tuesday, it was the Democrats. Tomorrow evening, it's the Republicans. As the same thing happens in other precincts across the state, somewhere between a few and a few hundred Republicans from my neighborhood will gather to elected precinct officers and our share of delegates to the county and state Republican conventions, all of whom will serve two-year terms. These delegates will scrutinize Republican candidates for various offices and vote on them in convention. If a candidate gets at least 60 percent of the vote on the last convention ballot, he or she will avoid a primary election and go straight to the November ballot. If not, there will be a primary election between the top two candidates.
I've managed to get myself elected at the last four caucuses (2006, 2008, 2010, and 2012). I've been a county delegate three times and a state delegate twice. One of those terms was as precinct chair, which includes being both kinds of delegate, and one was as precinct vice chair, which includes being a county delegate. I'm not planning to run for anything this time. My reasons are personal, not political: I need those 50 or 60 hours of delegate time for something else.
If I wanted to be a state delegate for the next two years, I would already have begun to study any candidates I could identify for the offices on which I would be voting. I would have obtained from the County Clerk's office a list of registered Republicans in my precinct, and I would have mailed anyone on the list whose name I recognized a letter, inviting them to attend the caucus and explaining why they might consider voting for me. I might have included some unaffiliated voters, too, in case they wanted to register as Republicans and participated.
I would have named a high-profile candidate or two I was likely to support, explained my reasons, and perhaps briefly summarized my position on two or three major issues of the day. That sounds like a lot, and it certainly goes beyond the prudent one-page length for most letters -- I can squeeze it into two pages -- but, each time I've done this, I've had several people tell me they appreciated the detailed discussion, and it helped inform and focus their thoughts and persuade them to attend the caucus. To increase the comfort level of those who have never attended a caucus, I would also have included a separate page describing what happens at a caucus. I'd also have prepared a simple, half-page flyer to pass out at the caucus.
This is more work than most would-be delegates invest in their own election, but I like to hedge my bets a little; if I'm going to run, I want to be elected. If I'm going to be elected, I want the people who elect me to have a pretty good idea up front where I stand as their representative -- more of an idea than they can get from a one- or two-minute speech at the caucus, where I also try to be clear about these things. If you corner me and ask nicely -- I'll try to phrase this gently, so I don't sound completely crass and calculating -- I will confess that I also hope some potential rivals will see my efforts and decide to vote for me, instead of running against me. It's a dash of overkill and a pinch of political shock-and-awe, and it has worked for me so far.
I've heard it's not always this way, but I've noticed that in my precincts over the years, voters have tended to prefer prospective delegates with some well-reasoned and clearly-articulated opinions, rather than those who stand up and proclaim (truthfully or otherwise) that they don't have any firm opinions yet and don't really know the candidates or issues, but are eager to get involved, learn about issues and candidates, and make the best decisions they can. For my part, I'm no more a fan of "you have to elect me to find out what I think" (not that anyone actually says it that way) than of "we have to pass ObamaCare to find out what's in it."
In my eight years as a delegate, I've only missed one convention I was supposed to attend; that was a county convention, when one of my children was hospitalized for three weeks in Salt Lake City. With that exception, I've attended every convention where I was a delegate, from gavel to gavel -- usually about half a day for county conventions or all day for state conventions. This includes both nominating conventions, where attendance tends to be well over 95 percent, and off-year organizing conventions, where attendance is much lower, presumably because delegates care more about nominating candidates for office than about voting on party officers, bylaws, etc.
I've lost track of how many debates, speeches, question-and-answer meetings, and private conversations have combined to inform my votes. And I haven't even tried to count -- or even weigh -- the stacks of letters, flyers, booklets, etc., I've received in the mail from candidates and other interested parties. I can say that I've only been to a few -- I can count them on one hand -- meetings where a candidate who wanted my attention bought my breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Some state delegates like that part of the job, and I don't mind it, but I never did it for the free food.
There. I think I"ve said enough that you'll understand me when I say that I like the caucus/convention system because it allows me personally to have more influence in picking candidates than a primary election does, assuming I can get elected as one of the delegates who makes those decisions. I've been a supporter of the system for this rather self-interested reason, but also because I value the neighborhood participation at an early stage in the election cycle, and because I doubt that any 20 average primary voters combined will spend the time getting to know candidates and choosing between them that I do, when I'm a delegate. Maybe every delegate doesn't spend dozens of hours at this, but a most of them work pretty hard and feel some responsibility to represent their neighbors well.
Tomorrow, instead of running myself, I'll be supporting a friend or two who will run for delegate, chatting casually with friends I meet there (and anyone else who cares to join conversations), and offering a motion to suspend the rules and dispense with the almost unbearably tedious reading aloud of the Utah County Republican Party's sloppily written, sloppily reasoned platform. (I won't word the motion that way.) If 200 people attend, that will save about 50 person-hours of valuable time.
I have enjoyed serving as a state and county delegate. It has felt like work, but meaningful work, and in most cases I think we delegates gave the voters either the best available Republican candidate on the November ballot or a primary between the two strongest Republican candidates.
That said, in tomorrow's post I'll explain why my past support for Utah's caucus/convention system has decayed quite severely in recent months. In the meantime, you may have guessed or even noticed that I tend to blog about candidates and conventions in my role as delegate. Here are a few samples among many. The last two are probably more fun to read than the first four.
Copyright 2014 by David Rodeback.