Saturday, January 19, 2008

Pssst. Wanna See My Caucus?

Four years ago, I was pregnant with my first child, and my husband was not yet a candidate. As the Vice-Chair of our county's Democratic Party, he was asked to assist with the caucus in our area. Actually, he was asked to chair it. At the time, in my new-to-Kansas naiveté, I was all twitterpated about him being chosen for this great honor. What I didn't know is that when you run the caucus, you can't caucus. So no one was particularly eager to have this job. But someone had to do it. So he did.

Lacking any eager volunteers or indebted friends, he strong-armed recruited me to help with the caucuses as the Rules and Regulations person. I was raised in Missouri, a state that votes for their primary. I had never caucused before. But I am definitely someone who is "rules oriented," having spent many of my years of employment working with student government, constitutions, and parli pro. So I was a good choice as a person who would enforce the rules fairly and consistently. Plus, no one wants to mess with a pregnant lady with a clipboard.

Maybe you've never caucused before. And, um? What I didn't know? That you should know?

It can get a little nuts.

Most of the Democratic caucuses in my state are…brief. Kansas is an interesting political landscape, what with our crazy-high number of Republicans and our Democratic governor. There aren't a lot of folks west of here caucusing for the Democrats. But Lawrence, where I live, is seen by most people in our state as the "liberal hippie" town. So Democrats actually caucus for their candidates here, and they do so hard core, sounding their barbaric (but unfortunately impotent) yawp over the roofs of our town.

The way a caucus works is that everyone starts out together. As the caucus is mediated, they split off in to different areas in the room that denote which candidate they are in support of. Candidates that do not garner 15% of those in attendance are deemed "non-viable."

Here's where it gets nuts.

If you've caucused for a non-viable candidate, you have three choices: leave the caucus, join another candidate's group, or, if you can garner a group of 15%, start an "uncommitted" group, which is beholden to no candidate. Groups who are already viable want those people to join them. Because caucusing is all about getting delegates, who will go on to the next level to caucus for their candidate, hypothetically resulting in the selection of a candidate for president. (Usually, Kansas caucuses so late that it is nearly irrelevant, because most candidates have dropped out by that time.)

The competition to grab those folks shopping for a candidate is fierce. Invariably, some of those who have caucused for the non-viable candidates are on the outer edges of the party. And some of them love being fought over—they're usually in the back of the room during Democratic functions, everyone else rolling their eyes at whatever rant they're rocking—but this is their moment in the big red-white-and-blue spotlight. They use this time as a mouthpiece for all kinds of issues—be it the importance of a living wage (great point but irrelevant to the caucus), buying local, organic produce (ditto), or why we should write-in Boog for president (our former mayor, a swell guy, but also not a viable presidential candidate.) Only time brings these soliloquies to a close, so that we can finish up and select the delegates that will go on to caucus at the next level.

The rules person enforces the time limits, so you can see what a popular girl I was when I so rudely yanked that spotlight from them in an effort to keep things moving. People got a little testy, but since I was a stickler for the rules, and I was pregnant and holding a clipboard, no one got too nasty. Especially since at that point the Democratic presidential candidate had been all but chosen nationally anyway.

Fast forward to now. The lack of sleep at our house must have finally rotted my brain all the way through. Because even though hubs is not chairing the caucus? And even though I didn't have to? And even though the issues are even bigger this time? And though this year the Kansas Caucus is actually early enough to matter, so much so that candidates are actually coming here? I volunteered to do it again.

It's going to be full on crazy this time. And I won't have my belly to protect me.


Heather said...

You are one brave woman. And doing it all again.

Jeff said...

Wow, I had no idea it was such a circus. Good for you for doing your civic duty. That doesn't sound like something I'd sign up for.