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The trouble with our caucus system
by Gary Howe, Cedar City
Jun 21, 2016 | 2465 views | 0 0 comments | 316 316 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Utah caucus system is designed to bring real political power and activity to every citizen in the state. Every two years in the spring before the November elections, citizens meet as local neighborhoods and elect from among themselves people representing the neighborhood to go to the next highest political unit, county and then state, to select those who will be on the primary ballet or even on the final November ballet.

The idea is that every individual citizen has the opportunity to have input and voice into who is selected to be their representatives in local, state, and national governments. This system is the ultimate demonstration of the Representative Republic in which we live – citizens picking from among themselves citizens to represent them to the next highest level, to the next highest level, to the next highest level, all the way to the top.

Our Representative Republic is built on the principle that we the people select from among ourselves "wise and prudent" people to make decisions for us in the matters of government and then because we asked them to represent us, we agree to live by the decisions they make.

The only problem with this system is "we the people." As Edmund Burke said, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." Now I am not suggesting that "evil" is triumphing, but the term "extreme" can be substituted here and you have the present situation.

Extremists of any ideology tend to be loud, active, type A personalities, and they will tend to monopolize most any conversation, not allowing for open discussion. Open free conversation tends to negate the emotionalism that extremists feed off of and use as validation of their ideas. When tensions rise in any meeting, the quiet types, usually moderate thinkers, become uncomfortable and say nothing.

In fact the moderate majority, or "good people” will just tend to avoid the conversation, or the meeting itself in order to avoid the uncomfortable situation. They think "no one will listen to me, nor do they care what I think." In fact, the majority of the opinions expressed in the meeting may align with their own, but they feel they are just being "shouted down," and their opinions are never expressed.

It can be observed that candidates will do very well in a county or state convention, but then when it comes to a public primary or general election they do very badly. Why? In our neighborhood caucus meetings we elect those from among us to represent us in the county and state conventions. Those selected to represent us will be the more vocal, type A people with the more extreme views or agenda. As has been pointed out, the moderate thinkers don't feel comfortable putting forth their name to volunteer, nor have they found in the past that the caucus meeting is beneficial or even desirable to attend.

Therefore, when the primary or general election comes it is discovered that the representatives selected in the neighborhood caucus meetings do not ideologically align with the views of the general public. As is common with the "squeaky wheel" syndrome, the passionate vocal few tend to monopolize and control the local, county and even state conventions, but are marginalized in the general voting.

The squeaky get the press and the attention and often control the conversation and topics seen by the public, but do not generally represent the views or beliefs of the public at large. They have influenced the public view by overpowering the conversation so that the general public feel browbeaten into believing their own views to be irrelevant, worthless, or just plain wrong.

The remedy to bring the selection process in line with the ideas, morals, and thoughts of the general public will not be found in scrapping the caucus system in favor of a primary system. Primary systems are very heavily biased toward money. Without the benefit of local grass roots exposure found in the caucus, the only avenue to exposure in primary systems is money. There are many current wonderful elected public servants in our state who could never have made it through a primary system because of costs. The founding principle of "citizen servants" collapses under the weight of the cost of exposure in pure primary systems.

As an aside, the free press who are charged with informing the public of issues and candidates have much to gain from primary systems. The remedy is at the neighborhoods where the discussions and the selections of delegates to county and state conventions take place.

The neighborhood caucuses are no longer neighborhoods, but huge sections of cities, potentially many hundreds large. We use, as a matter of convenience, to designate our caucus neighborhoods the electoral precincts created for the purpose of managing the physical machinery of elections themselves.

These precincts are hundreds of people large, far too large to discuss, understand, and select representatives to the county and state conventions in an hour or even two hours. The neighborhood caucus districts must be greatly diminished in size to neighborhoods where neighbors can calmly, peaceably, and thoughtfully discuss the issues and select people who are truly representative of the neighborhood’s ideology.

I suggest that each caucus district be no more than that number required to have one state delegate, no larger. Only in smaller groups can the silent majority hope to gain voice with the squeaky wheel. Only in smaller groups can a true representation of the masses hope to be achieved. In these small neighborhood meetings the voice of all must be constantly sought and every means must be taken to restrict emotional bantering or any restriction to open calm discussion.

It must be remembered that disagreement is good; it is healthy, and not diminishing to any idea or to any person. Creating these smaller caucus districts will require monumental effort on the part of the county party staff, but only once every 10 years when redistricting occurs. It must be done if we hope to bring the power and the potential of the caucus system to fruition.

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The trouble with our caucus system

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