Dina Titus, state Senate minority leader, is going to submit legislation that will eliminate the caucus in favor of a statewide primary to nominate presidential candidates. Although changing the process may be difficult, she will probably have a lot of support from both the Democrats and Republicans.
The party members in favor of their cloistered caucus club argue that it is a fair process and an open opportunity for neighbors to join together and talk about politics. This, in turn, will stimulate civic involvement by the otherwise apathetic voter.
The problem is, neighbors didn’t get together to talk about politics; they congregated in their appointed corners set aside for each candidate and argued, bartered and traded away any allegiance they had for their favorite candidate. One of Titus’ complaints was that “this notion of neighbors getting together with neighbors to talk about politics, that’s just not Nevada.” She said what she found in her caucus didn’t lead to cooperation and good discussion. It led to hostility. I agree. Hostility and intimidation is why many people didn’t participate in the process.
Not knowing the rules of a caucus, many neighbors were intimidated by the chaotic process and really didn’t want to get into a debate or argue the polemics of their favorite candidate’s issues. Instead, they just wanted to vote and go home.
Some of the people I talked to didn’t want their neighbors to know which candidate they supported or which political party they belonged to. And the only civic engagement they wanted was to return to the privacy of a voting machine in a primary election.
Supporters of the caucus stated the process is really bipartisan and the taxpayers shouldn’t have to finance a primary election. So what! That’s just the price we pay for fairness and equal representation in a democracy.
The caucus rules as they now stand do not allow for full or convenient participation for the party members. In a primary election, an absentee ballot is available for people who are on vacation or those who just can’t get transportation.
The polls in primary elections are open 10 to 12 hours a day, instead of only a few hours, allowing the working class, senior citizens and the physically impaired enough time to cast their vote and express their political will.
In a primary election the candidate with the majority of the vote wins the states delegates for the national convention. But the caucus, as we have just witnessed in Nevada, gave as many delegates to the candidate who came in second as the one who received the majority of the vote.
Etymologically there is some debate about the origin of the term “caucus.” Some say it comes from an Algonquin word meaning “council.” Others say the word is derived from the Latin/Greek word kaukkion, meaning “a cup.” Plato held his Athenian caucuses at drinking parties where everyone had their cups filled with wine. At some of the Nevada caucus locations, supporters offered cookies and a cup of coffee to anyone wanting to join their support for Hillary Clinton. I think the wine would have been a better choice.
Historically, the caucus has been used as an instrument of power. In the 1700s, the caucus was used to protect special interest and the power of the shipbuilders. Samuel Adams’ father and about 20 other businessmen formed a caucus club in Boston. Their goal was to place certain friends and other businessmen in position of trust and power in the community. These “friends” would use their influence to protect the shipbuilders and importers.
Their caucus club met in a smoke-filled room as described by an eyewitness who said the room was filled with so much tobacco smoke you couldn’t see from one end of the room to the other. Sounds a little like Tammany Hall.
Tammany Hall was a caucus club formed in 1798 as a fraternal club for the Democrats of New York City. It was heavily involved in Jeffersonian politics and later, in 1854, was headed by “Boss Tweed.” Tweed was later convicted of political corruption and stealing millions of dollars from the taxpayers of New York. The club maintained its power and influence through the 1960s.
To better serve all Republicans, Democrats and Nevadans, we should support the legislation proposed by Titus. The caucus clubs should be eliminated. They should be replaced with a state-wide winner-take-all primary election financed by both the respective parties and the taxpayers. After all, the taxpayers are best served by selecting the candidate who will protect their interests.
The true expression of democracy is to allow everyone the opportunity to conveniently vote in the privacy of a secret ballot without the intimidation of the self-serving power base of a partisan caucus club.
David Farside is a Sparks resident and political activist. The polemics of his articles can be discussed at firstname.lastname@example.org. His Web site is www.thefarsidechronicles.com.