Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Caucuses A Comin'

Less than two weeks from today on February 2nd, the Minnesota GOP and DFL will hold their precinct caucuses. For those who haven't been overly active in politics, the caucus process can seem a little intimidating. Visions of party insiders getting together in smoke-filled rooms and following mysterious rituals combining Robert's Rules of Order and a Free Mason initiation come to mind. In reality, the caucuses aren't nearly as complicated or closed off as they might appear. They are in fact a genuine if imperfect example of American participatory democracy in action. If you show up.

When you do, you'll get together with like-minded neighbors to help determine the course of the party in the year ahead. Usually you'll break down into smaller groups based on the wards and precincts where you vote so it's a good chance to have open discussions and interactions. If you don't like the course that your party of preference is taking, this is your chance to change it.

I've attended and helped run GOP caucuses for at least a dozen years. Throughout the state, there are some variations in the way the caucuses are managed and the process that follows them can also differ. This following is the way the caucus process has worked in my experiences.

You'll elect local precinct officers and delegates to the local BPOU (basic political operating unit) convention. It's at those conventions when delegates and alternatives for the state and Congressional district conventions are chosen. The delegates at the state convention are the ones who will choose the party's nominee for governor (and other statewide offices). My involvement at caucuses in the past had lead to me being a delegate at the state convention a number of times. Again, it's a great place to get started if you want to be more involved in the party.

There will also likely be a straw poll for governor so you get a chance to vote for that. And you can also bring forward any changes/additions to the party platform in the form of resolutions. You submit a resolution that night and it gets voted up or down by the group. If it is approved, it will be passed on to the local BPOU convention where again it will be voted on. If it passes there, it will go on the state convention where delegates will again vote on it. If approved at that point, it becomes part of the party's platform.You can find the current Minnesota GOP platform here.

The bottom line is that politics is all about who shows up. You can help make the party and its candidates more like you wish they were by coming out to your precinct caucus. The truth is that in most years turnout at the caucuses is fairly light, so it doesn't take too many people showing up to make a difference. However, this year could be different with the heightened interest in politics both locally and nationally.

There was a great turnout at the caucuses in 2008, which wasn't a huge surprise given that both parties had contested presidential nomination contests. This year, we have the same situation playing out with the Minnesota governor's race as well as all the angst and "I'm mad as hell and not going take it anymore!" anger over health care, bailouts, budget deficits, etc. I wouldn't be shocked to see a lot of new faces at the caucuses on February 2nd.

If you want to be one of them at the Minnesota GOP caucuses, you can find the location of your caucus meeting here. If you're a Democrat, there's breaking news to report that your caucus date has been rescheduled to Tuesday, February 30th. Please plan accordingly. (KIDDING!)

If you do show up--and at this point why wouldn't you--please be patient and respectful of those conducting the meetings. They aren't paid party hacks who devote their lives to this stuff. They're people just like you and me who have volunteered their time and energy to help make a difference. And if you think some of the caucus processes can be a bit baffling from a participant point of you, believe you me that it isn't a picnic for the organizers either. The virtues of patience, prudence, and compromise will definitely be called for. Most important though is simply showing up.

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