After my Spanish class ended on Tuesday, I hurried over to attend my neighborhood caucus for the Republican party.
Utah has an interesting way of doing elections. Every couple of years the members of each political party within an area roughly the size of a neighborhood, called a precinct, meet to elect delegates to their party’s county and state conventions. Between the caucuses and the conventions, the delegates meet individually with candidates for political office for their party, attend debates, and discuss issue and candidates among themselves and with the people in their precinct. When they attend the conventions, they then vote for the candidates they feel best represent the ideals and needs of the state and their precinct. Delegates serve for two years.
If a candidate gets 60% or more of the delegate votes at the convention, he or she automatically becomes the party’s candidate for the general elections and there is no primary election for that office. Instant-runoff voting has been used in the state Republican conventions to whittle the potential candidates down to only two with less than 60% for a primary, or one candidate with 60% of the delegate votes.
In Utah, if you wait not only until the general elections, but even the primary elections, to get involved you’ll find that your choices are between candidates that the delegates, and the people who attended the caucuses and elected them, have already chosen for you. In other words if you want to have a real influence on who ends up in office, you have to get involved in a party at the neighborhood caucus level, otherwise you are limited to choosing between one or two individuals that have been chosen for you (neither of whom may have been your first choice).
So, Tuesday I hurried over to the Republican caucus for my precinct and arrived about 10 minutes late. Nominations for the precinct chair (who is also a county delegate) had already been made. This is the first time I had attend in this precinct, since we lived in another part of town during the previous caucus meetings. I was surprised to learn that the Mayor lives in my precinct. Their were a lot fewer people in attendance than in my previous precinct, but that probably is because we don’t have gubernatorial elections this year.
In any case, there weren’t very many people being nominated, so on a spur of the moment impulse I told the man sitting next to me, who I recognized from our neighborhood but with whom I am not well acquainted, that if he would nominate me I would be interested in serving as a delegate. He did and then each of the nominees was asked to give a short speech. In mine, I mentioned facetiously that I had performed for a number of years as a puppeteer and so I knew a little bit about politics. This provoked a good laugh from the mayor and some of the other well connected people in the room, but since I have no idea who actually voted for me, it may have hurt me more than helped. I also mentioned that I am a blogger, which may have hurt my votes too. Regardless, minutes later I was surprised to find myself elected as a delegate to the Republican county convention for 2006 and 2007. I beat out the other fellow by only 2 votes.
In less than a day, my wife received a call from a state senator, with whom I have had brief interaction previously. I wasn’t home from work yet, so I have yet to speak with him. I will be getting a lot of interaction with the candidates during the weeks leading up to the county convention on April 29th. All of them want to get 60% of the delegate vote so they don’t have to face a primary election.
I will be blogging here at Sixteen Small Stones about the candidates, the issues, and I will try to report on debates and get some interviews in with candidates. I may even try something really ambitious, like some podcasted interviews. In any case, if you live in Utah, please check the blog for continued information. If you have particular issues you would like me to ask candidates about, email me at jmaxwilson at sixteensmallstones dot org.