The other night I attended my party caucus meeting. It was the best-run caucus I have seen in 40 years of caucus meetings. We pledged allegiance, read the party platform, voted new precinct leadership, voted two delegates for the state convention and six for the county convention. About 60 good citizens attended from my precinct. This year, we set a structure to have email access to our delegates. This sounds like a total success and an argument against the Count My Vote legislative compromise. Hardly.
The “lively discussion” and “grass-roots representation” that some in my party have touted as the genius of the caucus system were not there. We chose our delegates with a system of political “speed dating” that left me no idea whether my delegates will represent me. Each candidate for state convention delegate had one minute for self-introduction and was asked to give short answers to two questions from attendees. No other comments or discussion. This was not the fault of the precinct chair. She followed the mandated script, which is designed more to be an old-style pep rally than real representation. My heart was with her because I was in her position for three terms.
A few years ago when I served as a delegate, I had had no idea whether I was representing my fellow precinct members. Even more, if I disagreed with the majority of fellow precinct members, did I vote my own convictions or those of others? My Republican Party has a history of nominating candidates whose positions do NOT reflect the majority of their own party; even less a majority of all the citizens they represent.
When Rep. Jason Chaffetz and Sen. Mike Lee championed the old caucus system, they did so not knowing if their vision and principles could have won the majority of Utah Republicans. In our one-party state, the November election is often only symbolic. Our leaders have been functionally elected in party conventions in the spring. They have never truly won as many votes comparable to the number of citizens who signed the Count My Vote petition.
A few election cycles will reveal whether the revised caucus system really works. The outgoing system was certainly efficient, but it was not an example of an effective representative democracy because the premise of enlightened representation at neighborhood meetings was never fulfilled.
I have listened to my own state representative, who explained that he might not have been able to afford the financial and time commitments to run for office two years ago if required to go through a primary election. His concern is real. He is a good man and my neighbor and friend of many years. I was a Scout leader to his son and he to mine.
But the caucus system that made his entry into politics possible was neither representative nor democratic. Efficiency alone is enough only in places where I do NOT want to live.
I look with hope to the future and to the uncertainties of a new caucus system.
Kerry Soelberg is a concerned citizen, long time Republican, and former delegate and precinct chair. He resides in West Jordan, and holds degrees in Political Science and Public Administration from BYU.
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