Editor Column: Notes from caucus night
There are certain tricks to this trade that become so natural you don’t even realize you’re doing them.
The realization came last week while going through my ritual of decompressing on Wednesday evening. It’s a process putting this paper out — one that mandates long hours at the start of the week. Some reflection is needed.
The aforementioned trick came on caucus night. I’ve walked up to enough strangers to know that some people are apprehensive about talking to the media; not all people or necessarily most people, but even a few rejections from weary strangers can lead to the formation of a strategy.
And so while mingling about the cafeteria at Coal Ridge High School, I unconsciously formed my strategy.
“Hi, my name is Ryan. I’m with the Post Independent (name recognition is key when establishing trust and the fact is most of the people in that room were more familiar with the PI than the CT) and The Citizen Telegram. I’m here just to chat with people and get their thoughts. This is my first caucus so I’m pretty curious to hear what people think. Do you mind if I ask you a couple of questions?”
It’s worth stating that all of this was true. It was my first caucus. The only slight variation from the truth was my remark about being “curious to hear what people think.” I was dying to hear what people thought.
I’ll also point out that only one person hesitated when I approached her. Everybody else was open and chatty. They didn’t pay any mind to the notebook in hand and my furious scribbling. (Maybe the spiel was totally unnecessary, but, as I said, it’s more a reflex than anything else.)
Much has been made this election cycle about the caucus system. It’s archaic, inefficient and it limits the number of people who can participate in the political process, opponents say.
It is hard to take issue with those arguments.
And state leaders in both political parties seem to agree, at least when it comes to presidential elections.
Days after Coloradans caucused, the Denver Post reported that party leaders were drafting legislation to create a presidential primary in 2020. The legislation would still maintain the caucus system for selecting delegates and qualifying candidates at the state and local level for the ballot, according to the Post.
Back at Coal Ridge High on March 1, one of the things that stood out was the number of people I talked with who were attending their first caucus. Some stated intrigue, while others said there was too much on the line to sit idle. The near universal thing I heard from all those same people was: The caucus system is interesting.
As a first time caucus-goer present in an observational capacity, there is something to be said for the neighborhood style of the whole affair. While sitting and listening to one man, a woman walked up and asked if we were sitting at her precinct location.
I can’t remember if the man I was talking with was in the wrong spot or if the woman was. What I do remember is she sat down and joined the conversation.
She waved to somebody across the room and the man asked if she knew the person.
She said yes, to which he replied “he’s my neighbor.” Eventually the conversation steered to their shared support for Ben Carson, although the man made it a point that he would probably support Carson if he had to make a decision that night. He was still undecided. Fortunately, or unfortunately, he did not have to make a decision that night.
On the broader question of caucuses, I, much like the man weighing the presidential candidates, find myself conflicted.
Again, it is hard to argue the cons of caucuses. (I could not help but dwell on the fact that I couldn’t have participated if I wanted to because of work — a problem I could circumvent in a primary system.)
But the neighborly interaction I observed that night is something we could use more of. It’s amazing what conversations can take place when we pop our bubble.
My concern with the legislation reported on by the Post is that by removing the presidential election from the conversation entirely we will see paltry participation in the caucuses, which in my mind reduces the number one benefit of the system.
But voters are clearly upset with the status quo, and party officials agree that something needs to be done.
And that’s where I stand. Following a long-winded back and forth, I’m still as confused and uncertain as to how we should go about conducting our elections. Wait a minute — did I just caucus?
Ryan Hoffman is the editor of The Citizen Telegram. He can be reached at 970-685-2103 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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