If you have political friends on Twitter or Facebook in Washington State, then perhaps you heard about the Legislative District Caucuses that happened yesterday. Consensus: It was a mess.
Having been the Area Coordinator for Eastlake, I felt particularly bad for the delegates elected from my area. In Eastlake, we started on time, on the dot, and ended after about a half hour. We were there to determine the proportion of delegates, and then elect delegates. We dispensed with the pomp and circumstance, began organizing by candidate early so that each side could reach out to undecideds, and limited speeches to two minutes per side. There are some people who are cool with an all-day event, but they (we) are in the minority, and should never force those who are first-time caucus-goers to a process laden caucus. On the whole, the 43rd went by pretty damn well. But with the demands from the State Party, the leadership was constrained in steps that could be taken to make it a more efficient experience for first-time caucus-goers.
The same could be said about the Legislative District Caucus. This is, frankly, a massive undertaking for LDs, and can always be expected to be messy. However, what happened yesterday across the state is something I have never seen (this is my third contested presidential caucus cycle).
What doesn't help: the lack of support from the Washington State Democratic Party. Reports from all over the state that the State Party provided wrong information about delegates elected at the precinct level; provided no information about folks who pre-registered to run for delegate; provided no financial support to the LD organizations; provided no education for delegates about what to actually expect at the next level.
In 2004, when I was a Dean delegate to the LD caucus in the 38th, we had a well run caucus and support from the State Party. 2008 I was a Clinton delegate to the LD caucus in the 37th. It took awhile, but the chaos didn't match what we saw yesterday (and remember: in 2008, more people caucused than 2016). Then there is this year. Three different State Party Chairs, three radically different experiences.
So what should we do? Of course, the first response I hear is that we should go to a primary. As I have written before, absent Party registration, this is something I doubt the State Party will take up. Allowing non-Democrats to pick the leader of our Party would be like letting just anyone pick the leader of your local Federation of Eagles chapter, regardless of membership status. But that doesn't mean we can't take steps to improve the process and improve efficiency. What I would do:
- Staff Up - Number one is staff up. This costs money - and that is something the State Party has that LDs don't. Get people in who are getting paid to process the paperwork coming in from the precinct level; regional folks to work with LDs on planning and executing a successful caucus; taking on tasks to make the lives of the volunteers that run the show easier - not constantly demanding more and more of volunteers.
- More Time - The amount of time between the precinct caucuses and the LD caucuses needs to be longer. It's clear that the State Party was ill prepared to make it work smoothly, and the LDs - who are all-volunteer organizations - need time to cool off and get ready. A two-month window would provide so much more support for the LDs than the current compressed schedule between the two biggest caucus events that the LDs have to run.
- Streamline the Rules - We are a private organization. Period. Craft rules through the rules committee, allow LDs to make necessary changes to specified areas with their own rules system, and have that be that. No amending the rules or the agenda from the floor. The LD Chair is the Caucus Chair. Period. Arriving at 1:00 and expect to be seated as a delegate? Nope! Candidates wish to address the caucus: better wait for downtime (and if you can't, too bad).
- Explain the Rules - Make clear early on to people where the rules are, and have a layman's system that explains how these translate into the process. The process is simple: Delegates arrive, where there are empty delegate seats, they are filled by alternates with the order of priority being (a) candidate support (b) gender (c) precinct. Also - give a primer on Robert's Rules with the most common terms that people will hear, and what that means. I (kind of) know this system, but most people don't.
- Explain the Process - Caucus starts at 1:00? Have people arrive by Noon to get registered. Set a cutoff time that allows credentials volunteers to finish signing everyone in so that the caucus can start on time, and allows them to cut off sign-in by, say, 12:30, so they can begin to assess the need for alternates. Making alternates wait for hours is unacceptable - they should have a good idea in advance how many will be needed so they can self-determine if they want to fight for that or head home. Make clear that this is going to be an all-day event - and let people be delighted when they finish early.
- Fewer Delegates - It's great that 1,300+ people are willing to come out on a Sunday afternoon to caucus. 650 would be much more manageable. Considering we elected just a small percentage to the next level, it is ridiculous that we have so many delegates elected from the precinct level to the LD level - both of which receive minimal (at best) State Party support. Slash that number in half.
These are just some suggestions, compiled from things I heard from caucus-goers at the 43rd and 34th, as well as on social media. These are simple changes that would make the LD caucuses run more smoothly, provide support for the all-volunteer LD organizations, and make the caucuses less of the shit-show that we saw yesterday. Reports of caucus-goers booing candidates, repeatedly attempting to oust caucus chairs, and the long delay to get credentials is not Party building.
I started my caucus day in the 43rd, as a Clinton delegate volunteering alongside Sanders delegates (and wrapping up around 6:00 p.m.). I ended in the 34th, and a Clinton delegate to the CD 7 caucus working alongside a Sanders staffer counting delegate selection ballots until 1:30 in the morning. We're all in this together, but absent meaningful change in the process, I can't guarantee we'll be around next time.