Editor taking aim at ‘two-step’

April 11, 2008 by  
Filed under Blog, News & Commentary

NIXON — Home to a chicken processing plant and a large rusting refinery, this blue-collar Gonzales County town is an improbable base for a grassroots movement to reform the Democratic Party’s controversial system of choosing national delegates.

Wendle Scott, owner and editor of the local Cow Country Courier, is determined to dump the so-called “Texas Two-Step,” which combines a primary and caucus to award presidential convention delegates.

“It’s unfair and it’s convoluted,” said Scott of a system that prompted skeptical coverage in the national press of the March 4 primary, and confusion and bickering among Texas Democrats.

It also is on track to give Barack Obama more Texas delegates than Hillary Clinton, even though she finished first in the popular vote. The final tally will be thrashed out at the party’s June state convention.

“It puts too much power in the hands of the party bosses. I want to take it away from them and put it back in the hands of the voters,” said Scott, who knows a little bit about controversy.

While many Democrats are unhappy with the system, and party leaders are talking about modifying it at the state convention, Scott, 78, has already taken action.

He sent an editorial calling for its swift end to hundreds of Texas newspapers and circulated a proposed resolution to dump the “two-step.”

“I’ve contacted close to 800 people or newspapers around the state,” Scott said.

The resolution has been adopted by at least a half-dozen county Democratic conventions and the editorial has been published in a dozen or more small papers.

It’s too early to know how many local party conventions have passed resolutions against the current system, said Texas Democratic Party spokesman Hector Nieto, who said he was unaware of Scott’s campaign.

“It will be a while before we sort it out. The chairman has said that if there will be change, it will come from the grassroots level,” he said of party chairman Boyd Richie.

Some party heavyweights already have expressed their discontent.

Sen. Royce West of Dallas stopped short of calling for its abolishment, but said changes must be made to avoid repeating the chaos and confusion seen at large voter precinct caucuses in San Antonio, Dallas and Houston.

Garry Mauro, a former state land commissioner who led the Clinton campaign in Texas, favors a primary-only system.

“If I was a dictator, I would abolish the system, but there are a lot of people who make good arguments that the caucus system provides an avenue for producing grassroots support,” said Mauro, who predicts Scott’s movement may bear fruit.

“I know Wendle Scott. He’s a good guy. My personal opinion is that what he’s doing is pretty potent,” he said.

Royce Ramsey, editor of the political newsletter “Texas Weekly,” said the “two-step” likely will be debated at the June convention, “but the problem is, they haven’t figured out exactly what is wrong with it.”

“A lot of people in the Democratic Party think that what they’ve got makes them look silly and produces a result that no one likes,” Ramsey said.

As to Scott’s campaign, Ramsey said, “He’s not alone. I don’t think we’ll know if a majority wants to ditch it until the convention.”

Scott said he expects formidable opposition but is not afraid of a good fight.

“A lot of people would say I’m a rabble-rouser. When I see something that is improper, and worth the effort, I’ll jump on it,” he said.

In 1966, a controversial stance ended Scott’s career as a Church of Christ minister when he joined a march organized by the United Farm Workers to protest bad pay and mistreatment by growers.

When church officials ordered Scott to cease marching, he refused, telling them he was following his conscience. The price of his disobedience was loss of church financial support and eventually the loss of his religious faith.

Scott was an Obama delegate at the recent Gonzales County convention — which passed his resolution. His closest ally in the reform campaign, Ray Hause, was a Clinton delegate.

The two plotted strategy over lunch last week at a local Mexican restaurant with a copy of “The Rules of the Texas Democratic Party” parked near the chips and salsa.

“It’s not a Clinton-Obama issue,” said Hause, 64, who retired in Nixon after selling his vending company in San Antonio.

“We’re having more and more difficulty in the Democratic Party getting people to the polls. With this two-step system, we’re actually penalizing people for voting,” Hause said.

The hard part, they agreed, will be to steer the resolution either through or around the party resolutions committee, and put it before the delegates.

“If we get it to the floor and have adequate time to explain it, I think we can get it through,” Hause said.

By John MacCormack
San Antonio Express-News