San Antonio Express News: Democrats weigh in on ‘two-step’

December 20, 2008 by  
Filed under Blog, Media Coverage, News & Commentary

The future of the Texas Democratic Party’s system of allocating presidential nominating delegates remained undecided Saturday after the party conducted a final hearing on its controversial procedures.
Headed by state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, the Advisory Committee on the Texas Democratic Party Convention/Caucus System heard testimony from more than 25 San Antonio-area Democrats who shared their perspectives on the process known as the “Texas two-step.” The committee will reconvene late next month to discuss possible changes to the rules.

The key issue is whether the party should continue to allocate 65 percent of delegates to the party’s state convention based on the popular vote and the remaining 35 percent based on caucus results.

The party allocates 126 delegates based on the popular vote and 67 based on the caucuses. This year’s popular vote in the March primary gave Hillary Clinton 65 delegates and Barack Obama 61. But in the caucuses held after polls closed, Obama won 37 of the delegates while Clinton got 30.

Partisans attending the hearing at the offices of the San Antonio Area Progressive Action Coalition both defended the caucuses and argued for changes, such as scheduling the caucuses on Saturdays instead of Tuesday evenings.

David Van Os said he defended the two-step from naysayers for many years because he thought it was a good way to attract newcomers to the party framework. But this year’s election changed his mind.

“This year persuaded me that I was wrong because it alienates people when they have to sit for hours and hours just to get their vote counted,” Van Os said, adding that he didn’t go home from his caucus until 4 a.m.

“Everybody’s vote should be counted exactly the same.”

Other speakers pointed out that the late-night caucuses disenfranchised some groups, specifically: the elderly, people with young children, military personnel and the disabled. Issues of requiring party registration before voting, better training for party personnel and more emphasis on using caucuses for political organization were also highlighted.

West was appointed by state party chairman Boyd Richie to hold the hearings and report on any necessary changes to the system at the party’s state convention in two years.

“We wouldn’t have been going around the state of Texas if this were an exercise in futility,” West said of the travel that has taken him and other members of the committee from the Rio Grande Valley to El Paso to Dallas and, finally, San Antonio.

On Saturday, West said each of the nine hearings drew about 40 people. The hearings have convinced him that most Texas Democrats support the idea of a caucus system in some form. West said testimony shared a common theme: Mend it but don’t end it.

The man who brought the issue to the June state convention, 79-year-old Wendle Scott of Gonzales County, was unwavering in his distaste for the two-step. Scott said it amounted to the same sort of disenfranchisement suffered by black, American Indian and women voters in previous years, as well as other obstacles such as poll taxes.

“Every voter’s vote ought to count the same, and the Texas two-step destroys that,” said Scott, who was an Obama delegate at this year’s state convention.

“The two-step system gives the party bosses a little bit of extra control, and they’re trying to preserve that,” he said.

Mike Thelen, a relative newcomer to the two-step, had a different perspective. This year, he attended his first caucus because he said he felt so strongly about the need for a change in leadership.

Thelen ended up not only becoming secretary of his precinct convention, but a county delegate and finally a delegate to the state convention. He said his political adventure would not have been possible without the caucus, adding that it is a great way to sustain the future of the Democratic Party in Texas with volunteers.

“I don’t argue with ‘one person, one vote,'” Thelen said of his fellow Democrats. But he had a more pragmatic view. “This isn’t a general election, it’s a party election.”

Photo of Davis Van Os From San Antonio TDP Caucus Hearing December 20, 2008

Democrats weigh in on ‘two-step’
By Sara Inés Calderón – San Antonio Express-News

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