Texas Two-Step: Democrats in disarray
It was a good year for Democrats. But on March 4 in Texas, it felt as if things were going to fall apart.
The Democratic presidential primary was stretching into a months-long battle, with neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama able to clinch the party’s nomination; the candidates were still scrapping over every delegate.
The Texas vote became crucial for the first time in decades, and suddenly the nation’s eyes focused on the Texas Two-Step — a confounding system, unlike any other in the country, that awards delegates based on a primary anda caucus.
“It was a big old floodlight that got shone on Texas,” says Fort Worth Democrat Pam Durham (above left) And in that crucial moment, she says — when results mattered and the nation was watching — the system failed. Big time.
A record number of caucusgoers overwhelmed the precinct conventions. There weren’t enough materials, enough staff to get voters signed in or even enough people who knew what was going on. And the rooms were crowded with passionate — at times aggressive — voters who wanted to help their candidates win.
“I heard some horror stories,” says Steve Lerma (above center), who chaired a credentials committee that handled disputes: Precinct captains intimidated; Clinton and Obama supporters going at each other; facilities that closed down and left voters to caucus outside in the dark.
The Two-Step ended — weeks later, at the party’s state convention — with a result that reflected its confusion and inconsistencies: Clinton won the state’s popular vote, but Obama walked away with more delegates.
It’s unlikely the same chaotic disaster will reoccur. But that doesn’t mean Democrats should leave the system alone, Durham says. She, Lerma and another Fort Worth Democrat, Jason C.N. Smith (above right), are among many advocating for a simpler system without all the potential for confusion and disenfranchisement.
There have been hearings across the state this fall, with Democrats telling their stories and offering suggestions; an advisory panel will soon make recommendations to the state Democratic Executive Committee.
“If our state government isn’t going to provide the resources and if our political party can’t provide the resources to make sure the system is run in a fair manner, then we should find a new system,” Smith says. “I think the Two-Step should be left to Billy Bob’s.”
— Alyson Ward
Dec 28, 2008