Democrats look to keep primary-caucus two-step

April 27, 2009 by  
Filed under Blog, News & Commentary

Democrats look to keep primary-caucus two-step
Party likely to tweak system but not end it.

By W. Gardner Selby
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Monday, April 27, 2009

A year after the two-step method that Texas Democrats use to pick presidential delegates sparked an uproar among supporters of U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, state lawmakers have no plans to monkey with the system.

And the chairman of a party task force studying the Texas primary-caucus approach doesn’t foresee any big changes before the next presidential election.

“There won’t be anything dramatic,” Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, predicted.

Since 1988, results from the state’s Democratic presidential primary have accounted for most Texas delegates to the party’s national convention. But a share of delegates has been awarded based on voters who venture out to primary-night caucuses, intended to encourage grass-roots involvement.

Last year, a record 2.8 million voters participated in the March primary, which Clinton narrowly won.

But then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama’s supporters showed more strength in thousands of precinct caucuses that drew 800,000 voters. He eventually took the most Texas delegates to the national convention.

Some legislators, including Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, who favored Clinton in the primary, say results at the polls on should determine which candidate draws the most delegates.

The caucus feature, Hinojosa said, “favors the activists; it’s not in the best interests of the regular voter who has to wait for hours” to record their position a second time.

West, an Obama supporter, cautioned that future recommendations will depend on the State Democratic Executive Committee, a party leadership group that is scheduled to field a report from West’s committee after the legislative session ends June 1.

Starting last summer, the West committee has held public hearings across the state; at two Austin hearings, sentiment ran against continuing the system.

“There needs to be some retooling,” West said, such as steps to ensure locations big enough for night-time crowds and training for the activists who oversee the caucuses.

West said: “The (committee) recommendation is going to be to keep the caucus system. Most of the members of the committee didn’t want to do away with” it.

Task force member Linda Burgess, an Austin lawyer who supported Clinton in the primary, didn’t dispute West’s assessment of the task force overall.

But Texas should stop giving caucus-goers an extra say about what candidate wins the most delegates, she said.

“I’m a taxpayer; I am paying for that primary,” Burgess said. “I don’t care if it’s the Republican Party, Democratic Party or Polka-Dotted Party. I don’t want any party to change the outcome of any election I’m paying for.”

Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, a Clinton supporter last spring, said he didn’t file legislation affecting the primary-caucus system in this legislative session because he wanted to give West’s committee time to develop recommendations.

“This system cannot continue,” Peña said, because many voters are unlikely to attend evening caucuses.

“The average citizen, the silent majority, they pay their taxes, go to church, raise their kids, go to soccer games and the PTA,” Peña said. “The average citizen does not get involved in the nuances of party affairs. … We are grooming a leadership of party hacks and party bosses instead of average folks.”

State party spokesman Rick Guerrero said the party hopes to reach changes in the primary-caucus system fostering “even greater and more effective participation” than in 2008. He didn’t elaborate.

wgselby@statesman.com; 445-3644

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