Despite the fact that the word “Democracy” is thrown about willy nilly by those hoping to acquire free stuff through mob rule, the United States of America was designed as a Republic: a state in which the supreme power rests in the body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by representatives chosen directly or indirectly by them. The hope was that the whims of the people would be tempered through laws and a chain of representation starting with small groups that pass their will to representatives of larger and larger groups of citizens. This was a known formula at the time, but the earliest example of such representative government comes from Deuteronomy 1:15 KJV where Moses, no longer able to address everyone’s individual needs says, “So I took the chief of your tribes, wise men, and known, and made them heads over you, captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, and captains over fifties, and captains over tens, and officers among your tribes.” An interesting example of this is used for the most part by the major political parties to choose their presidential nominee and maintain their party rules and platform.
I lived in Wyoming for eleven years before I finally discovered that Wyoming is a caucus state. I’d always just assumed that Wyoming’s Primary was so late in the year that the Presidential nominees had already been decided. A few old timers I know that have lived here all their lives were shocked to learn about the Caucus after I told them about it.
When I first entered Step 1 of the Republican Party Caucus process at the Laramie County Community College in March of 2016, I was of the opinion that it was an outdated method from back in the days before electronic media. A group of people would ride their horses for days to arrive at a designated city to tell others gathered there from various other parts of the state how awesome this one guy was in their town and what a great delegate he’d make at the National Convention. Mind you, I’m originally from a Primary state and I’ve never understood what these delegate people were anyway or how they got to be chosen to go to these big parties that the National Conventions look like to an outsider.
As this is an important election year, I allowed myself to get pulled into the process. We are all here for a reason, and this seemed to be mine all of a sudden. Our precinct already had four delegates to the County Convention – elected Precinct Committeemen and Committeewomen who try to be impartial until they meet with their constituents at the Caucus — but we needed two more precinct delegates and six alternates. We discussed our values with each other and what we felt about the nominees and voted among ourselves who best would represent our precinct. I was voted one of the two delegates our precinct needed. A couple of Ben Carson supporters had already left in a huff because many others at the Caucus were wearing Ted Cruz stickers and they felt their voice wasn’t going to be heard.
The second delegate our precinct chose was an open-minded Trump supporter (yes, they do exist). It’s too bad the Carson supporters didn’t stick around. We all liked Ben, but felt he really wasn’t ready. Good cabinet position perhaps. Their voices mattered to us anyway, even though they left before the nominations were made and the votes were cast.
Two weeks later, County Conventions were held throughout the state to choose some of the delegates that would attend the National Convention. Delegates were also chosen that would go to the State Convention to choose the remainder of the delegates to the National Convention. In the Wyoming Caucus system, even the smallest counties get an opportunity to send a delegate to the National Convention to represent them. No mob rule here! Each of the counties in Wyoming takes turns electing delegates or alternate delegates. There is on odd number of counties, so the most populous county – Laramie County – selects one of each to go to the National Convention for a total of twelve delegates and twelve alternates. I was nominated as a delegate to the State Convention by the previously mentioned Trump delegate from our precinct in exchange for my nominating her. After the voting was finished, I wound up as 9th Alternate to the State Convention, while she ended up too far down the list to get an invite.
A couple more months later and it was time for the Wyoming GOP Convention in Casper where the delegates from the twenty-three counties met to select the 14 remaining delegates to the National Convention as well as debate proposed Platform, Rules and Bylaws changes using Robert’s Rules of Order. The registration deadline had come and gone and when I checked in the day before the convention was to convene, I found I was now Alternate #3. Within an hour, I received a panicked phone call asking me to report to the hotel lobby to receive my floor credentials – I was now Alternate #1 and the First Alternate gets seated with the regular delegates, ready to jump into the action at a moment’s notice. Our county doesn’t have the best attendance record to the State convention, but even with the high level of interest in this election season we had lost a number of delegates due to an approaching snow storm and a funeral that many county delegates chose to attend instead.
Having checked in and received my credentials, Lady Hecate / Purrsephone and I toured the booths and hospitality suites to see what was up. The Ted Cruz suite was a good source of wine, conversation and pocket constitutions. The Trump table was empty except for a lone Trump delegate whining about how nobody would talk to her, even after we stopped to talk to her. There were no Trump Pocket Constitutions – only one whiny delegate. The Liz Cheney for House of Representatives suite was all kinds of weird, as people kept greeting us from behind and from the sides, and when we turned to see who it was, nobody was looking at us then someone would greet us from behind and we’d turn around again and everyone was just chatting among themselves with nobody looking at us. The only person that made eye contact with us was an older woman sitting in the back corner who I THOUGHT introduced herself as Liz Cheney, and as I was marveling at how much older she looked in person, the REAL Liz Cheney came over to greet us and I realized we were talking to her mother Lynn Cheney, the wife of former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Liz Cheney had run for US Senate against Wyoming Senator Mike Enzi in the past, but she came to be known as a “carpet bagger” since she isn’t quite as from Wyoming as her father. I decided to put this to the test when she pointed us toward the coolers of beer and soft drinks. I asked if she had brought any Wyoming beers, and she just dismissed my question with a wave of her hand as she said “I think they’re from Colorado”. Sure enough, Coors Light… We moved on.
Reporting to the convention floor the following morning, a door guard noted that I was wearing two different colored lanyards – the Floor Access lanyard and the Alternate Delegate lanyard and commented that I must be pretty important. I asked our County Chairman when I’d know if I was to be seated as a Delegate, and he waved me off and said “don’t worry, you will” as he probably has every convention as the chairman of the county with the worst attendance record. Turns out he was right – our county still came up six delegates short after all the alternates that bothered to show were seated.
It was a long day, but not long enough. A LOT of time was taken up by speeches given by the many prospective candidates for the US House of Representatives – none of which had any bearing on us but the convention is seen as an important photo opportunity. Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Murray was supposed to speak for five minutes but yammered on for half an hour as the out-of-time light flashed at him. Speeches that were more relevant to our responsibilities were made by Idaho Governor Butch Otter on behalf of John Kasich, some crazy cat lady delegate spoke on behalf of Sarah Palin who was supposed to be speaking on behalf of Donald Trump but neither felt we were important enough to speak to but Ted Cruz actually bothered to show up himself. Okay, I did feel a little fangirlish when I saw Ted’s nose silhouetted in the shadows beyond the stage door while waiting for his entry cue.
What we failed to complete was the important business of Bylaws, Platform and Rules. Under Robert’s Rules of Order, anything that even a single delegate has an objection to is pulled out of the applicable document then what remains of the document is voted on and hopefully approved. The items that were removed are then debated. If modification is suggested, debated and approved, it can be placed back in the document and you continue onto the next item that was removed, or the item can be left out if it’s just that bad of an idea. Robert’s Rules of Order can be pretty tedious and I kept losing track of what we were debating, but fortunately I was seated near my Precinct Committeeman and Committeewoman and they were able to help keep me on track. I managed to find a video on the most common motions in Robert’s Rules of Order I need to watch twenty or thirty more times until I get the hang of it. Calling the question on the amendment to the amendment to the motion still makes my head want to explode.
We probably could have finished in forty-five minutes but we had to leave the room so it could be set up for dinner in fifteen minutes so we spent the next hour and a half voting and arguing about how to adjourn. We could have adjourned AND put everything we pulled out for debate back in, but that’s two actions and requires a 2/3 vote that we couldn’t achieve. This was fine with me, as some of that stuff that was pulled out I seriously disagreed with, like penalties for State Legislators who supported a Convention of States. After many roll call votes, debates, more votes, a lot of very loud NAYs from my favorite Committeeman and more debating and occasional pleading from Parliamentary Procedure weary delegates, we finally voted to adjourn and allow everything removed to die which only required fifty percent. Until NEXT time! The next convention cycle isn’t during a major election year so better chance of getting the business portion done.
What we DID complete was the election of a National Committeeman, our three Electoral College Electors and the selection of fourteen more delegates for Ted Cruz. I was willing to go on to the National Convention, but I discovered that though I could have gotten myself nominated through the Nominations Committee, each candidate has a preferred slate of delegates they endorse based upon their level of support. Ted Cruz had a list of his best volunteers he plugged, as did the other candidates and a number of special interest groups. In fact, the tables we were seated at were piled with delegate slates, promotional materials and bags of snacks with candidates’ names on them so we knew who the bottled water or soft drink candidates were vs the Cheetos candidates. Twelve of the fourteen delegates on Ted’s slate, which was also the Gun Owners of America slate, were elected as delegates to the National Convention while the other two wound up high level alternates. Two popular Cruz delegates that were not on his slate made up the remainder of the elected delegates.
The thing is, to be a delegate you have to be willing to do a lot of hard work and the Trump slate reflected what I’d already noted among the Trump supporters and campaign personnel, and that is they were very much into instant gratification. They didn’t want to work – they wanted it all and they wanted it now and they wanted their own set of rules. The Trump slate, out of a possible fourteen delegates, only had six – a ratio that I saw repeated from state to state. Ted Cruz could have showed up, dropped his pants, farted at us, and the best Trump could have hoped for was six Trump delegates and eight uncommitted delegates that may or may not have voted for him at the National Convention and were under no obligation at all to do so. THIS is why, in a government built upon representation, the Caucus is far more honest than Primary Voting.
I have heard from many state delegations that Trump would have lost 60% of his delegates had they been unbound on the first vote because his supporters didn’t want to be bothered by all that Robert’s Rules of Order nonsense and other hoops you have to jump though. They just wanted Trump. It was Ted Cruz’s delegates that were willing to do the hard work that goes along with the delegates’ responsibilities and they would have won if the rules of the House of Representatives – the system by which the Republican National Convention is run – was shut down and crushed with the help of Temporary Chairman Steve Womack as microphones were shut off while points of order were being called and Womack walked off stage. With any luck, the Cruz delegates that were willing to do the real work at the convention fixed the rules to prevent this sort of rule violation in the future.
Through a transparent Caucus and Convention system, you know who is representing you while the Primary system fools you into thinking you are voting for a single candidate and that the delegates assigned to your candidate are loyal to them and not just somebody else’s leftovers. Sadly, most people have no idea what delegates actually do, just as I didn’t until this past year. Lucky for us, Caucus or Primary, things work in a similar fashion from state to state even though one process is more visible than the other.
This is where I call upon my loyal band of critters to get involved at the levels where the rulemaking is done and where the bylaws and platforms are written. Little by little, the party can be swayed. All you have to do is start at the bottom, and as a few of us have learned, all it takes is walking into a room at the right time. I encourage not only the Republican critters to get involved, but the Democrats and others as well. ALL the parties need some serious repairs at this point.
Most states have Committeemen and Committeewomen at the precinct, county or district level. These are sometimes called delegates instead of committeepeople. You can run for one of these positions – often for free – by filling out a form and filing it with your County Clerk. You can find out exactly how your local system works by attending a county committee meeting. Just by showing interest, they may vote you in on the spot if there is an opening in your area. More delegate slots may be available during election years, to be chosen by nomination at a caucus, county convention or other such gathering.
Using Wyoming as an example of the various ways you can get in on the action, I plan on running as Precinct Committeeman in 2018. The number of Committeeman and Committeewoman positions fluctuates with the number of voter participate in the House of Representatives voting in the Primary Election, which Wyoming does do for positions other than President. 2014, being a between year for voting, saw a lower voter turnout than 2012 so only two Committee positions, one man one woman, were available in my precinct in 2016 but four positions in 2014. Whatever happens during one House of Representatives vote affects the Committee positions two years later. There should be four positions again in 2018. There are always six delegate slots in our precinct though, so if I don’t get the Committeeman position, I can still get voted in at the Caucus. Got it so far? Meanwhile, if there weren’t enough applicant’s for the Committeeperson position, you can just show up at the monthly Committee Meeting and show interest and they can vote you in right there.
The Committeepeople in Wyoming don’t just get to be an automatic delegate to the County Convention – they are also called upon to nominate and vote for any emergency appointments in State Government if someone resigns or dies. They also originate the rulemaking, bylaws, platform planks etc. You may not make it to the National Convention without a lot of volunteer work, but you can make it to the State Convention easily enough once you’ve found the system and figured out how it works.
There is a push to adopt a Primary Election system in Wyoming to choose the Presidential nominees because some feel that their voice isn’t heard in the Caucus system. As I’ve participated in the Caucus system, I have realized quite recently that this is an illusion. Both the Caucus and Primary Voting methods only choose delegates directly or choose how many available delegates a candidate is to be assigned to represent them. A caucus voter with no intention of continuing onward with the process has to spend a few hours, some of it standing out in the cold wind waiting to get in, talking with others, expressing their views with other voters in their precinct, all to discover and support people they feel they can trust to carry their message forward if they don’t decide to do that for themselves. At a Primary Election, you vote for a candidate and then delegates are assigned to represent that delegate — either all available delegates, a proportion, or a hybrid of the two depending upon the Party’s rules in that state. The Primary voter rarely knows the delegates even exist outside of some statistic they talk about in the news. Some states also allow some of their delegates to be assigned by the party as a reward for doing the hard and sometimes aggravating work in various committees or in leadership roles.
In either Caucus or Primary system, the delegates are purely ceremonial if one candidate has a clear majority (greater than 50%) of the total delegates at the start of the convention. If no candidate has a majority, then delegates begin to be released from their support pledges based upon the Party rules in their state and they vote again. This can go on for days if the delegates are passionate about the candidate they were sent to support. In the case of delegates that came from the Primary states however, they may not care at all about the candidate they were sworn to support in the first round and the voter has no way of knowing that.
It’s usually only AFTER the first vote that the Delegates actually perform the duty they have been sent to perform — to represent the voters of their States in the best way possible to choose a nominee faster than you could organize and fund a run-off election. If, through a last minute rule change, the delegates are released at the first vote then it’s all over for a front-runner that never was all that popular among his delegates or for one that has recently encountered last minute controversy.
I walked into this thinking that the Caucus was outdated and clunky, but once I got involved I realized that Primary voters are only fooling themselves into thinking that the vote they cast that took them little effort to record actually means something. In any election, Primary votes won’t mean anything if there is no clear majority or if the results are contested and those voters’ biggest concern should be; what was their delegates’ SECOND choice? Only a Caucus voter has a good idea.