What do you usually do on Saturday morning? I usually sleep in slightly, then maybe go over to the coffee shop for a cup of coffee and a few hours of writing.
Not a few Saturdays ago though. Instead, I got up early and drove to the county courthouse, where I sat and listened to people talk for five hours. It was an interesting experience, however. It was the Fayette County Democratic Convention. Here are 5 things I learned there.
- The caucus system is pretty messy
The caucus system has none of the clean-cut mechanistic feel of a secret ballot, where every vote is (supposedly) methodically counted. In the caucus system, it’s all out in the open, in a way that probably worked better a long time ago when there were less people. At the county convention they did get the Bernie Sanders delegates to sit on one side and the Hillary Clinton ones to sit on the other. However, there were observers mixed in with them, along with alternate delegates and no way to tell them apart unless they volunteered the information. True, all the delegates had hand-written name stickers on, which, to be fair, are pretty hard to fake without a trip to Dollar General.
- Picking a presidential nominee is democratic-ish
Another thing that surprised me is that although none of the delegates changed sides, they technically could have. This means that although the results of the caucus were announced on February 1st, at any stage of the process, the delegates could decide to change their vote to anyone.
“Under the Democratic Party’s Rules, pledged delegates are not legally “bound” or required to vote according to their presidential preference on the first ballot at the Convention. Rather, these delegates are, pledged “in all good conscience [to] reflect the sentiments of those who elected them.” [Rule 12.J]” (Time.com)
This means that the higher you get as a delegate, the more power you have, and democracy transforms slowly into an oligarchy.
- Some people get addicted to local politics
That kind of power, even at the district or state level, can be quite appealing, and there are people there that have gotten used to having it.
The caucus on February 1st lasted about 2 hours maybe. The county convention was about 5 hours. One woman told us all about how the district one was at least 8 hours and the state convention could be even longer. She went on and on about how tiring it was, but then when it came time to elect the delegates, she was one of the first to volunteer. I’m not saying that what she said was untrue, but I wonder if she was trying to discourage people from volunteering so she could go.
I can understand it. Even at the county convention, there was a special feeling, like you were part of an elite group. That only increases as you go up the scale. It’s like being part of the in-crowd.
- You get to see what your neighbors think
What took the most time, just like at the caucus, was debating the party planks. At the caucus, people suggested things that they thought were important and we debated them and then voted on whether to send them on to the county convention.
At the county convention, we debated on those and decided whether to send them on to the district and state levels, which is why those conventions take so long. Some of the ideas, like increasing funding for mental health treatment and increasing the minimum wage were pretty normal. Then there the ones that clearly were important to a very specific group, like the resolution to get wild parsnip labeled as a noxious plant.
And then there were the other kind of idea…
- People really don’t like Washington politicians
One of the first planks that was debated was whether to strip members of Congress of their pensions. One of the main arguments for this was that they’re all corrupt anyway and can engage in legalized insider trading, so they all leave office rich. This seemed cynical to me, and I voted against this idea, but in the end it passed overwhelmingly among the group there. Of course, I don’t think Congress will ever vote to take away their own pensions, but it shows the anger and general dissatisfaction people have with federal politicians when they are quite willing to strip high-level public servants of their pensions.
Another more radical idea that got floated was to make members of Congress work for minimum wage. I’m not sure how it got to the county level and it was voted down easily but it still shows how much people want to stick it the politicians. It is easy to see that sort of thing on the news, but it’s another thing to see it in person.