Saturday, November 15, 2008

Reform: First Up? The Texas Primary-Caucus System

Sure the election just ended but why not strike while the iron is hot, right? Well, that's what Texas Democrats are doing. After the Lone Star state's primary handed Hillary Clinton an important comeback victory on March 4 to go with the New York senator's wins in Ohio and Rhode Island, the caucus portion of Texas' delegate selection process favored Obama. And even though the caucus accounted for roughly one-third of the delegates, Obama's edge in that side of the contest gave him enough of a delegate lead to take the state overall.

But some people didn't like that and the Texas Democratic Party is reviewing the process, which on Friday meant the party hearing from members about the primary-caucus system. Here's a report from an Austin-area TV station:

The thing that gets me (Well, other than the claim that the legislature is required to make a change to the system.*) is that it really won't matter for Texas Democrats in 2012. Unless the Obama administration is a complete failure, there will not be a contested primary on the Democratic side in any state, much less Texas. But as I said when I led this post off, why not strike while the iron is hot? If the party, or any of its members, wait to change the way delegates are allocated in the Democratic nomination races in the election years ahead, it's best to do it when there is some controversy to help grease the wheels. This particular delegate allocation system does seem like a relic of the transition from a primary to a caucus in Texas, but unlike most other states that have switched, Texas has let this play out for almost 30 years by not dropping the caucus altogether. I would assume that most of that is due to the fact that other than in 1988, Texas just wasn't a big player in deciding either nomination. And what that meant was that some of the rules that are only now being scrutinized weren't being looked at at all.

For more on the Texas system, have a look back at our run through Texas during the 2008 cycle.

*The claim on both the report and the blog post I got this news from (h/t, by the way to Change the Caucus) that a change to the system requires action on the part of the Texas state legislature is news to me. Unless there is a new rule that I haven't been let in on, it is up to the state party, not the state legislature to decide the method by which delegates are allocated. In most primary states the state parties typically go along with the state-funded contest -- the one put in place by the state government -- and this isn't really an issue with the caucus. But that doesn't match up with the reporting on this. The Republicans in Texas, for instance, don't have a caucus like the Democrats do, just the primary. If the GOP in the state wanted to add one they wouldn't need approval from the state legislature unless that state was paying the bill. They aren't. The nightcap caucus is something the Democratic Party pays for and is thus in no way beholden to the Texas state legislature in any way.

Thanks to Anon4:25 for pointing out a necessary clarification to this post in the comments section below. I certainly painted this caucus issue in black and white terms but didn't account for the gray area in between. In the scenario posited by Anon., it isn't the caucus that's at stake, but rather the proportion of delegates that that portion of the process receives.

And that raises a good question for the comments section: What is a good or proper balance between the primary and caucus if the caucus is kept?

In 2008, the caucus delegates made up just over one-third of the total "pledged" delegates. How far should that be dropped? A quarter? A tenth? Another way or asking this is to ask whether the impact of the caucus is diminished to the point that the party-building and local organizing that CBSmith mentions isn't possible because there isn't a significant enough motivation to participate? Or is that what the state party wants?

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cbsmith42 said...

Should they drop the delegates based on the caucus, I just hope that there is still a Convention system and the Precinct Convention continues -- the caucus is only part of the Precinct Convention -- but it also is a chance to offer resolutions that go up the convention chain. In my mind, it may be old-fashioned but it is a great way for the community to be involved and for individuals to feel like they have a voice beyond voting.

Anonymous said...

I haven't heard anyone propose not having precinct conventions to consider resolutions, elect delegates to the next level of the convention process and conduct other party business. The idea is to change the allocation of the delegates among the candidates based on the popular vote and then to elect the actual delegates through the convention process.