Politics from the grassroots up: Caucuses coming


Let your voice be heard.

At 7 p.m. March 21, citizens across Colorado will sit down with neighbors who share their political affiliation to talk about what is going on in their communities, their towns and their state. Discussions will cover not only candidates running for elected office but also a huge variety of issues including affordable housing and undocumented immigration.

At a precinct caucus, the agenda for discussion is wide open.

Issues brought up at a precinct caucus can, with enough support, be taken as formal resolutions all the way to national party officials.

Precinct caucuses also provide a forum for local and regional candidates to introduce themselves and talk about issues.

In November, Routt County voters will elect a new county commissioner, county assessor and sheriff. They also will help to elect a district representative, state governor, treasurer, attorney general and a U.S. Congressman.

"A precinct caucus is the true grassroots level of our democracy. It's a chance for myself and my neighbors to have direct input in the political process," said Jennifer Schubert-Akin, chairwoman of the Routt County Republican Party. "This is where the voice of the people is heard at the most basic level."

"People can get together and discuss the things that really affect our lives," said Diane Mitsch Bush, vice-chairwoman of the Routt County Planning Commission and an involved member of the Routt County Democratic Party since the late 1980s.

Rock the vote

Caucuses will be held in Routt County homes, churches, schools and public places. They are the first step toward general elections in November.

At each precinct caucus, Democrats and Republicans will select people to serve as delegates at their party's County Assembly in April.

At the county assemblies, delegates vote on candidates who are in contested races. For example, at the Republican County Assembly, delegates will vote on the two Republican candidates for Routt County Sheriff, Ray Birch and Dwight Murphy.

In order for Birch and Murphy to be on the ballot in the primary election August 8, each candidate must receive 30 percent or more of the votes from delegates at the caucus.

If a candidate receives less than 30 percent but more than 10 percent of votes, that candidate can petition to be on the August ballot.

If a candidate receives less than 10 percent of votes at the county assembly, that candidate cannot petition and is ineligible for the primary.

The sheriff's race is --o far --he only contested primary in Routt County. Gary Wall is the only Democratic candidate for sheriff. Mike Kerrigan, a Democrat, is the only candidate from either party who has filed to replace outgoing County Assessor Amy Williams.

Mitsch Bush is the only Democrat running for the District 3 County Commissioner seat that will be vacated by Dan Ellison, and Strong is the only Republican.

That could change --ormer Steamboat Springs City Council President Bill Martin, a Democrat, told the Pilot & Today this week that he is "considering" challenging Mitsch Bush.

Strong said he plans to attend as many of the caucuses as he can.

"I think it's critical to get grassroots support," he said.

Routt County Democrats will select 100 county delegates at the March 21 caucuses, or about five delegates per precinct. County Republicans will select 105 delegates for their county assembly.

Those delegates also will have a chance to attend the state convention for their party in May. Routt County will send 26 Democratic delegates and 21 Republican delegates, plus alternates, to state conventions. Those numbers are based on the number of registered voters in the county during the last presidential election, Schubert-Akin said.

The process to become a delegate at the state convention begins at precinct caucuses.

Any citizen who has been a registered voter for longer than 30 days in the appropriate precinct, with the appropriate party, can vote to select delegates.

An axe to grind?

Resolutions about issues move up the ladder in much the same way delegates do. If a resolution is given support at a precinct caucus, it will be heard at the county assembly and then possibly the state assembly, and so on.

"It's more of a bottom-up process than top-down," Schubert-Akin said. "Some--times, people feel like it all comes down to you from Washington, but if you take the time to get involved at a caucus level, you can really make your views heard. That's how positions get formed and how parties at a national level end up adopting policy."

Ken Brenner, City Council president and chairman of county Democrats, said he values that process.

"The Democrats will be anxious to use this caucus opportunity to solicit resolutions to be brought to the county assembly," Brenner said this week. "And, of course, if there is support at the county assembly, we are planning to bring someone to the state assembly who will solely be there to address our resolutions."

Schubert-Akin said people often come to caucuses prepared with written resolutions about hot-button issues such as abortion and gun control.

"It's always interesting to see what resolutions come out of those caucuses," she said.

County Commissioner Nan--cy Stahoviak said that in South Routt, she hopes something comes out of the caucus.

"My hope is that we actually have some people show up at a precinct caucus," said Staho--viak, a Republican. "In past years, we've been lucky to have two or three people show up. The Oak Creek caucus hasn't necessarily generated a whole lot of issues. I think the biggest thing at this caucus will be the sheriff's campaign."

In Hayden, County Commiss--ioner Doug Monger said turnout has been better.

"Last time, during the presidential election in 2004, we had about 25 people," said Monger, a Democrat who is hosting a precinct caucus at his home.

"We'll probably continue to discuss health care, and the cost of health care. I'm sure that the continued war in Iraq will be talked about, and we'll probably have some pretty good discussion about our energy policy and renewable energies," he said. "It seems to add a little more friendly atmosphere if you're at somebody's home -- it's a good opportunity to get individuals together."

All are welcome

People who may not be registered with a party in their precinct still can participate in caucuses, Schubert-Akin said.

"Even if they aren't eligible to vote at the caucus, everybody is welcome," she said. "You don't have to be politically connected in any way, you just have to be an interested citizen."

If someone is interested in being a delegate at the county assembly but can't make it to the caucus March 21, they can be nominated by someone in attendance.

"In order to be a delegate to the county assembly, if you can't attend the precinct caucus, let someone know -- preferably in writing to the precinct chairman -- to please put your name on the ballot for caucus night," she said.

For Democrats in Steamboat, finding someone at the right caucus won't be tough -- all of the precincts within city limits are holding their caucuses in the same room: the cafeteria at Steamboat Springs Middle School.

"The main reason we're holding it together is to keep the energy level going," said Lynn Abbot, secretary for county Democrats. "We want to have some fun."


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