Yesterday was the Collin County Democratic caucus — ours was held a day after most Texas counties held their caucuses as Collin County, without exaggeration, did not contain a venue large enough for the expected turnout on the scheduled March 29th date. And turn out we did: about 4000 people packed into the convention hall at the Embassy Suites in Frisco, Texas.
It was an incredibly drawn out process, made worse by the unprecedented turn-out: 1660 delegates compared with the previous county record of about 400, plus nearly that many alternates and observers. Starting yesterday morning, simply signing everyone in took upwards of 4 hours and the caucus itself stretched on to midnight. The process itself was comprised of twenty steps, conducted in parliamentary fashion (if you can imagine a parliament of 1660 members). Process was explained; preliminary delegate counts tabulated; delegate challenges resolved; rules reviewed; chairpersons and vice chairpersons at multiple levels nominated, elected, and confirmed; objections were raised, considered, and resolved; and finally district caucuses selected their delegates before a number of other bookkeeping steps were attended to, which I somewhat ashamedly did not stay for.
The final count was 1078 delegates for Obama, 582 for Hillary. After 12 hours of waiting, the announcement of this, the preliminary tabulation, was met with rock concert-level applause. I don’t know how many actual national delegates this will lead to for Obama, but it’s certainly a resounding victory for Obama from this county and the numbers are similar in others.
I’m left with a weird mix of emotions after the experience — even more than the “watching the sausage get made” ambivalence I expected. The curious thing about caucuses is that they take a normally anonymous election process and make it very personal. When an election is as highly-pitched as this one, putting that much exposed personal sentiment in one room is, for good or ill, revealing. My doubts about the utility of the caucus process are even greater now, but it was a fascinating process to take part in.
The most exciting part of participating for me was of a personal kind. I went into this caucus as as one of a few alternate delegates, there only as backups for the 11 Obama delegates from our precinct. As it happened, 2 delegates failed to show, and I and another man were the only alternates who came. We were both “elevated” to full delegate status, and so I had the pleasure to cast a meaningful vote to ensure my precinct’s single delegate to the state caucus would be for Obama. This really was a bit of a thrill for me (well, maybe less so after around 11pm) and a happy bit of closure to my whole experience.
My personal victory aside, I have to say that a lot of what I saw yesterday — taking my first step inside the outermost ring of insider politics — was pretty ugly. I’ve never been a big fan of the Democratic Party, but I think recently the glow of Obama has burnished the party’s image in my mind. The caucus reminded me of what I dislike: videos instructing supporters how to play Republicans’ own word games against them to make the Democratic platform more appealing (they’re not taxes, they’re “investments”); lobbying by slimy local politicians appealing for a “new blue majority”; and being surrounded by simple-minded trust in the government to solve all problems all made me a bit ill. In-fighting ran throughout the proceedings. Delegates engaged in childish wranglings on the floor to subvert process for slight political advantage, and more disappointingly my own precinct was nearly split by internal suspicion of a type that was so disgusting that I don’t think I can write about it.
Do I still have faith in the process? Although Texas’ particular process is flawed to say the least, absolutely I do. Gathering and distilling the will of millions of people with as many opinions is a messy business and our system does it as well as any. I’m not sure I want to put my hands so deeply into the mess next time, but I’ll consider it a bargain if it helps launch a presidency that is as historic as I hope it will be.