Two years ago I questioned the process of caucus night. Having never attended one before, I wondered why we had to gather together to make our presidential preferences known, rather than just having a primary vote. What a difference two years has made.
A little over a week from now, I will not only be attending my first precinct caucuses, I will be the coordinator for my precinct caucuses, kind of a baptism by fire. But I am hoping my inexperience with the process will show folks in Steeel County that if I can do it, then anyone can.
Flash back to two years ago. We were in the middle of the presidential primary season, with wild swings in momentum back and forth between Obama and Hillary, McCain, Huckabee and Romney. Caucus night was portrayed in the media as the chance for Minnesota to have their say in the presidential pick. The other business of caucus night, electing delegates and proposing changes to the party platform, was much less in focus. But over the last year that I have been in the Republican party, I have seen repeated examples of just how important all of that other stuff is.
Less than a month ago, I watched as the delegates and alternates elected on caucus night in 2008 got to pick the endorsed candidate for the SD 26 special election. There was no outside influence, no high party officials picking the most electable candidate or the one who could raise the most money, a la the NY 23 special election. Almost 110 delegates heard from seven candidates who made their pitch why they would represent them the best. That is the very definition of grass roots politics in my mind, and it is the reason I joined the party.
Caucus night is not just about straw polls or party platforms. It is a mini-election. We gather to elect those who will represent us to the party itself. Coming to caucus night means a chance to represent your neighborhood at the other political events this year. At our county convention, delegates will decide whether or not to amend our county's constitution, and who will represent Steele County at the district and state conventions. Which means that some Steele County residents will decide who will take on Rep Tim Walz this fall, and others will decide who will be the Republican candidate for governor. Anyone who has complained about party politics the last few years (Glen Beck, are you listening?) needs to be at caucus night.
My wife, a few years ago, was fond of the George Carlin bit about politics-don't blame me because I didn't vote. I finally convinced her that not voting wasn't the answer. Now I am trying to convince her, as well as others, that if you are a conservative (or a liberal, or an independent for that matter) than not showing up on caucus night is the same as not showing up to vote on election day.
Over the last year, we have all seen and watched as Tea Parties and townhall meetings gave ordinary citizens a chance to express their anger with our elected officials. Many tea partiers, myself included, expressed our anger with both parties. After all, the Democrats who got elected with campaign promises to spend more were at least being honest; Republicans who promised fiscal sanity but then voted for billions in pork barrel projects had broken their word and violated the principles that got them elected. So it is important to remember that caucus night is not about party politics. It is the first step in making sure that your party doesn't get a chance to endorse candidates that will go back on their word once elected.
My good friend Joe Repya made headlines last year when he publicly left the Minnesota GOP. He had enough of Republicans who failed to live by conservative principles, and even worse, by senior party officials that favored electable candidates rather than strong conservatives. Worst of all, he couldn't abide by party leaders who wanted to control local party leaders, rather than support them.
When Joe (who I consider a mentor) left the party it made me wonder if I should follow him. Last month when I talked with him, I told him that if Norm Coleman were the endorsed candidate for governor, I would indeed follow him into a third party. It would have been the clear sign that the Minnesota GOP had not learned anything the last two years. But since I talked to Joe last, two things have happened-the SD 26 endorsing convention was run with absolutely no state party meddling, and Norm Coleman decided on his own not to run. I will save the endorsement convention story for later (I am writing a 3 part post on the entire special election), but Norm's decision was no less than a saving grace for the party. The number of people just here at True North that were adamantly opposed to his running, and the bitter taste he left in so many people's mouths might have broken the Minnesota GOP in two. I have to thank him for his decision, and it is worth pointing out that he did wonders for reviving his image and political future in Minnesota.
So, it is incredibly ironic that Joe Repya choose to leave the party at the very time when it was under the most pressure to change. Joe fought against the things that so many people agreed were wrong with the party, but he gave up the fight only months before victory was at hand. I sympathize with him; you can only fight from the inside for so long before jumping to a third party seems like the easier and more sensible way to go. But the Minnesota Republican Party that I have seen over the last year is the party that Joe was fighting for. The party of local control, the party that puts principle first, and electability second. The party that asks local BPOU's 'how can we help you be successful'? Joe, if you are reading this, let me be the first person to invite you back to the GOP. After all that you did to force the party to change, it seems a shame that you wouldn't get to enjoy the fruits of your labor.
Caucus night is in effect a statewide Tea Party, but with a much better chance of having an impact. It is the night when conservatives can dramatically and vocally take back the Republican Party. It means showing up, and it will likely mean staying involved beyond caucus night. But if democracy is worth doing, it is worth doing well. Carlin was absolutely wrong when he said he was not responsible because he didn't vote, he had given up his say in the matter. If you consider yourself a conservative, than your voice needs to be heard next Tuesday.
One of my current college courses is History of the Holocaust, and while I dont mean to make any grandiose comparisons, one quotation seems incredibly apt. Elie Wiesel said the opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference. Indifference is what we must avoid over the next year if we are to take back our state and country and avert the disaster we are so close to seeing. Out of control spending, ever increasing government control of every facet of our lives, and the expansion of the welfare state threaten our country just as surely as any enemy we face overseas. Every day men and women give up years of their lives to defend our country from foreign threats. Now your country needs you to give up a few hours of your life to defend against domestic threats.
Says Bruce Willis to the cast of characters in Armageddon-"the United States government just asked us to save the world. Anyone want to say no?"