Sunday, February 21, 2010

Week #2-- From John Wren. (Please post your thoughts as a comment below.)

This week:

*Read the Week #2 readings: The Political Precinct and The Political Campaign (click here, print)
*If you haven't already join the "I'm a fan of the Colorado Caucuses" Facebook group. (click here)
*Read the John Skipper "talk" about the Iowa Caucus, the post your comments and questions.
*MOST IMPORTANT: See "What have you learned? Who are your leaders? What's going on?" below. Ask the suggested questions of your party leaders , then share what you find out as a comment by next Monday.

John Skipper is a career newspaperman who has covered presidential politics in Iowa for 25 years. His book Iowa Caucuses: First Test of Presidential Aspirations, 1972-2008 is not only fun to read it provides lots of insights into the process. In my opinion it should be on the bookshelf of every American who is concerned about the effects of big money and big power in politics and strengthen the best tool for fighting power and money, the grassroots neighborhood caucus-assembly system. It's my pleasure to introduce my friend John Skipper. Please hold your applause. :)

Good morning from Iowa, home of the first-in-the-nation test for potential presidents of the United States, the Iowa caucuses. My purpose here today is not to pressure, persuade or exert some self-imposed sense of influence on you. Rather, I hope to share a few thoughts with you that will inspire a few thoughts of your own that you will be willing to share with others. And before you know it, you'll reach some conclusions that just might have lasting impact.

That, by the way, is a good description of the Iowa caucuses - a forum where well-meaning people gather, share some thoughts, listen to the thoughts of others and reach conclusions with lasting impact. If you don't think that works in Iowa, ask Jimmy Carter about 1976; ask George W. Bush about 2000; ask Barack Obama about 2008.

The national media often questions whether Iowa, a small, agricultural state that is 94 percent Caucasian, is really representative of the rest of the country - and should it be first in the presidential preference primaries and caucuses. My answer to that is that any state that is first would face the same kind of scrutiny. People would ask if Ohio or Michigan were too industrial or if New York or California or Texas were too big or if Colorado was too this or too that - I'll let you fill in that blank.

But here is what caucuses offer, regardless of pecking order. They are the last bastion of grassroots politicking in this country. During the campaigns prior to the caucus, candidates come to woo you. They meet you at your kitchen table or in your school gymnasium or at the fairgrounds. You get to see them, hear them, chat with them, ask them questions and get a feel for how they interact with people and how sincere or phony they are. Sometimes people challenge me on whether this is democracy in action or a republic and my answer to that is, let's not quibble over semantics. Instead, ask yourself how many countries in the world have a system as open as this is.

On caucus night, any eligible voter who wants to participate can come and offer their views about the candidate of their choice. The doctor, the lawyer, the rancher, the housewife, the sewer worker are all on the same playing field and, in this forum, it is a level playing field. Everybody gets their say. And then there's a vote. The presidential races get all the publicity but caucuses serve a lot of other functions. You get to choose who you want representing you at district caucuses, if you have them, and at the state convention. You also have a say on what you think should be in the party platform.

I'll conclude today by telling you a little story about the Iowa caucuses. In 1984, Senator John Glenn, the former astronaut, sought the Democratic presidential nomination. So in 1983, he campaigned in Iowa. He had an out-of-state pollster making phone calls in Iowa to try to find out how much support he had. The pollster, making random phone calls, contacted Mary Grandon, a housewife in Clear Lake, Iowa, a town of about 8,000 people. The pollster asked, "Will you be supporting Senator Glenn?" Mrs. Grandon replied, "I don't know -- I haven't met him yet!"

That's the power of the caucuses; that's the power of the people. I end where I began. Ask Jimmy Carter. Ask George W. Bush. Ask Barack Obama.

Thank you very much.

John C. Skipper has written a book detailing the history of the Iowa Caucuses. It is called "The Iowa Caucuses: First Tests of Presidential Aspirations: 1972-2008." It is available from McFarland publishers, or you can contact John directly at

John also has developed a Facebook page called "Iowa Caucus News" that keeps viewers up to date on events leading up to the 2012 caucuses and has a web page, www.iowacaucusbook,com

Do you have any questions for John about the caucus process? This is a great opportunity to get them answered by someone with years and years of caucus experience in Iowa. Post them here now.


John S Wren said...

This online "class" is intended to help the political newcomer get started in the caucus.

John, over the last 25 years in Iowa, what are some of the things you've learn about what leads to success in the caucus. What are your tips for those who'll be attending for the first time?

John Brackney said...

There is no doubt that a small group of activists in our political system carry much clout in selecting who everyone else get's to vote for in the primary and general elections. However since most activists on the left and the right have a very specific reason for being active how is it possible for candidates to adequately to represent all the people?

John S Wren said...

John Skipper, I just got this from M.E.:


The most impressive thing about Iowa's caucus system is how seriously the participants take their responsibility. Iowans know they're being watched as closely as the candidates. So it's not unusual for caucus-goers to hold off on announcing their preferences, waiting until they've actually seen most of the candidates in person. They're not above sending messages, sometimes supporting candidates they know don't have a chance nationally. What's refreshing about the caucus system is that it does not allow people to sit on their behinds and make arbitrary decisions. It requires involvement, engagement, and all the things a healthy democracy needs. The system is not perfect. It does tend to reward "base" voters, who are more interested in being more active, and punish passive voters who are disproportionately unaffiliated (and often more independent or centrist). Still, if the goal is energizing democracy, this is a valuable tool at the party-nominating level.

John S Wren said...

Are others having difficulty posting your questions/comments? If so, email them to me at

Marla said...

We need more participation in them. And if you all would just go to my Precinct 632 on March 16, I am the nice looking latina woman. Just come say hi! :))

Mary Clement said...

The caucus system is what being an American and America is all about: the government of the people and by the people. By participating in a neighborhood caucus, you can listen, learn, and choose your candidate. No other country in the world offers that opportunity. It may not be perfect, but it is the best alterntive on earth; and if we don't use it, we'll loose it.

John S Wren said...

I agree Mary, that's why I'm hoping people will encourage their friends who might like to become more active citizens to participate with us here for the next couple of weeks and then attend their March 16 neighborhood caucus as an informed citizen. Thank for your help!

Marla, I'm sure you know that to vote for you I'd need to live in your precinct and be affiliated properly. But I might attend to observe. Are you bringing cookies? :)

John S Wren said...

Technical problem, John Skipper can't seem to post here for some reason, are others having the same problem? If so, please email me at or post on my Facebook wall as John did with the following:

FROM JOHN SKIPPER: Answer to caucus questions:
To John Wren, who asked about tips for people attending caucuses: Be prepared. In terms of format, know what to expect when you get there. Do your homework. Do you want to support a particular candidate? Do your homework. Be prepared. Do you want to back a particular issue?... Do your homework. Be prepared.

To John Brackney, who asked how is it possible for candidates to represent all of the people since there are so many activists from both the left and the right? That's a question politicians have been trying to answer for ages, John. One of the values of our system of government is that if we don't think we're being adequately represented, we have the opportunity every four years to vote them out of office. In the meantime, majority rules.

To M.E. Sprengelmeyer, who wrote about the virtues of the Iowa caucus system, I say: Make copies of what you just wrote and distribute them to every doubter in Colorado.

Ditto, Mary Clement.