Today in Texas, Democrats will finish a process that will look pretty familiar to Washington state Republicans.
They’ll engage in a process to select delegates to the national presidential nominating convention that is part primary and part caucus – something that wordsmiths have dubbed a primacaucus or even the “Texas Two-Step.”
The Texas primary and caucuses are held on the same day, and you have to vote in the primary to take part in the caucus. The delegates are split two-thirds from the primary and one-third from the caucus. But other than that, it looks a lot like the Washington Republican system.
Complicated as it is, the split system was a compromise between party insiders who love their caucuses and regular folk who like the idea of having more people take part and using a system widely understood by voters.
Republicans here have divided their delegates between the caucus and the primary ever since this state added a primary in 1992. Democrats have always stuck with caucuses.
Why not follow the state GOP lead and use both the primary and the caucuses? It was a question posed not just by regular voters and surly columnists but by some influential Democrats like Gov. Chris Gregoire, House Speaker Frank Chopp and Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown.
“If it had been up to me, I’d have split it 50-50 like the Republicans,” Brown said again on the eve of the Democratic caucuses Feb. 9. “What the results of the primary are sends a message. But going to caucuses sends delegates.”
A recent Washington Poll by the University of Washington department of political science showed that voters favor a primary 2-to-1, with Democrats only slightly less supportive than Republicans.
Majorities support a primary-only system, but more voters in all categories prefer a hybrid system of caucuses and primaries over a system in which only caucuses are used.
So what about using both? Washington Democratic party leaders have always told us that such a system violates national party rules. As recently as last month, a party spokesman said states must pick either caucuses or primaries and those that don’t risk losing national convention delegates.
Well no one wants to break the rules. But aren’t Texas Democrats governed by the same party rules?
“Texas got special dispensation from the DNC to use a split system, only state that is allowed to do it,” wrote state Democratic party chair Dwight Pelz.
Texas gets special dispensation and Washington doesn’t? OK, they’re bigger than we are. But Texas hasn’t voted for a Democrat since Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Washington hasn’t voted for a Republican since Ronald Reagan in 1984. We ought to have as much juice with the national party as Texas.
Maybe the answer is that Washington didn’t ask for permission to use both. Or maybe its request wasn’t exactly enthusiastic.
Pierce County Councilman Dick Muri, a Republican, noticed the contradiction between the Texas rules and the assertion by Washington Democrats that such a split system wasn’t allowed. He sent an e-mail to state Republican Party Chairman Luke Esser asking, among other things, if the Texas Democrats’ system was more complex than the Washington Republican system.
Esser took a lot of heat for the way his staff counted and announced caucus results, including assertions that he had called the race too quickly for John McCain (even though McCain ultimately won both the caucuses and the primary).
Esser threw down with Texas.
“If Texas thinks that I will allow any state to have a delegate selection process more complicated than the Republican party’s in the sovereign state of Washington, they are sadly mistaken.”
I’m pretty sure he was joking.
Peter Callaghan: 253-597-8657