GOP caucus not about nominee
Olympia, WA - Republican activist Dick Jones plans to open his Tumwater-area home Tuesday evening to neighbors and other GOP-leaning voters in Plum Precinct, inviting them to join him for the party's precinct caucuses.
The goal: Pick delegates for the April 24 county Republican convention and fill out questionnaires to guide the drafting of a county and state GOP political platform.
This year's work has added importance because the Legislature is considering changes to the state primary election system that could put the job of nominating candidates into the hands of the delegates chosen Tuesday.
"I think we have candidates this time that will appeal to the mass majority," Jones said Friday, eager to get the show rolling.
Even so, Jones, who works as an accountant for a credit union, is less sure which issues will dominate once people show up on his doorstep.
They'll join a discussion that will be repeated statewide. From school rooms to living rooms, the ritual of precinct caucuses is taking place in all of Thurston County's 281 precincts Tuesday night and in roughly 6,000 precincts across the state.
Any registered voter in Jones' precinct can attend. But Jones also sent letters of invitation to about 50 people in hopes of getting a good turnout.
"We aren't even going to be asking them presidential preference. They are going to be working on platform questionnaires, and electing delegates to the county convention," said Chris Vance, chairman of the state Republican Party.
Vance and other Republican Party officials in Thurston County expect a strong turnout. One reason is that Republicans know it's their turn to get together and get organized -- after surviving the long barrage of media reports on the Democrats' nomination process, which included John Kerry's triumph in Washington during the Feb. 7 Democratic caucuses.
"What I believe -- from what I'm listening to -- Sen. Dino Rossi has pumped up the crowd. It's exciting. It's almost like a rally is what I see happening," said Milly Rice, vice chairwoman of the Thurston County Republicans.
Rice said she has canvassed about 400 homes in her neighborhood southeast of Lacey, urging voters to show up and be heard. And in two recent organizing meetings for caucus-goers, 50 to 60 people showed up each time.
"All I know is I'm getting about 25 calls a night from people wanting to know where precinct caucuses are," added county GOP Chairman Randall Rappe. "This is the most interest ... that I can remember."
The Legislature's vote to change the state primary system could -- due to several political twists and turns -- provoke interest.
If a so-called Top Two primary is chosen, the state's Democratic, Libertarian and Republican parties will pull out of the primary and hold nominating conventions instead.
If that happens, "we may be nominating our candidates via our caucus and convention system," Vance said. "That is why attendance and participation in this year's precinct caucuses is more important than ever. ... These are the folks who might be choosing our candidates."
After the precinct caucuses, Republicans plan to hold legislative and county conventions starting March 26. Thurston County Republicans hold theirs April 24 at A.G. West/Black Hills High School in Tumwater. The state convention is May 27, 28 and 29 in Bellevue, and the national convention begins Aug. 30 in New York City.
Unlike past years, the Thurston County GOP's rough-draft platform -- as of Friday -- was mild. For instance, the draft party platform speaks of "consideration" of charter schools and taxpayer-paid school vouchers -- but only if they do "not erode financial support of the public school system."
"We had a lively discussion on the platform committee just coming up with the draft," Jones said. "We had a person who wanted charter schools and we had a school teacher sitting on it. We have an excellent cross section."
Other issues are likely to be added to the platform after caucus-goers have their say, Jones and Rappe said.
Retired Air Force officer Bill Albro, who lives near Johnson Point in the north county and will be attending a caucus at South Bay Elementary, senses that people just want to pull together behind Bush now that the Democratic caucuses are ending.
"I think people are together with the overall war on terror, with the overall emphasis on the economy and, despite the loss of jobs, the president inherited that downturned economy," Albro said. "I see a basic unity and wouldn't be surprised if the turnout wasn't greater than in years past, because there are some burning issues people want input to."
Bush's call for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage has drawn a lot of headlines, but those like Albro, Rice and Rappe are doubtful that will cause many people to get involved.
"Since the announcement of President Bush, I haven't received any calls or gone to a meeting where I got any feedback" on it, Rice said. She added, however, that it "could happen at the caucuses."
Kay Mielke Crookshanks, a financial adviser in Rochester, said she plans to make phone calls this weekend to get more participants to attend the caucuses.
"I just feel you have no right to complain about politics if you are not involved. And the best place to be involved is at the precinct level," Crookshanks said.
"We'll be looking at the Republican platform. We also have a questionnaire as to which issues we feel are most important for the party to take a stand on," Crookshanks added. "There's just an awful lot of apathy out there. My answer is to get on the phone this weekend and hopefully get some people to turn out."
Brad Shannon is political editor for The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-753-1688 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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