Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Caucus, the Republic and Democracy in America

In an effort to educate, define and advocate, I enter upon today's post with a heart full of hope for the future of America.

In recent weeks, circumstances that would have been difficult to foresee even at Christmas time when I reflected upon the topic of peace on earth, uprisings across the world have been sparked, ignited and are now raging in full fury. Much of the rhetoric linked to these uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, and now Libya are linked to the word "democracy." This wave of unrest in opposition to dictators is exactly what Joseph Smith was talking about in the revelation cited in the link above.

Democracy as a form of government is easy to define -- in simplest terms it's whatever the majority consensus decides. Without giving an exhaustive exegesis of the history of mankind, suffice it to say the discussion over agency, the right to choose between good and evil, identified and championed by the Constitution of the United States of America as "God-given" is nothing more than the mortal equivalent of the issues that sparked the "war in heaven" before the foundations of this planet upon which we now live were laid.

According to Freedom House, in 2007, there were 123 electoral democracies (up from 40 in 1972). According to World Forum on Democracy, electoral democracies now represent 120 of the 192 existing countries and constitute 58.2 percent of the world's population. At the same time liberal democracies, that is, countries Freedom House regards as free and respectful of basic human rights and the rule of law are 85 in number and represent 38 percent of the global population. In each case we see "slaves" overthrowing tyrants and yearning for a democratic form of government to displace tyranny. As long as people are enslaved and deprived of their God-given liberties to choose, war will continue to engulf the world.

In recent weeks in the Utah State Legislature, there has been a debate raging over the definition of two words, "democracy," and "republic." The citizens are outraged over such a "frivolous" exercise when there are so many other pressing matters. But the distinctions are worthy of note.

Walter E. Williams
Walter E. Williams recently wrote a piece attempting to define the differences, which he thinks are significant. Getting the terms defined correctly at the outset helps frame the debate a little more precisely. Says Williams, "The word 'democracy' appears nowhere in the two most fundamental documents of our nation — the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. Our Constitution's Article IV, Section 4, guarantees 'to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government.' If you don't want to bother reading our founding documents, just ask yourself: Does our Pledge of Allegiance to the flag say to 'the democracy for which it stands,' or to 'the Republic for which it stands'? Or, did Julia Ward Howe make a mistake in titling her Civil War song 'The Battle Hymn of the Republic'? Should she have titled it 'The Battle Hymn of the Democracy'?"

I'm not certain the precise word we use is as important as the results produced and the attention the citizens give to their freedoms. The reality is more salient than the spelling.

Revolutions and Their Aftermath

If you believe in a "pure" democracy where a simple majority rules, then you do not believe in the form of government put in place by the founders of America. The rights of the minority get trampled where might makes right, where there are no checks and balances of power, and often revolutions that began on the high note searching for "democracy" and erecting freedom often descend down the scale into even more abusive governments than what they displaced. The "Reign of Terror" following the French Revolution sent somewhere between 20,000 to 40,000 people to death by guillotine. Then came Napoleon, who eventually took the title of Emperor, elevating himself beyond the mere title possessed by the beheaded monarch who preceded him. Many would argue Napoleon was not much of an improvement when it came to dictatorial governance. The world has seen the same dynamic play out again and again since.

King Louis XVI of France
We went to a marvelous production the other night at the Hale Centre Theatre, "A Tale of Two Cities," courtesy of the generosity of Mark and Gayle Van Wagoner, board members of the theatre. While not nearly as lyrical and memorable a musical score as "Les Miserables," this musical production reminded me once again of the universal longing for human dignity and freedom. Set in the era of the French Revolution, Charles Dickens' masterpiece is as topical and timeless today as when it was penned. Like today, "It was the best of times, and it was the worst of times."

The novel first appeared in 1859, and depicts the plight of the French peasantry demoralized by the French aristocracy in the years leading up to the revolution, then the subsequent brutality demonstrated by the revolutionaries toward the former aristocrats in the early years of the revolution, and many unflattering social parallels with life in London during the same time period. It follows the lives of several protagonists through these events. The most notable are Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton. Darnay is a French aristocrat who denounced his title and position, moved to London, then falls victim to the indiscriminate wrath of the revolution despite his virtuous nature. Carton is a drunken British barrister who endeavors to redeem his ill-spent life, inspired by his unrequited love for Darnay's wife, Lucie Manette. It is filled with themes of love, morality and transcending heroism arising from the ashes of the larger world in which the characters lived and had their being, not unlike the conditions swirling around us today.

The only way to fully appreciate the "gap" between the royalty and the peasants of France in those days is to stroll the gardens and the opulent halls of the palace at Versailles.

The reason I bring it all up is to paint a clear picture of the precious truths embedded in the Constitution, critical to our understanding of how government touches our lives. I have wanted to write about the unique caucus system we have here in Utah for months, and today I finally get to it.

Why Delegates Matter

In Utah, the candidates who represent each political party are chosen by delegates at state and county party conventions. The process begins at the neighborhood or precinct level. Typically a precinct includes 1,200-1,300 homes, so a precinct is roughly the size of a neighborhood. There are about 3,500 Republican precincts in Utah's 29 counties.

In each election cycle, each precinct holds a meeting, called a "caucus meeting," usually early in the year of the November election (in the last year the caucus night was on March 23, 2010). During the precinct caucus meeting, people from your precinct (neighborhood) will be elected to represent your precinct as delegates to the state and county nominating conventions. As a state delegate last year I was elected with a stated position of supporting Mike Lee. I declared myself to my friends and neighbors and won a simple majority vote to be elected. It was a sacred trust, and gave me an instant appreciation for all candidates who submit to the process of putting their names on a ballot, regardless of political persuasion.

Why Delegates Matter More than Ever

At the convention, if a candidate receives 60% of the delegate vote, they automatically become the party’s candidate and move on to the general election in November. If no candidate reaches 60%, the top two candidates move on to a primary election held in June.

Last year, the incumbent was ousted at the convention and two new candidates emerged in the senate primary race for the Republican nomination, since neither was able to garner 60% of the vote in convention.

Simple Steps to Becoming a Delegate

Becoming a delegate doesn’t require you to be a politician, have extensive knowledge of political science or social issues, or be a public speaker. You are just going to be meeting with your neighbors, letting them know you are committed to getting involved and striving to make a difference for your area.

Basic things to remember:

1. Determine your voting precinct

2. Find your neighborhood precinct caucus location (contact your county's Republican party officers for help if needed)

3. Identify people in your precinct who will vote for you (reach out to as many family, friends, and neighbors as you can)

4. Attend your caucus meeting

No prior experience is required, you will enjoy the process and you will make a tremendous difference.

I made a determination early in January of 2010 that Mike Lee was the right U.S. Senate candidate for Utah and for the nation. He is now in Washington and is making an instant impact and producing real results during an important time for the United States. I like to think I got that one right, and I am so grateful for the invitation extended to me by my friends to get involved.

Now I am extending that same invitation to each of you as you witness the escalation in the fight for freedom globally. You cannot change the world overnight, but you can distance yourselves from the apathetic and inertia-bound tendencies seeming to grip us on matters political and religious. Now is the time to step up and to be counted in the precious free exercise of your beliefs.

The Utah Caucus System is Superb

Utah’s system of electing delegates to county and state conventions system is under constant attack. The arguments were heard again and continue unabated. Those who lose contend it is "government by the few, the rich, the extreme or the political elite." Others say it is "closed, controlled and unfair" as it allows only a few to cast ballots for candidates who eventually appear on the November ballot. Still others will tell you the caucus meetings happen too early in the cycle when the average person is not thinking politics.

On the other side of the argument where I reside, many constitutional experts would agree this is the best and most constitutionally-correct system in America. In case you hadn't noticed recently, Utah is receiving a lot of "pub" because of Lee's outspoken alignment with a traditional and "strict constructionist" point of view of the Constitution. In so many ways, Utah is emerging with a powerful voice on the national scene.

Senator Mike Lee (R-UT)
I love the Utah caucus system because it is so inherently and fundamentally grassroots by nature. It's how a guy like Mike Lee can mount a campaign and spend 1/10th of what the entrenched incumbent does and win! The process is totally controlled by the citizens who care enough to attend their neighborhood caucus meeting and get elected to make change they believe in. Those who choose to stay home, of course, have that right, but they can never say thereafter they were somehow "cheated" out of their representative republic.

Elected delegates to the county and state conventions then have the responsibility of nominating the candidates who will appear on the November ballots for their respective parties.

Utah Epitomizes the Representative Republic

Thomas Jefferson
In my view, our system in Utah comes closest to the fulfillment of representative republic envisioned by the founders than any other I've seen. We elected representatives to vote on our behalf, rather than a direct democracy where a simple majority rules. The whole idea is captured by Thomas Jefferson in The Jeffersonian Cyclopedia, No. 1685, p. 193, where he wrote, “The Constitution was meant to be republican, and we believe it to be republican according to every candid interpretation.”

Clarification:  That's not Republican with a capital "R" -- it's "republican" as in "representative republic" with a small "r." Never forget the difference.

The average Utah/U.S. citizen typically does not take the time to study issues and candidates as thoroughly as one who puts himself/herself up for consideration as a delegate to the nominating conventions. It is presumed delegates will make informed choices based upon their best judgments and that trust is imposed by their friends and neighbors at the caucus meetings at the lowest level of government imaginable. Some feel disenfranchised because they have to work on caucus night, or they are on vacation, or they forget to attend. Whatever the reasons, they may still voice their opinions among their friends and neighbors and encourage and persuade others face-to-face to their point of view in whatever honorable way they desire, even if it's just a simple conversation in the grocery store check-out line.

It is not my belief the founders would have approved of the current system comprised of incumbent career politicians. Bob Bennett promised he would never become one, then continued to run again and again. Orrin Hatch  (currently in his sixth six-year term) is in the same category, having served twice as long as Bennett. Neither has demonstrated the wisdom to step aside voluntarily. That's why only citizens at the ballot box in America are empowered by the Constitution to impose term limits on their elected officials. A passive and indifferent electorate, however, leads to the tyranny the founders feared most. You may think your senator is the finest senator on planet Earth today, but the intent of the founders was never to send people to represent their neighbors who would then get automatic annual pay raises, perks and multi-million dollar pension and gold-plated health insurance plans at no cost to them personally.

The caucus system makes it much easier and less expensive for citizen candidates from the grassroots to unseat an incumbent through the caucus system. The only vocal opposition I've heard against it comes from those who favor the incumbents. I proved to my own satisfaction that my voice last year DID make a difference.

In states that have a direct primary election, the choices of who will run in the final elections are made on a "pure democracy” idea. That was exactly what the founders were trying to avoid because of its tendency to eventually empower tyrants after the revolution.

The founders gave the citizens of the United States of America a government designed to protect against the intrusion on their God-given rights by all powers, foreign and domestic. However, the implied trust is a presumption that in a free representative republic the citizens would remain vigilent and actively engaged. The inherent weakness in our form of the representative republic is that we may lose those protections if we don't.

I'm writing about it today looking back on what happened in 2010 as a testament to what can happen when we are awake, alert and on task as a free people. I have every confidence the trend will continue into the election of 2012.

We really have no other choice as the guardians of freedom's flame.

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