Thursday, January 03, 2008
Remembering a presidential caucus
Watching the Iowa caucuses unfold reminds me of my one foray into presidential politics. It was 1984 and I was editor of the Lamar Democrat at the time.
I debated whether to do it, because I always believed that newspaper reporters should steer away from participating in politics, but the lure of presidential politics was too great, so I became Barton County campaign manager for Colorado Senator Gary Hart.
This was in the days before Missouri went to a presidential primary. Instead, delegates to the Seventh District Democratic Convention were selected through the caucus process.
We met on a Tuesday night in the Lamar Trust Company community room. It was an experience I will never forget. The Barton County Democratic party was split into two factions, the older group, which was supporting former Vice President Walter Mondale and the younger group, which included the county's Democratic officeholders, Presiding Commissioner Doug Haile, County Clerk Bonda Rawlings and County Assessor Doug Sprouls. Others who were on the Gary Hart side were Penny Culp, my girlfriend at the time, a recent high school graduate named Edith Epple, who coincidentally now works at Lamar Bank and Trust Company, and the town pharmacist, Ron Wrestler.
The head of the county Democrats, Dr. Tom Carroll, went through his usual procedure as he prepared to call for the first vote or caucus. He asked if anyone wanted to say a few words for either of the candidates. In the past, no one had. This time, I had written a speech supporting the Hart candidacy. It went pretty well, but no one had one prepared for Mondale.One elderly lady tried, but she was not prepared and it did not turn out well.
Despite my speech, there were still several more Mondale supporters at the caucus, so when the first vote was taken, Mondale won by about 10 votes. Since Barton County could send two delegates to the district convention, Dr. Carroll said both delegates would support Mondale.
I had read the rules carefully before the caucus and knew that was not the way it should be. Hart was close enough that he should have one delegate. I argued the point, but Dr. Carroll wasn't going to budge. Finally, he said he would call the State Democratic Committee. He tried numerous times, but was unable to get through.
Finally, he said, "We'll just take one more vote and that should settle it." I started to protest, but Doug Haile, who was a far wiser man than I, said, "Don't worry about it, Randy. It's going to turn out all right."
I didn't understand how he could think this. Gary Hart was getting robbed of a delegate. But when the vote was taken, Hart won by four votes. I asked Doug how he knew. "People don't feel that strongly about Mondale or Hart, Randy, but they feel very strongly about cheaters."
Dr. Carroll was conciliatory. "Well, I guess each candidate will get one delegate," he said. I was tempted to argue the point, but wisely decided not to.
I would have been Gary Hart's campaign manager again in 1988, except for his bad reaction to the press trying to hunt down rumors that he was a womanizer. He challenged the press to prove it. They staked out his hotel and discovered that a sexy young blonde named Donna Rice was meeting secretly with him. Later, the National Enquirer came up with a photo of Miss Rice, wearing a micro-mini skirt sitting on Hart's lap on a friend's yacht, which had the unfortunate name of "Monkey Business." (And he didn't even invite his Barton County coordinator) Hart's candidacy was over before it really even started. He dropped out of the race, dropped back in later, but by that time it was too late. (Ironically, Miss Rice has been back in the news recently as head of an organization that battles pornography.)
That was my last venture into presidential politics.
I have to admit, though, I had a great time.