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GETTING SERIOUS ABOUT CAUCUSES - CAN THEY BE REVIVED?
Rocky Mountain News (CO) - Sunday, November 17, 2002
Despite having virtually no money to spend, John Wren helped lead the successful opposition to a well-funded Amendment 29, which would have abolished Colorado's caucus system.
But victory was just the beginning, not the end, of his crusade. He's now embarking on an effort to improve the crippled system he played a part in rescuing. More power to him.
In a letter to colleagues last week, he noted that caucus supporters ``seem to agree that the defeat of Amendment 29 . . . does not mean the caucus has been saved, but that it has given us an opportunity to correct some of the problems that have developed with the system over the last couple of decades.''
The biggest problem is obvious enough: People don't go to caucuses much any more. The reasons are numerous: Lifestyles have changed; the system is complicated and newcomers, especially, don't understand it; people are alienated from political parties; federal rules regarding handicap access mean caucuses can't be held in nearby private homes but must often be in regional schools instead.
On top of that, the creation of the presidential preference primary a decade ago, and the mandate that delegates be allocated proportionally, means there's less reason to try to become a delegate to the national conventions - a process that has to begin with the caucuses.
We're not sure the problems are solvable - we backed the amendment, after all - but respect the effort of caucus supporters to try and make the system popular once again.
Wren intends to discuss possible changes during the weekly meetings of his long-established ``Idea Cafe,'' at which entrepreneurs gather weekly to discuss how to start new businesses. The meetings are held Tuesdays in Denver at the Panera Bread cafe, 1350 Grant St., from 5:30 to 7 p.m.
Suggestions he's already received include:
* Returning the caucuses to May from April in order to shorten the campaign season. (Presumably the primary would also once again be held in September instead of August.)
* Change the day to a weekend from the current Tuesday.
* Require that the caucus system be explained in high school government classes.
* Put an explanation of the caucus system on the secretary of state's Web site as well as in the ``blue book'' that is mailed out to voters in election years.
* Encourage precinct officers to discuss local issues such as street repair as well as the political races at the biennial meetings.
In addition to the Idea Cafe, suggestions will be also entertained on the opposition group's Web site, savethecaucus.org, which is still up and running.
We don't mind throwing out a proposal of our own: Reduce the threshold for making the ballot from the current 30 percent of delegate strength to the 20 percent that it was until the mid-1980s. That might encourage more candidates to take the caucus route instead of circulating petitions.
And Republicans might consider doing what the Democrats already do: Apportion delegates to higher assemblies based on the support candidates get at straw polls during the caucuses.
No doubt there are even better ideas out there. Since the caucuses are apparently here to stay, they might as well be improved.
Memo: Rocky Mountain News Opinion
Edition: Final Section: Opinion/Commentary/Editorial Page: 7E Index Terms: EDITORIAL Record Number: 0211190420 Copyright (c) 2002 Rocky Mountain News