My wife and I attended the Cass County Republican caucus Saturday. It was our first caucus and we looked forward to the experience. To say it was a learning experience is an understatement. From beginning to end, the caucus was five hours of instruction.
This year, the ‘Pub caucus was specifically designed to give all counties, rather than a populous few, representation. Delegates selected at the local caucuses will go to caucuses for each congressional district on April 21st, and to the state caucus on June 2nd. The congressional caucuses will select delegates to the national convention. The state caucus will select some state-wide delegates and alternates for the national convention. (Note: I’m relying on memory and the state caucus may select some other delegates not mentioned here.)
The Cass County caucus started at 10:30am. It was moved late in the week from the New Justice Center to the Harrisonville High School when early estimates indicated the Justice Center would be too small. As always, there were some who did not get the word.
The process was straight forward. We arrived, filled out an affidavit showing our name, address, attesting that we were registered voters and that we were Republicans. We then showed our photo IDs and were credentialed. This process would come to be important later in the session because the state rules and the rules adopted later stated that all delegates and alternates had to be credentialed. We were each given a numbered red card that we would present to have our vote counted and to be allowed to re-enter the caucus if we had to leave.
Everyone who attended and signed the affidavit was credentialed allowing anyone attending to be qualified as a delegate or alternate. The final count was 342 credentialed attendees.
The meeting open with the Pledge of Allegiance and a Prayer. The first order of business was the selection of a caucus chairman. Two candidates were submitted, Bill Kartsonis by the Santorum faction and Ron Johnson. I’m unsure who nominated Ron Johnson. Ron Johnson won the vote on a 51% to 49% spread.
The Rules Committee Chairman, presented the proposed caucus rules. These were the same as the proposed rules issued by the state. After discussion, one amendment was added to require the delegates to be bound for the first ballot to their candidate. Thereafter they would be released to vote their conscience.
Under these rules, if no one candidate acquired more than 50% of the votes, delegates would be selected proportionally from the four candidate groups. The initial assumption was that no one group had than 50+% majority. It was supported by the fact that the Santorum faction, recognizably the largest group at the caucus, had failed to get a majority of votes for their candidate for caucus chairman.
Two and a half hours had passed and we were just getting to the meat of the caucus—the straw poll to determine the distribution of supporters for the four Presidential candidates.
Group Votes % Delegates Alt. Delegates
Santorum: 162 51% 22 22
Paul: 88 28% 12 12
Romney: 37 12% 5 5
Gingrich: 27 9% 4 4
Total: 314 43 43
As a full disclosure, my wife and I were in the Newt Gingrich camp. Frankly, it was a close choice for us between Gingrich and Santorum. I could live with either but I liked Gingrich’s aggressiveness, intelligence and his scoring points on Obama rather than on other ‘Pub candidates. I had hoped to be a delegate for Gingrich to the District and State Caucuses, but that was not to happen.
After the straw poll the Santorum faction had sufficient votes to block the proportional slate. As the session continued, it was apparent the Santorum leadership intended to seize control of the caucus from the beginning. It was only by a narrow vote their chairman candidate was defeated. The initial agreements supporting proportional representation was tossed aside and an alliance was made between the Santorum and the Romney camps to acquire a clear majority.
Understanding politics, this was acceptable. The Santorum group had the votes. They could now present their slate of delegates and get them approved. Cass County was allocated 43 delegates and 43 alternate delegates for the subsequent District and State caucuses.
What happened next is where the controversy arose. The Santorum faction failed to present a complete slate.
Initially when delegate lists were presented for the proportional distribution, the Santorum faction submitted only twenty-two names—their percentage of the 43 delegates. However, they did not submit any names for alternates. The other three groups did submit people for their allocation of delegates and alternates.
As the Chairman read the delegate counts submitted by the leadership of each faction, the Santorum shortage was revealed and the Santorum group erupted. It took some time for the Master-at-Arms to quiet the room. The Chairman recessed the caucus for fifteen minutes to allow the Santorum group to present a full list of 22 delegates and 22 alternates.
At the end of the recess, instead of submitting a complete list of names—delegates and alternates, the Santorum leadership called for an up-down vote of the proportional slate “as presented”, that is short 22 alternate delegates from the Santorum faction.
During the recess the leadership of the Santorum group made an alliance with the Romney group to vote down the proportional slate. With that alliance, those two group could control the slate and leave the Paul and Gingrich groups out in the cold.
And that is exactly what happened. One Santorum leader was heard to say that since Santorum won the primary in February, it was only right that he receive all the delegates from Cass County.
Yes, it was within the rules. Combined, the two groups had the votes to sweep the slate. They did so. And, truth be told, while it was unexpected, I can’t argue against that tactic. It was within the rules. What followed next, however, was not.
The rules voted and accepted at the beginning of the caucus, stated that ALL delegates and alternates had to be credentialed, i.e., be a Cass County resident, be a registered voter and attest to be a “good Republican.” Each of us attended completed and signed before a witness an affidavit attesting to those conditions. Therefore each attendee had been credentialed.
The Chairman asked the Santorum leadership to present their slate and for each delegate and alternate to stand and be recognized.
The Santorum leadership refused. They claimed that the rules stated that proposed delegates and alternates did not have to be present to be qualified. That was true as I read the rules. The Chairman agreed. Already, according to the vote counts, thirty people had left the caucus some time between the beginning to the caucus and the time when the initial slate was voted down.
But those thirty people had been credentialed. By refusing to present the slate before the caucus, how could those of us there, those of us who would vote for that slate, know if the slate met the requirement to be credentialed. It could happen, as one attendee stated, the Barack Obama’s name could be on that list.
Again, the Santorum leadership refused to reveal their slate and they had the votes to force an adjournment of the caucus. One excuse was that it was getting late and some attendees wanted to attend the St. Pat’s parade in Belton. Politicians love to get their face before a crowd.
After five hours, the caucus adjourned. No one, outside of the Santorum faction leadership knew who was on the slate of delegates and alternates. It was a prime example of the tyranny of the majority. Democracy in action. For all we knew, the slate was filled with democrats although I say that tongue-in-cheek.
After the caucus, I spoke with a number of people who attended. Many, like my wife and I, were neophytes—and to an extent, naive in local politics. We received a good teaching experience.
I am very curious why the Santorum leadership refused to present their candidates to the caucus body. They had to provide the names to the Chairman so he can forward them to the GOP state organization. The consensus of those whom I spoke at the caucus was that the list was filled with the cronies of the Santorum leaders. I’m not that familiar with the county’s internal politics to know if that’s a possibility.
Another attendee said that the slate contained names of some who were not present and had not been credentialed. The Chairman offered to give the Santorum leadership time to acquire credentials for any on his slate who had not been credentialed that morning. Again, the Santorum leadership refused.
I had several conversations over the weekend about the results of the caucus. I was curious about the refusal to reveal the slate by the Santorum leaders. I have since been told, by more than one attendee, that the slate contained names of people who did not attend nor were credentialed and that in the end, the slate will be short by 4 to 8 delegates. The number varies depending on the source.
Since the Santorum leadership refused to present their list of names, we don’t know what the real motivation was. Inexperience? Perhaps. Poor planning and leadership? Perhaps. Chrony politics? Perhaps. All of the above? Perhaps.
The Santorum group won…but in the end, the county lost. I don’t mind that Santorum will get our votes at the next caucus. I do mind that in their pursuit of seizing control of the caucus, the Santorum leadership lost track of the purpose of the caucus—to provide Cass County with full representation. An apparent personal agenda won with little regard for others.
Regardless which faction you favored in the caucus, I can guarantee the experience will be remembered for some time to come.