Caucuses to decide election issues

Alexander Hutchins —

The caucuses to be held across the state by both parties Saturday will play an unglamorous but important role in state politics.

Steffen Schmidt, professor of political science, said caucus meetings not involving a presidential election are mostly business meetings of very active party members.

Gubernatorial candidates will be important for both parties, Schmidt said. He said Democrats will focus on Gov. Chet Culver’s re-election and Republicans will choose which candidate will run against him.

James Hutter, associate professor of political science, said that when caucuses are convened every two years, they always gather party activists for important tasks the parties must accomplish to keep running. Presidential elections just add another element, albeit an exciting one, every other caucus.

Hutter named four principal functions all caucuses perform: They get petitions signed, send members to other conventions, form party platforms and gather funding for the parties.

The first major function of the caucus is to bring party members together so potential candidates can gather enough signatures to be included on the ballot.

Voters who attend the caucus choose volunteers, who attend further district, county and state conventions dealing with party business.

Some voters attending caucuses will be chosen to form committees.

There are four types of committees formed at caucuses: platform, committee on committees, credentials, and arrangements committees. These committees do the work of running party business within the state.

“That’s one of the great things about political parties in America,” Hutter said. “They keep going, year after year, with volunteer labor.”

All caucus events incur costs. Materials must be printed and delegates sent to conventions, so the committees also solicit attendees for funds to pay the costs of holding caucuses.

Another small component of caucus attendance, Hutter said, is getting to meet friends and acquaintances who are involved in the caucus experience as well.

In caucuses for both parties, there is the opportunity for people to support issues in the form of party platforms. These statements of party goals play a larger part in non-presidential year caucuses, Hutter said.

In recent years, Hutter said, interest groups have become more involved with submitting planks of party platforms.

“Many of these [interest group planks] are just long and dreadful,” Hutter said.

A major issue for Saturday’s caucus will be if weather keeps voters from attending.

A snowstorm once nearly shut down a caucus that Hutter attended years ago.

“Attendance at my precinct was about the same number as fingers on your hand,” Hutter said.

Ames caucus locations include the Ames City Hall council chambers for Ward 1 and all precincts; Ames High School cafeteria for Ward 2 and all precincts, Ames Middle School commons for Ward 3 and all precincts, and Room 1414 of the Molecular Biology building for Ward 4 and all precincts.