Barter, compromise are keys to caucuses

The 2004 Iowa Democratic caucuses have already passed into history, and results were surprising, with two senators collecting 70% of the delegates.

Democratic faithful in the state were generous to John Kerry and John Edwards, who tallied 38% and 32% respectively, while former Gov. Howard Dean finished third at 18%, and Representatives Richard Gephardt (11%) and Dennis Kucinich (1%) garnered the remaining delegates.

Our 20th precinct in Dubuque drew 210 participants plus a contingent of observers and a crew from CSPAN, which broadcast the show for three hours.

First and foremost in the caucus is viability: Any candidate must have 15% of the total voting members. In our caucus that meant 32 participants were needed to qualify for delegates.

In the first count our Kucinich group tallied 18, the smallest contingent. We scrambled to approach other groups, that is, Edwards, Gephardt, Dean and Kerry. Kerry's group was by far the largest, while the others struggled to achieve 32.

When our second count tallied 15, it was apparent to me and Chris Heindel, my fellow Kucinich precinct captain, that we should barter with the other camps. Dean's group promised Chris a delegate to the county convention and Kerry's group promised one to me. Our remaining Kucinich supporters enlarged the camps of Dean, Edwards, and Kerry, who garnered 2, 3 and 6 of our allowed 11 delegates, respectively.

My going to Kerry's camp was a huge step, given Kerry's votes in support of Bush's war and funding for the military misadventure there, but I'm counting on his long-held contempt for unilateral foreign wars fought for mistaken motives, his proposals for education, his assurances to enhance the lower and middle classes and his energy and environmental proposals. Plus my mother-in-law, Helen, and wife, Teresa, were already there and assured my continuing as a delegate.

While preference primaries reflect voters' individual choices, the caucus reflects party faithful grassroots involvement in the process of selecting delegates, platforms, and credentials and rules leading up to larger regional conventions and culminating in this year's national convention in July in Boston.

In my case I submitted a page full of platform proposals from Rep. Kucinich on the war, labor and trade, education and health care. The platform committee includes other Kucinich delegates who will further his proposals and I chose to join the committee on committees to assist with credentials, rules, and arrangements for our next convention at the county level.

With all its bartering and compromising, this is how the process starts for us Democrats. It will continue now for these next six months until Boston.

It's quite a far cry from my first caucus in 1972, when Lilly Hirsch and I conducted a precinct caucus at Buena Vista College in Storm Lake that drew my Mom and six others. I can't remember if we opted for Muskie or McGovern and unlike Monday's caucus there was no videotape to record that ancient event.

Bill Cullen is a Teamster who lives in Dubuque, Iowa. You may have seen him on CSPAN taking down the Kucinich signs after the caucus. He always was the responsible one in the family.

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