The caucus experience, for a Democrat

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We moved to Iowa in 1984, so the first caucus we could participate in was in 1988, when the campaign was wide open for both Democrats and Republicans. It was thrilling to have the chance to meet so many candidates in person during the months preceding the caucus in January.

I recall hearing Richard Gephardt, Michael Dukakis, Gary Hart, and Bruce Babbitt. I missed Jesse Jackson, Paul Simon and Al Gore. At the caucus in the Washington High School cafeteria, the groups I recall most were those supporting Jesse Jackson and Bruce Babbitt. The Babbitt group actually stood up for their support, when asked, “Who stands for Babbitt.” That was surprising, and showed energy.

The way things played out was a big learning experience. As I recall, a candidate had to have 15 percent of the votes in the room in order to continue. No ballots — there had to be heads to count. It is a real physical experience! Those people supporting a candidate with less than 15 percent support had to decide on their second choice among those remaining or declare themselves uncommitted. After going through that process, resolutions were presented.

The second thing I learned was that the decisions went on to the county convention in March. That event at Veterans Memorial Auditorium was marked by speeches by a number of elected representatives from the county level as well as the state level. Then came the voting for candidates, and finally the presentation of resolutions, with opportunity for amendments.

The whole affair went beyond the time I could stay, which was late in the afternoon. I heard that sometimes the county convention could last up to midnight, with only the hardiest and most dedicated remaining to the end.

Then the decisions get carried on to the district level in April where the whole process is repeated at the high school in Mount Vernon.

Finally, the state convention pulls it all together in June in Des Moines. Delegates to the national convention are chosen for that event which occurs in the mid to late summer. Those who want to be delegates to the national convention have to go to all levels of the process.

In 1998 I attended the off year caucus. I found only five people in a classroom at Franklin Middle School. On the presidential year in 1988 there had been perhaps 150 gathered. I came out of the 1998 meeting agreeing to be the platform chair. In 2000 I actually ran for state representative, another learning curve experience. Knocked on 7000 doors!

In 2004 again, I heard a number of candidates. A highlight of the season was when our 5-year-old granddaughter gave John Kerry a high-five as he entered the gym at Washington High School.

The caucus, again in the Washington High School cafeteria, was like 1988 with participants supporting many candidates but eventually only a few. That year I recall walking by the auditorium where the Republican caucus was held. It was very quiet, as the Republicans vote by ballot.

The 2008 caucus was held in the media center at Washington High, a room designed for 40. Over 150 people crowded in, making it very difficult to move around when candidates were eliminated.

The Democratic caucuses are a wonderful experience of community gathered to consider the most important issues facing the country. It is a good way to get to know the people who care the most about the direction the country chooses to go in. I urge everyone to participate, whichever party they prefer.

• Jeremy Brigham, retired minister and professor, is Executive Director of Iowans for Gun Safety. He and his wife, Selma, are raising three teenage grandchildren. Comments:

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