Fate of the Texas Two-Step

Texas Dems held the final hearing last week gathering testimony opposed and in favor of the Texas Two-Step

If the panel of Texas Democratic Party leaders gathered at the AFL-CIO hall last Friday wasn't clear on what's wrong with the party's dual primary/caucus system, Amy Wright gave them a good visual to work with. It was a chair. She had to sit in the chair to give her testimony because of a devastating car wreck months earlier.

"February 16 was a pretty memorable day for me," Wright told state Sen. Royce West of Dallas and a collection of county party chairs and other party dignitaries. "I spent the day at a party event learning about caucuses. ... And then on the afternoon of February 16, I was involved in a pretty horrible car accident." The tragedy left three people dead and Wright in Brackenridge.

"I watched the Democratic primary debates from my hospital bed," Wright said. "My husband brought the forms to send for an absentee ballot so I could vote in the primary election. And then I watched ... as the Democratic caucus system became the focus of our primary election in Texas. I couldn't go to the caucus in my precinct; I was in one of the many hospitals in our state that night, along with many other patients, doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff."

Wright was one of a long line of people testifying to the advisory committee, most of them opposed to the Democrats' so-called "Texas Two-Step." Perhaps you were sleeping under a rock last March; otherwise, you probably recall that presidential delegates to the Texas Democratic Party Convention are allocated according to a bizarre, unique system in which two-thirds are decided by the primary popular vote and the other third are selected by those who attend precinct caucuses immediately after the polls close on election day.

The system has had little consequence in the past, as the Democratic nomination was often wrapped up by March, but this year it was crucial to the Clinton/Obama contest, and it resulted in the odd situation of Sen. Hillary Clinton winning the popular vote but Sen. Barack Obama winning a majority of the state's delegates.

Many of those testifying complained that the system favors the physically fit with enough free time to attend the caucuses – and dilutes the influence of the elderly, the ill, single parents, and those in the military.

Members of the panel, however, were surprisingly defensive in their reactions, and some insisted that the system was essential to building the party. Reacting to comments that the system just benefited party insiders, Cameron Co. Judge Gilbert Hinojosa replied that "people who had never been insiders before came into the system. Noninsiders had bigger involvement than ever before."

"I don't know were the influx of new blood is going to come from in relation to party operations," said Hopkins Co. party Chair Bill Brannon. "Some of these people that participated this year will run the party for a long time."

A few attendees made similar testimony in support of the two-step, but they were far outnumbered by opponents. Some pointed out the obvious: The big flood of new party activism this year came not because of enthusiasm with the caucuses but because of the heated passions around the two candidates in play.

The hearing was the final of seven held around the state. Opponents of the two-step have organized a website, www.changethecaucus.org.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

election, Royce West, Texas Democratic Party, Texas Two-Step

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