Monday, January 14, 2008

Today's civics lesson: The Nevada Caucuses (Also, why no one cares about Michigan)

First, okay, it's not true. Michigan: we care. It's just that the Michigan Democratic Party went ahead and moved the date of the primary up when the Democratic National Party told them not to. As punishment for the early primary, Michigan lost its delegates. With no delegates at stake, most front runners bailed, and the choices on the Michigan Dem ballot are Clinton, Kucinich, Gravel, and "uncommitted."

[Feel free to insert your own joke here.]

Moving on .... Although I generally think caucuses are a positive way to increase voter participation by forcing voters to debate and defend their choices -- thereby requiring them to actually know something about their candidate of choice, the Nevada caucuses have a unique constituency: casino workers. In an effort to address the main drawback of caucuses -- namely, that the window to participate is usually only a couple of hours in the evening, and not everyone can get off work to participate during those hours -- caucus sites will include several of the major venues along the Strip in Las Vegas.

From today's Washington Post:

Democratic officials, working with national party leaders, came up with the idea of caucusing in the casinos for the first time to increase participation in a town that doesn't know the meaning of a 9-to-5, Monday-to-Friday workweek.

Under rules set by the Nevada Democratic Party, only casinos that have been organized by the most powerful labor group in Las Vegas, the Culinary Workers Union Local 226, were selected as caucus sites.

Although I think it's a good move to ensure that these workers have the opportunity to participate, this troubles me:

"We believe that everyone has the ability to choose on their own, but normally we all try to stick together," said Jennifer Grote, 44, who works in food service at the Paris hotel-casino and will serve as a caucus captain on Election Day.

"You cannot divide union workers," added Leain Vashon, a bell captain at the Paris.

Any members who want to oppose their leadership and support another candidate will have to do so in front of their co-workers, wearing their casino-issued work clothes identifying themselves as members of the union.

As you've probably read by now, Obama has the endorsements of both the Culinary Workers Union and the Service Employees International Union. Clinton has the endorsement of the American Federation of Teachers. As a former union member (and local representative), I know that a union's endorsement of a candidate means a great deal to its members. But I also know that union members are each still entitled to their own vote. The union endorses, but does not vote for its members. I don't know, I guess Las Vegas, casinos, gambling, money -- it all makes me a little uneasy. So I guess I wish someone had thought of this a little bit earlier so that it didn't come off as just sour grapes from the Clinton camp:

The same day, another union -- the Nevada State Education Association -- contended that Obama and the culinary workers are altogether too friendly, and asked a federal court to shut down the casino caucus sites because, the association said, they give preferential treatment to culinary union members.

State Democratic officials, who had been expecting the suit, said they had worked with each presidential campaign since last spring to craft the process, including the casino precincts, to drum up the largest turnout possible.

"The time for comment or complaint has passed," the state party said in a statement after the suit was filed by the teachers' union and several individuals.

1 comment:

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