Welcome back, James
The 15% rule continues to keep valid candidates off the ballot. Danielle Allen is the latest casualty this cycle. We know Ben Downing cited the caucuses along with fundraising challenges in why he dropped off. We have yet to see how it might affect the crowded open races for LG, Auditor, AG, or the possibility of a contested primary for SoC. Doubtless more candidates will drop out, even though contested primaries are healthy for our democracy and vital to maintaining voter interest in the Democratic party.
Caucuses, like holding town meetings for midsize cities like Brookline or Wakefield, another bete noire of mine, are more democratic in theory then in practice. Every voter who has the leisure time and local civic knowledge to show up has more influence over the process than a solitary voter in a ballot box. Yet the kind of voter who tends to show up is overwhelmingly white and elderly. This was true for a caucus a colleague with two small children attended in Belmont which she dragged her husband to mainly to watch over the kids.
She was disappointed there was no available childcare and could easily see how single mothers, women of color, working families, English language learners, and young people could feel locked out of the process. The building was not particularly ADA friendly and the time of the caucus was arguably unfriendly to people who keep strict Sabbaths on Saturday’s, something my Jewish colleague is especially sensitive about. This year the candidates zoomed in and gave boilerplate pitches, so it’s not like participants even got the grassroots “FaceTime” that make these events important for longtime activists.
Like Pablo’s reporting on Arlington, Healey clearly dominated in Belmont and was the most known and organized campaign there. Now I like Healey and will probably vote for her in the primary, but the divisive 2016 primary experience should make us leery of a field being cleared by gatekeepers or a perceived coronation. My friend came in unpledged, but ended up working the room to get Sonia Chang Diaz her 15%, which some of the more zealous Healey supporters did not even want to extend to her. If a well known and respected legislator like Sonia drops out, this process is truly a travesty.
There is also the issue that the majority of voters in this state are moderate independents rather than progressive activists. The caucus system benefits Beacon Hill insiders at the expense of the Beacon Hill outsiders who historically get elected. I’m 33 and the only two Democrats elected in my lifetime to the corner office are Deval and the Duke. That’s it. The only outsider to politics in this cycle has already left the field.
We have already seen the thought of facing a competitive primary from the right scare off Charlie Baker and the largely unknown businessman Chris Doughty will have an even harder time getting elected on that side of the aisle against Geoff Diehl who is the clear choice of GOP party activists . We do not want outsiders and moderates shut out of our own process and kept off our ballots like they arguably will be on the GOP side for years to come.
Caucuses should still exist to send delegates to the state convention, which should still have the power to formally endorse candidates, but statewide candidates should be nominated by getting signatures to get on the ballot like any other candidate for office. The caucuses and delegates should have no further gatekeeper role for determining who gets on the ballot.
This would be a better way for candidates to show they have widespread support from registered Democrats, including the many working class members of our party who cannot give up their weekends. It’s doubtless any of the 18 year old kids I teach or their parents who work weekends and nights could participate.
My solution seems like a good hybrid. Keep the caucuses and conventions for those who love them, but open up the primary nominating process to all registered voters via signature gathering to get on the ballot and a ranked choice or jungle primary to determine the nominee. Holding it over April break or the Memorial Day weekend would be another reform to make sure we have a unified party much earlier in the process and a primary everyone knows about and has the time to participate in. What could be more democratic than that?