Caucus volunteers differ on whether they're a good idea
A couple of Springfield Democrats who participated in the Iowa caucuses, on behalf of different candidates, also have different ideas about how well the system works to choose nominees for president.
“I don’t think the caucus system is the best way to pick a presidential candidate,” said Mike Ziri, 25, who spent nearly a week in Iowa leading up to Thursday’s caucuses. He was working on behalf of New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. “I think the whole primary system needs to be reformed to make it more equitable and make more sense.
“I think the primaries should be pushed back later in the year, and I think a system should be developed to not just let one or two small states like Iowa and New Hampshire control the debate,” Ziri said.
But Neil Calderon, who will turn 29 this week, said that, although he thinks the Iowa’s results are magnified by the media, the caucus system is a good thing because it demands more of members of a party than merely casting anonymous votes.
Calderon supported the Iowa Democratic winner, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois.
“I think it’s a good system because it requires the participants to be actively involved in it, and when you’re picking your party’s nominee, I think that’s important,” Calderon said.
People had to physically show their support for candidates in a caucus by joining groups of supporters in part of the caucus room. He also liked the idea that those who supported candidates who fell short in the first caucus round needed to join another candidate’s group for the second round. That led to lobbying by supporters of stronger candidates for those votes.
Ziri, who spoke by cell phone while returning from Iowa Friday, doesn’t believe any longer that Richardson has a chance to be the nominee – Richardson received only about 2 percent support in Iowa. But Ziri also thinks Richardson would be a “great secretary of state” in an administration headed by Obama or former U.S. Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina.
Ziri likes the policies of those two candidates better than those of U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, the other leading Democrat. He also thinks she may be “too polarizing a figure” to be the best choice for Democrats.
Ziri, a Richardson delegate to the Democratic National Convention from the 18th Congressional District, stayed at the East Moline home of Chuck Roberson, a Rock Island County Board candidate who is also a Richardson delegate candidate from the 17th Congressional District.
Ziri was stationed on the Iowa side of the Quad Cities in Davenport for Richardson, but “made it all over.” He knocked on doors in Burlington, went to a house party with Richardson in Mount Pleasant and spent New Year’s Eve in Des Moines at a party with Richardson.
Thursday night, Ziri attended the caucus of Davenport Precinct 23. As an out-of-stater, he could not vote, but he still was able to be the precinct leader for Richardson.
Only one woman at the caucus supported Richardson, he said. Ziri said he agreed that the woman could join the Obama camp even before the “realignment” part of the meeting because it was obvious that Richardson would not get the 36 people needed to pass the first-round “viability test.”
More than 225 people showed up for that caucus, Ziri said.
Ziri did say that the rumors were true – Richardson’s staff passed the word to him to send delegates to Obama if Richardson didn’t make the cut in a precinct.
The idea, he thinks, was to block Clinton – either because of her policies, because an Iowa win would have had a “steamroller” effect on getting her the nomination, or both.
Ziri was accompanied by another Richardson supporter – Josh Witkowski, 27, a state worker and Democratic precinct committeeman in Springfield. At the caucus he attended, Witkowski said, one man finally decided to sit with the Clinton delegation because he liked the cookies they offered.
Ziri, a member of the Prairie Capital Convention Center board who is interning as a legal assistant with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, thinks Iowans were probably glad to be done with the caucus hoopla.
One man he talked to stopped counting polling calls to his house at a dozen. And an elderly woman complained, when opening the door for campaigners, that she had been awakened by a campaign call. “Door knocker” signs for several candidates were often left on the same doorknobs, he said.
Calderon, who is director of the Illinois Governmental Internship Program for the Springfield public schools, said he and three others from Springfield carpooled to Iowa the day of the caucuses. They originally headed for Davenport, but there was already a “critical mass” of volunteers there, so they went instead to Fort Madison.
During the lunch hour Thursday, three of the group held up Obama signs at busy street corners, while the fourth talked up Obama in local businesses. During the afternoon, they walked precincts.
Calderon said he and Sara Nelson, deputy downstate director for U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Springfield, ended up working at the Fort Madison Ward 2 Democratic caucus. Seventy 70 people attended that caucus in 2004, but 181 showed up Thursday.
He said the negotiations after the first round of votes were “fascinating to watch.”
The gathering was also used for some party networking, as petitions were passed for local candidates and some local issues were discussed.
Nelson said her job was to keep track of the numbers of people for each candidate, while Calderon greeted and checked in caucus-goers for Obama.
The four listened to Obama’s victory speech in the car on the way back to Springfield.
“He gave me goosebumps,” Calderon said.
No Springfield people who participated in Iowa Republican caucuses could be reached Friday.
Bernard Schoenburg can be reached at (217) 788-1540 or email@example.com.