Precinct caucuses offer a chance to get involved

2010 brings with an election that bears importance on the lives of people with disabilities throughout Minnesota. Minnesotans will be electing a new governor and new legislators. For some, it may seem a little early to be thinking about the November’s elections. However, the race for governor has already started and disability community involvement is needed more then ever.

Anne Henry from the Minnesota Disability Law Center said that the new governor will play an important role in balancing the budget and protecting programs that directly impact the lives of people with disabilities.

Incumbent Gov, Tim Paw-lenty announced last year he would not seek re-election. The candidates running for governor have put on their running shoes and are already racing to Minnesota’s top seat. But why should citizens get involved at this early point? Precinct caucuses are just around the corner. For the DFL, Independence, Republican, Constitution and Green parties, caucuses are at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 2. The Libertarian Party has decided not to hold caucuses this year.

Precinct caucuses are party meetings, held at the local level, for all people to gather and discuss candidates whom are running for office. Another purpose of the caucuses is to discuss public policy and political issues. Caucus attendees may also be asked to vote in straw polls for state or federal elected offices.

One outcome leading from caucus night for candidates is party endorsement. For caucus attendees, the outcome may be to become a delegate or alternate to a political party’s county or district convention. Those picked to attend a district convention can in turn be elected as delegates to congressional and state conventions.

Caucus attendees may also run for precinct offices sand be responsible for political activities in their precincts.

Another important part of caucus night is the introduction of and voting on resolutions, which could eventually become part of party and candidates’ platforms. Each political party has a platform that outlines the party’s position on numerous issues, including issues affecting the disability community. The platform is developed through the passage of resolutions at the state conventions. Platforms can be used to influence laws and policies.

Resolutions start at the precinct caucus level. Any participant at the caucuses may introduce a resolution for a vote. Some resolutions are passed without debate. Sometimes there is debate. Usually debate is limited by the caucus chairperson, with just a few speakers for and a few speakers against the resolution. Or the chair may impose time limits. Then a vote is taken. Resolutions passed at the precinct caucuses are taken by party officials to the next level, a district convention. Resolutions passed out of the district go to the congressional district and state conventions.

Because resolutions have to come from at least two different precinct caucuses to be considered by the district delegates, disability advocacy groups and all other advocacy groups are spending time this winter preparing resolutions. Groups often put resolutions online, so that the resolutions can be printed out and taken to the convention. Resolutions must be submitted in writing and most caucus leaders require that the resolutions be transcribed onto a specific form. Ask party officials or representatives of advocacy groups before the caucuses if you have questions about preparing a resolution.

One reason for more caucus involvement from the disability community is for people to weigh in on the state budget cuts made in 2009, such as cuts to waiver services and personal care assistant (PCA) programs. Precinct caucuses provide an opportunity for all citizens to meet with candidates and campaign workers, and let them know what government services and programs have been lost during these difficult times. Candidates will want to hear ideas for making programs more cost-effective, without hurting the most vulnerable in our state.

Disability organizations are also watching the governor’s race, races for state offices and the 2010 legislative elections. Several organizations are encouraging members and clients to get involved in the precinct caucus process. The Minnesota Consortium on Citizens with Disabilities, The Arc of Minnesota and other groups are also preparing sample resolutions that caucus-goers can take to the caucuses.

According to the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office, precinct caucuses are supposed to be held in accessible locations. But as some caucus-goers found out in 2008 that was not the case. Contact local party officials before going to a precinct caucus to find out more about access, parking and other issues. One complaint about the 2008 caucuses was that in schools and other public places where caucuses were held, seating was uncomfortable for senior citizens and people with disabilities. The Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office urges anyone needing interpretive service, needing caucus materials in alternative formats or with questions about physical access to contact his or her political party’s state office.

Anyone wanted to vote, offer resolutions or become a delegate at a precinct caucus must be eligible to vote in the 2010 general election.

Caucuses are open to the public. Persons must attend the precinct caucus where they live. Persons also need to attend the caucus of the party with a philosophy they are generally in agreement with. A person cannot attend more than one caucus per year.

Political parties can help attendees find their caucus location. The Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office will have a “caucus finder” posted in January, to help people find caucus locations. The main Web page is www.sos.mn.us

Assistant Editor Jane McClure contributed to this article.