Caucuses (cauci?), initiatives and Conrad Burns

by Pete Talbot

First, the plural of caucus is caucuses, not cauci. I guess that’s because the word isn’t Latin but an American-English bastardization of the Algonquian Indian word meaning “meeting of tribal leaders,” according to Wiktionary. The word first appeared in American politics in the 18th Century in the form of the Caucus Club, one of America’s first clubs, where the likes of John Adams decided the political fortunes of Boston.

But enough grammar and history. The three separate subjects below don’t deserve to be posted alone. Their roots are from various blog sites.

On a rare occasion, I glean something interesting from the conservative blogosphere.

There has been a lot of discussion, both pro and con, and from the left and the right, about the upcoming Montana Republican caucus.

Carol over at Missoulapolis added a new wrinkle. Apparently, there is money to be made by holding a caucus. There’s gold in them thar lists! From Missoulapolis:

State GOP chair Erik Iverson spoke to Pachyderm today and said selling lists of those eligible to vote has brought over $17,000 to the Montana GOP.

And in Wyoming, where the Republicans just held their caucus:

Ron Paul, Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson spent $10,000 each to acquire a list of the names and contact information for party members who will help select the national delegates.

Money shouldn’t be the sole motivation for going to a caucus system rather than the primary election system that the Democrats are using this year. The caucus system also gets candidates participating in Montana politics and voters participating in party politics.

There have been comments, blog-wide, that the whole primary system as it now exists is a farce and should be scrapped. No one seems to have come up with the perfect alternative, yet.

The problem with the Montana Republican caucus, IMHO, is its exclusivity. Only precinct committeemen and women, and other local, regional and statewide elected officials, are allowed to vote. Basically, it’s the party elite.

One possibility, though, and again I quote Carol:

I do wish it were an open caucus like the (Montana) Democrats had in 1984. Anyone could come and vote.

As usual, the lefty blogosphere is chock full of interesting information.

This news is a little old but worth repeating. Cece over at Montana Netroots reminds us that the initiative season is kicking off. Here’s a thumbnail sketch:

There are already two referendums (referenda?) on the ballot that were advanced by the legislature. C-44, a Constitutional Amendment that would change how state funds are invested; and LR-118, which would continue the six-mill levy for the university system. (This is where the u-system gets most of its funding).

Two intitatives that might be headed for the ballot are: CI-99, which would restrict residential property tax increases; and CI-100, which is basically a right-to-life (anti-choice) issue.

Both of these initiatives would change the Montana Constitution.

And there could be more. An initiative that could limit the amount of interest charged on (predatory) loans and one which deals with the children’s health care fund.

This is important stuff so stay tuned.

Conrad Burns
Montana Republicans are just giddy over the fact that the Justice Department isn’t filing charges against former Republican Senator Conrad Burns and his association with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramhoff.

The main reason prosecution isn’t going forward is because of a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling in another corruption case, that of Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.). Apparently, the search of Jefferson’s congressional office violated the “Speech and Debate Clause” in the U.S. Constitution. I’m not sure how but then again, I’m no lawyer.

But it wasn’t the legality of the contributions that bothered me or, apparently, a number of other Montana voters. It was the sleaze factor: giving $3 million to the rich Saginaw Chippewa tribe in Michigan while stiffing poor Asian women working for Mariana Island textile industrialists. Both the tribe and the industrialists were clients of Abramoff’s.

So let’s take a trip down memory lane to an amusing story (yet sad comment on congressional politics) written by Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone magazine. It sums up ol’ Conrad pretty well.

  1. MTSentinel

    Your Burns commentary is so full of holes I don’t even know where to start.

    1) Republicans aren’t giddy that Burns wasn’t charged – we knew it was crap from the beginning. We’re pissed that Democrats mislead us so blatantly.

    2) The reason it’s going forward is that there is no case to make. The Jefferson court ruling is a non-issue since a) it curtailed a new technique of investigation essentially preserving the status quo, and b) Burns volunteered to provide any documents or data to the DoJ rendering a warrant unnecessary and a ruling that warrantless searches of congressional offices were off limits irrelevant.

    3) The Saginaw money was requested by the Michigan delegation – Burns appropriated a lot of money out of Montana because he was the Chairman of an Appropriations Subcommittee. That’s what a chairman does.

    4) The Rolling Stone article was a hit piece of the slimiest kind with a very loose grasp of truth. It’s credibility is about as strong as the Montana Democratic Party. No one was really going to drill in the Grand Canyon. But if you work for a Congressman, you’re probably confronted with wackos all the time and I’m sure you learn to nod and smile instead of argue or tell them they’re on crack.

  2. petetalbot

    To quote you, Mt. Sentinel, ” … I don’t even know where to start,” but I’ll give it a shot:

    1) “We’re pissed that the Democrats mislead us so blatantly.” Gee, sorry about that. I didn’t know we had such an influence on your thought processes.

    2) “The Jefferson court ruling is a non-issue … ” I guess that’s why the DoJ filed a petition asking the Supremes to overturn the ruling, citing that “until it does so, investigations of corruption in the nation’s capitol and elsewhere will be seriously and perhaps even fatally flawed.”

    3) “Burns appropriated a lot of money … because that’s what a chairman does.” Even to folks that don’t need it. (Granted, both sides of the aisle do it. That doesn’t make it right and we should hold Democrats accountable for this behavior, too.)

    4) “The Rolling Stone article was a hit piece …” I’ve seen the author go after Democrats, too. Lately, Republicans have been a much easier target (DeLay, Ney, Cunningham, Stevens, etc.). And perhaps the piece wasn’t a shining example of mainstream journalism but the underlying theme of a culture of corruption is undeniable.

    Look, I hold Dem. Rep. Jefferson in as much contempt as Burns. But just because Burns hasn’t been charged doesn’t mean he wasn’t sleazy.

  3. Jim Lang

    Hey Pete, I agree with you about the closed caucus but… precinct people are part of the ‘party elite’? Wow – that means – I am part of the Democratic ‘party elite’! LOL I think this is the first time such a term has ever been used in connection with me… with my car broken down, I’m hitching into Missoula tomorrow… maybe I should hold up a sign: pick me up – I’m elite! a player!

    OK, enough snark… as to Burns ‘no longer being investigated’ by Bush’s ‘Justice’ Department, and the ridiculous assertions by those on the right that this in some way means he’s been exonerated…some other people not being investigated include: Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleeza Rice, Dick Cheney, and George Bush. Does their not being investigated somehow exonerate them?

    Of course, just cuz they’re not being investigated now says nothing about what will happen under a new administration.

  4. Yes, the party elite do not need to join central committees. And unlike the surly and suspicious Dems I encountered here 10 years ago, the Republicans welcome newcomers with open arms.

    And, just for the record, it is not improper of untoward for the party to choose a closed caucus. They really do want to build up the committees and it seems to be working.

    What worries me simply is that most voters don’t understand that a caucus has always been an option and that not all states have primaries, simply because it’s been so long since the last caucus in this state and people don’t remember it.

  5. Jim Lang

    Surly and suspicious Dems? What are you talking about? Are you saying you tried to join the Democratic Central Committee ten years ago?

    “Republicans welcome newcomers with open arms” – even if they are not Republicans? I’m curious, with this closed caucus coming up, and folks scrambling to join Central Committees, do you require them do declare that they are Republicans?

  6. Yes I did come to a meeting compared to the Repubs a few years later they were not very friendly. I always thought of myself as a Democrat but it was hard to get to know people. I think this was the era when the New Party came to town and maybe the old timers thought I was one of them.

    Applicants must declare they support the Republican platform. Again, without party registration it’s hard to say whether someone “is” or “isn’t.”

  7. Man, I had no problem with Missoula Democrats. They were ecstatic to see people come to the meetings….

  8. Jim Lang

    I’d have to agree with Jay. I certainly was welcomed with open arms. On the other hand, it is true that although Democrats have a big tent, it might not be big enough to fit an elephant inside.

  9. Heh, whatever. That was a different time too. I was probably already too conservative, but at the time Republican = country club member and there’s just no way.

  10. Probably you shouldn’t have worn your “Bush/Cheney 2000” t-shirt…. : )

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