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Politics go local with caucuses

As the race for the Democratic presidential front runner continues to dominate national news, Island County Democrats expect a groundswell of people upset with the Bush Administration to be involved in the Feb. 7 precinct caucuses.

“It’s a very important year for all Democrats,” said Ann McDonald, second vice chair of Island County Democrats, “and what we’re seeing is a lot of interest from people who haven’t been involved in the past, as well as a lot of young people.”

The reason, as she sees it, is that “the country is in a disasterous state and it’s getting worse by the moment.”

One of those newcomers to the caucus system is Central Whidbey resident Jerry Robert. He said he’s always identified himself as an independent in the past, but is willing to declare himself as a Democrat this year. He even said he’s willing to become a delegate for the caucuses.

“I want to help derail the whole administration,” he said, “and the direction Bush is taking us.”

Robert, who’s lived on the island for about 10 years, said he’s highly motivated this year. Like many people, he’s not certain about how the caucus system works, but he’s willing to learn. “I just want to be involved and I want to make a difference.”

The Democrats’ county convention is set for April 24.

On the other hand, the county Republican caucuses will be held March 9. Sheilah Crider, former chairperson of the Island County Republican Party, said that President George Bush will obviously be the party’s candidate, but the caucuses and April 17 convention will still be critical.

“Looking at the platform, that will be the important issue this year,” Crider said. She predicts that the three most important issues will be the state economy, transportation and education.

“All those programs take lots and lots of money,” she said. “It’s going to be a very, very difficult budget.”

Washington State planned a statewide presidential primary election this year, but the Legislature canceled it in December to save money.

McDonald admits that the caucus system has “some pluses and minuses” as compared to primaries. Caucuses are “more complicated in some ways,” have a lower turnout, and force people to publicly declare their party allegiance.

On the other hand, folks at caucuses get the chance to be more directly involved and the process can generate a lot of excitement, as well as debate.

According to McDonald, the precinct caucuses begin at 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 7, with signing in. People have to be registered voters and 18 years old by Nov. 2 to vote, though everyone is invited to observe. Residents can register at the door.

McDonald said people who haven’t been involved in the party in the past can still sign in as “a Democrat for a day,” but then they can’t participate in other caucuses. She said a lot of Republicans have been involved in Democratic caucuses in the past, and she expects more than ever this year.

“Democrats aren’t the only ones who realize the country is in a disastrous state,” she said. “And getting worse by the moment.”

The attendees write down their choice for presidential candidate and then sit down with other from their precincts. Yet McDonald stressed that people don’t have to remain at the caucuses the entire time for their votes to count. In fact, they can just sign in and leave.

Next, the convener reads the rules of the caucus. The precinct members then get the chance to try to persuade each other to vote for their candidates. They also declare whether or not they want to be delegates.

After the discussion, folks get their one chance to change their vote for presidential candidate. Also, they get a chance to discuss proposals or issues they want included in the county platform.

McDonald said it’s helpful if people refine the issues before the caucuses. “Bringing it in writing is a really good way to do that,” she said.

McDonald explained that if enough residents of each precinct show up and vote for a certain candidate, they can “garner a delegate or delegates.” There could be up to 660 delegates and alternates for the county, but that high of a number is unlikely.

The caucuses have to be over by 11:30 a.m.

After the precinct caucuses, the next steps for Island County Democrat delegates will be the legislative district and then the state caucus. Six delegates and one alternate will go on to the national convention in Boston July 26 to 29.

In addition to the presidential candidates, Republican Crider pointed out that this will be a big year in Washington State and Island County partisan politics. A senator, the governor, local representatives and two county commissioners will be on the November ballot.

“It’s going to be a dynamite year,” Crider said, “an exciting year and a busy year for both parties.”

Where Democrats meet

Island County Democrats will meet in caucuses at five locations at 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 7, to vote for the candidate they want to be the Democratic nominee for president.

Meeting places and the precincts that will meet in each place are:

Oak Harbor Caucus will take place at North Whidbey Middle School, 67 NE Izett St. It covers Oak Harbor 1-15, Ault, Cornet, Countryside, Dugualla, Highland, Polnell, Silver Lake, Soundview.

Coupeville Caucus will take place at Coupeville Elementary School, 2 S. Main St. It covers Coupeville 1-2, Coveland, Fort Nugent, Hastie Lake, Hillcrest, Penn Cove, San De Fuca, Scenic Heights, Swantown, West Beach, Westview.

Greenbank Caucus will take place at Greenbank Farm, 765 E. Wonn Road. It covers Admiralty, Austin, Bush Point, Central, Double Bluff, Freeland, Greenbank, Lagoon Point, Prairie.

South Whidbey Caucus will take place at the South Whidbey High School, 5674 S. Maxwelton Road, Langley: Clinton, Deer Lake, Glendale, Langley 1-2, Lone Lake, Maxwelton, Possession, Sandy Point, Saratoga, Useless Bay.

Camano Island Caucus will take place Camano Country Club, 1243 Beach Dr., Camano Island.

Where Republicans meet

Island County Republicans will meet in caucuses at three locations at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, March 9.

Meeting places and the precincts that will meet in each place are:

North Whidbey Caucus will take place at the Oak Harbor High School, Parker Hall, 950 SW Second Ave. The precincts are Oak Harbor 1-15, Coupeville 1-2, Admiralty, Hastie Lake, Central, Prairie, San de Fuca, Polnell, Penn Cove, Scenic Heights, Westview, Swantown, West Beach, Ault, Cornet, Countryside, Dugualla, Coveland, Highland, Silver Lake, Soundview and Fort Nugent.

South Whidbey Caucus will take place at Bayview Senior Center, 14594 Highway 525, Langley. It will cover Greenbank, Clinton, Freeland, Langley, Lone Lake, Sandy Point, Saratoga, Useless Bay, Austin, Bush Point, Deer Lake, Double Bluff, Glendale, Lagoon Point, Possession Point and Maxwelton.

You can reach News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611.

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