If you want to help choose your party’s presidential nominee next winter, you’re going to have to bundle up and go to your caucus, as usual.
Which, if you’re like 97 percent of your fellow party members, you probably won’t.
A measure which would have boosted participation by making it possible to vote for your nominee by mail in the comfort of your home was unexpectedly killed in the Senate Appropriations Committee Monday.
Considering the sad history of Colorado’s previous history with presidential primaries, that may be a good thing.
Senate Bill 287 was a bipartisan effort to resurrect Colorado’s short-lived primary experiment of the 1990s. It had earlier passed the Senate State Affairs Committee 4-1.
The prime sponsors included a Democrat and a Republican in each chamber. Co-sponsors included Senate President Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, and Appropriations chairman Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City. But Grantham ended up siding with his fellow Republicans and cast the vote that killed the bill, 4-3.
Why did support fall apart? There was some confusion over whether newly elected GOP state chairman Steve House supported the bill. According to party spokesman Owen Loftus, House backed the measure — but not the price of it.
No wonder there was confusion.
Rich Coolidge, speaking on behalf of Secretary of State Wayne Williams, said his boss liked the bill “conceptually,” but feared he would have to raise fees on businesses to cover the cash-funded department’s $1.7 million cost.
The additional cost to the large counties, he said, might be only $1.50 to $2 per ballot, but smaller counties might have to pay up to $20 per ballot.
Perhaps the bill’s main problem was that it was introduced so late in the session that there was no time to clear up the confusion or allay fiscal fears.
Democrats who voted for the bill were understandably confused by the Republicans’ schizophrenic behavior — but maybe they should be grateful they killed the bill and saved the Democrats from themselves.
A little history: Colorado’s first presidential primary was held March 3,1992, early in the national primary season. What a wonderful opportunity to make a splash and lead the nation. So who got the most votes from Colorado Democrats? Governor Moonbeam, aka Jerry Brown of California. Colorado may have been at the head of the parade, but the other states marched off in a different direction.
In Colorado, Brown got 29 percent of the vote, Bill Clinton 27, former Massachusetts Sen. Paul Tsongas 26 and Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey 12.
The delegate votes were supposed to be apportioned accordingly, but here’s how the votes broke down at the Democratic National Convention: Clinton got 26 votes, Brown 19 and Tsongas 13. (Kerry had dropped out by then.)
Clinton led because the Democrats had, and still have, an elitist “superdelegate” system, with unpledged delegate slots going automatically to Democratic senators, congressional representatives and party leaders. Of Colorado’s delegates, only 47 were apportioned according to the popular vote. The rest went to the officeholders and party leaders, who weren’t bound to anybody. They could see how the primary season went, and all voted for front-runner Bill Clinton. That’s why Democrats have superdelegates: To save the party from foolish decisions made by ordinary voters who go for the likes of Jerry Brown. .
On the Republican side, incumbent President George H. W. Bush was challenged by Pat Buchanan, who reminded voters Bush had violated his famous 1988 pledge: “Read my lips: No new taxes.” Bush won Colorado by a 2-1 margin. By the way, in those days, Republicans had no superdelegates and even incumbent officeholders had to win election as delegates at state assemblies and conventions.
In 1996 Colorado Democrats had no problem renominating Clinton, whose only challenger was the eccentric convicted felon, Lyndon LaRouche. Republicans supported the eventual nominee, Kansas Sen. Bob Dole.
Colorado’s presidential primaries in 2000 were a fiasco, with only 20 percent participation, half of what it was in 1992. That was partly because the election was held on a Friday, the result of a failed plan to hold a Mountain West regional primary. It was just three days after Super Tuesday, where Al Gore and George W. Bush had nailed down their victories, and four days before a southern regional primary. Candidates didn’t bother coming here.
By 2000, primaries had become increasingly front-loaded, with two dozen states voting ahead of Colorado. The legislature put our presidential primary out of its misery before 2004.
S.B. 287 mandated that delegate votes in each party be apportioned according to the popular vote. But there might be better turnouts if the law, and party rules, mandated a winner-take-all result. That’s how the general elections work with the electoral college.
Polls already tell the primary candidates where they stand in each state. They’re not going to visit if it would only move the polls a couple of points. But they’d spend a lot of time here if victory gave them an entire delegation.
But such a system isn’t on the horizon yet. Colorado will stay with its caucus system and figures to be an also-ran in presidential primaries for years to come.
Longtime Rocky Mountain News political columnist Peter Blake now writes twice a month for CompleteColorado.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org You may re-publish his work at no charge and without further permission; please give full credit to Peter Blake and www.CompleteColorado.com.