Recently, a group of upper echelon politicians pushed a statewide initiative, Count My Vote, to change Utah’s election process to a format that appeared to be more advantageous for wealthy candidates. CMV spent over $1.2 million to dismantle Utah’s established caucus system and install a direct primary.
As one of the founders of a counter campaign, I witnessed an eye-opening problem: many of those signing the petition not only didn’t understand what they were signing, but also lacked knowledge of the caucus-convention process and how it actually works. Moreover, they truly didn’t comprehend the ramifications of implementing a direct primary.
There was, however, a positive take-away. Education. We found that when Utahns had the opportunity to learn about the caucus-convention process versus a primary-only path to the ballot, the majority preferred the former. Keep Our Caucus met with the University Student Association at BYU and gave a presentation covering the Caucus System. Their response was sobering. “This seems great, but why did we never know about it?” I didn’t have an answer for them.
I realized that we failed these students. Our state, our schools, our leaders and our political parties failed. These youth were never taught Utah’s election process. How can we expect rising generations to be involved if we are not teaching them the fundamentals?
George Washington said, “A primary object should be the education of our youth in the science of government. In a republic, what species of knowledge can be equally important? And what duty more pressing than communicating it to those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the country?”
Just because an idea is three centuries old doesn’t mean it’s obsolete. Utahns should be proud to know the election process we utilize in our state emerged from our Founding Fathers. “Caucus” is purely American. The word and concept originate directly from the Founding Era of our nation.
During early colonial America, Deacon Adams, father of Samuel Adams, was an influential leader in Boston. He convened local political meetings in Boston Harbor, where ship caulkers labored. A caulker’s job was to make ships seaworthy. This was done by working oakum, a material of tarred fibers, into the seams of a ship’s wooden deck or hull to make it watertight. The meetings were consequentially called “Caulker Meetings.” Over the years the term morphed into “Caucus.”
Deacon Adams and Elisha Cooke Jr. founded the Boston Caucus circa 1719. Three additional caucuses formed in the city during the 1760’s. Samuel Adams, like his father, participated in the caucuses and became a great political leader in Massachusetts.
The main objectives of the caucus meetings were to champion the economic and political rights of ordinary citizens. This was accomplished by meeting together, discussing political issues and deciding whom they would actively support for public office.
Adams and other patriots utilized the caucuses to shape Boston Town Meetings to push back on Parliament’s Townshend Acts, to support the Sons of Liberty in opposition to British rule, to organize the Boston Tea Party, and to propel America to independence.
The principles behind the caucus model haven’t changed since the American Revolution. Rights of all citizens are still paramount today. Self-governance is how a society best maintains rights and freedoms, and Utah’s Caucus System answers that call. Its grassroots process naturally leads to more local representation, which leads to better governance, and results in more freedom and opportunity for everyone.
Although refinements will be necessary, educating future generations about the Caucus System must remain a top priority to ensure its future and Utah’s destiny as a beacon of liberty.
Brandon Beckham is the director of Keep Our Caucus and a member of the Republican State Central Committee residing in Orem.