hydrangea blossoming

hydrangea blossoming
Hydrangea on the Edge of Blooming

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Caucusing in Point Roberts

Caucus: a mighty funny word, with no clear etymology.  I'd bet there was some connection with raucous, but the etymological dictionaries don't mention it.  One source mentions the Algonquin word caucauas as a possible source, meaning a wise councillor.  I doubt that, from the experience.  But perhaps the people always have wise counsel to offer if one can only sort it out from the other kind.

In any case, caucus we did this morning at the Community Center.  "Begins at 10, so come at 9:30," we are advised.  Perhaps breakfast will be served.  We arrived at ten and on our way, I spotted a unusual mourning dove sitting on a power wire and wondered if perhaps he, too, were on the way to the caucus, mistakenly expecting to find Bernie Sanders there.  But he did not appear: neither the dove nor Bernie.

The rooms were full when we got there; maybe 90-100 people turned up to do their bit for Hillary or for Bernie or for Democracy, but not for breakfast.  The caucus "tradition" comes to us as a result of the unfortunate Chicago Convention in 1968 when the people expressed their disapproval of party bigwigs making all those decisions in smoke-filled back rooms.  Let the people in, was the cry.  Let them go sit with one another at the Community Center for a couple of hours, working their way through a most peculiar set of practices such as:

You fill out your registration sheet on which you record your name and all the information that routinely trails after your name plus your candidate preference (or your failure to have a candidate preference).  Then someone stands up in front and tells you what will happen next.  And what will happen next is you will elect that person the Precinct Captain, largely because he/she volunteers for the job and because no one else apparently has any idea what we should all be doing.

We can offer something to the County Democrats platform statement.  If anyone had any idea what that was or what could be offered.  And talliers, a secretary, and watchers must be named.  The talliers must be capable of counting; the secretary of writing, and the tally watchers must have functioning eyes.

And then, when the tallying is finished, we can if we wish make a presentation upon the part of our candidate in order presumably to persuade others who for unknown reasons have settled on another candidate as their choice.  And after that, we can all change our minds about who we wish to support and revise our registration sheets, and then the talliers et al can do it all again.  And then we're almost done, except that we have to elect delegates to go to the county convention, where they will elect delegates to go to the state convention, where they will elect delegates to go to the national convention, winnowing all the while.  And then we can elect alternates as well.  And then we can go home.

And in between each step, we will sit and chat with one another in a room with bad acoustics so that all one really hears is a constant roar.  The point of the chatting is perhaps to encourage us to get to know one another, but for the most part we have chosen to sit with people whom we already know.  So, we were not enlightened.  Then the talliers report that by counting the registration papers, they have determined that Bernie has earned 4 delegates, and Hillary has earned 3 delegates.  The people who choose to speak for their candidates get up and speak kindly about both candidates, although acknowledging that they do prefer one or the other for some vague reason ("more experience", for Hillary; solid ideas about "what needs to be fixed", for Bernie.  (One might conjecture that Hillary probably has too much experience, all things considered, and that Bernie--as he himself acknowledges--doesn't expect to be able to fix anything solely by being elected, so it is not so much reasons as hopes or beliefs that are on offer.)

And then no one wants to change his vote but two people have come in late, so their registration pages have to be incorporated.  Another wait for the re-tallying which results in 4 delegates for Bernie and 3 for Hillary.  And people are leaving, but the hard core sorts (like us) hang in to vote for the 4 delegates and 4 alternates who will go to Bellingham to do our will.  Six people put their names forward as delegates.  After some discussion about how to vote, we each write 4 names on a slip of paper.  And someone goes again to tally the delegates as well as the alternates, and we all go home.

Well, it was an experience, even (as it happens) a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  Memorable?  Well, maybe not so much.  No great feeling of authenticity, no sense of genuine participation in something important.  It made one understand something of the appeal of those smoke-filled rooms that used to provide a short cut for all this.

In surveys, about 65% of American voters think that the electoral process is broken.  And yet, here we were, a bunch of ordinary folks sitting about making decisions of some sort about who should be nominated for president and none of us paid anyone anything to be there.  Everyone appeared to be reasonably knowledgeable about what the election was about.  Sounds okay.

Yet, the Democrats main concern in this election seems to be the excessive role of money and corporate power in the election and in government generally.  By contrast, the Republican power brokers endlessly complain that their money and their power are having no effect whatsoever on the primary and Donald Trump is the living proof that outrageous amounts of money and power are not enough.  So, there's too much money and power pushing final results and the money and power can't get the desired results.   Sounds like something is definitely broken.  It was a mourning dove I saw on the way to the caucus.  That could be the sign we've been waiting for.  

By 12:15, we were safely back home.  Ed tells me that there was talk that the Democrats will be moving, doubtless incrementally, to a direct primary.  I'll vote for that.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The New Point Roberts Library

Earlier this year, the Friends of the Point Roberts Public Library announced that they had raised slightly over $538,000 for the new library.  (Full disclosure: I am the chair of that Fundraising Committee.) The amount was set by the original feasibility study for the new building.  The New Library Project is a joint endeavor of the Friends of the Library, the Park and Recreation District, and the Whatcom County Library System, each party having critical roles.

Over the past 4+ years, this project has proceeded under an agreement known as a "Memorandum of Understanding" that defines each group's responsibilities.  It was revised and signed by all three parties in October 2014.  It has the status of a legal contract.  Here's what it says:

1.  The Friends will try to raise $538,000 for the new library;
2.  The Park and Recreation District will make the Julius Fire Hall available for use as a new library;  and
3. The Whatcom County Library System will, when the Julius Fire Hall space is ready,  provide all furnishings, equipment, and human resources to make it a functioning library, as well as to pay for utilities for the building;

In addition, the Park District is required to raise any additional funds needed, should there be a gap between the funds raised by the Friends and the final costs for the renovation/reconstruction of the Julius Fire Hall.  The District may do this from its regular funding, or it may put a levy on the ballot to allow the voters to approve or disapprove the necessary gap funding.

Although the Friends have raised the initially-required funds, the intervening years have inevitably led to higher costs.  In this instance, the Park District does not have sufficient funds of its own to fund that gap.  Thus, they must place a levy on the ballot in order to determine whether the voters support a one-year increase in property taxes to bring the library to completion.

On March 9, the District held a special meeting to assess public support for this project.  Despite very unpleasant weather, 40 people turned out for the meeting.  All were invited to speak, although not everyone did.  Support for the levy was almost unanimous from those who spoke.  On March 14, at the Park District's regular monthly meeting, by contrast, Chairman Linda Hughes voiced her absolute opposition to placing a levy on the ballot, despite the Memorandum of Understanding's plain language.

It was like having U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell come to Point Roberts to point out that he had no plan to do his job to have a vote on a Supreme Court nominee because he doesn't like Obama.  As a result, the remainder of the meeting was largely a shambles with NO forward motion on the project. A month lost when what the Commissioners need to be doing is determining which optional elements to include in the design, deciding the size of the levy, and setting a time-line for completing the paperwork to get the levy on the November ballot.

The design of the building has largely been set since the beginning of the project when there were several public meetings to get a general consensus about its suitability.  The model (built by Alex Tersakian) has been on view for several years; all of the Friends' public materials have included photos of it.  That is the library that we have been raising money for;  that is the library that we need to get built.

The Park District has a suggestion box in the main hallway at the community center.  Perhaps you might like to offer your views.  Maybe tell them to "Do your job; put the library levy on the ballot."  You can also comment on this blog, or on the Friends' blog, which also includes a fuller description of the two meetings.  I will forward all comments on either blog to the Commissioners.  They need to hear from you.