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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.

1 comment:

Jeff Butts said...

Admittedly I'm coming a little late into this Library issue, but in reading all the opinions and comment here and the APB, I'd have to say there are some deep divides, and firm stances over what should be done, what was agreed too, and how to proceed.

I've spent the last 25 years building 10 to 150 million dollar condo/apartments/single family home developments. Being over budget is more then common, its expected, as preliminary plans don't often consider all the work and requirements needed, and therefore base the budget on incomplete scopes of work.
I'm hearing a call for the entire foundation to be built new, and at a higher elevation. Foundation costs are usually one of the more expensive line items within a construction budget. Concrete and rebar don't come cheap.
going from over budget to a complete redesign is not only throwing away the $36,000 already invested in the design, but also loses a large chunk of time, and added time for more meetings to approve something new.

The step that developers take in these types of situations, is called "value engineering" In other words, someone takes the time to go through all the plans and comes up with ways to save money. I used to tell homeowners that there are 40 line items that go into building a home, and cutting costs come down to compromises on materials and specifications.
There are many types of siding, flooring, windows, doors, etc, from which to choose. Money can be saved in downsizing, or downgrading these different line items.

Items like a big concrete monument sign can save money just by going to something simpler on the actual building.

where did the $538,000 number come from? was it someone's estimate, or were hard bids from actual contractors collected? (probably not)

So the new cost is $689,000, replacing the initial cost of $538,000... I really doubt that building costs have gone up $150,000, and instead is now closer to what the actual budget should have been in the first place. Also there is always a wide gap in pricing from each subcontractor, and contracts can always be negotiated down 3-5% per line item, when it comes down to getting the job or not.

I would be willing to volunteer to roll up my sleeves and dig into the plans and specs to see how much could easily be saved through a few rounds of value engineering.

Feel free to contact me to discuss further