Rep Casas Addresses the Caucus Question

Posted:  Monday, September 24, 2018 - 5:15pm
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What is a caucus? Merriam-Webster defines caucus as: a closed meeting of a group of persons belonging to the same political party or faction usually to select candidates or to decide on policy OR a group of people united to promote an agreed-upon cause. Interestingly the term was first used in American politics by John Adams in 1763 and some scholars believe the term derived from an Algonquian term for a group of elders, leaders, or advisers.  

A frequent question asked of nonparty affiliated candidates is “which party will you caucus with”? My answer prior to being elected to the 128th Legislature was “I’d like to spend time caucusing with both parties”. After being elected I went about exploring that possibility.

After meeting with Republican House leaders, the agreement reached was that I was invited to attend their caucus anytime I wanted, however they reserved the right to ask me to leave anytime they wanted. They asked for no commitments on my part other than to leave when asked. That agreement worked for me.

After meeting with Democratic House leaders, the offer presented was the ability to attend their caucus if I could commit to caucusing with the Democrats exclusively, never with the Republicans. Because I was unwilling to make that commitment I did not caucus with the Democrats.

So off and on for a few months I caucused with House Republicans. My colleague, Independent Rep Kent Ackley, caucused with Democrats through that same time period. Over the course of the first regular session five sitting legislators left their political parties prompting us to start the Independent Caucus.  Our observations of partisan caucus proved useful in structuring the caucus that was formed.

Here are our observations.

First, there is a distinct difference between a partisan caucus held to nominate a candidate versus a partisan caucus held in a legislative body by elected officials to discuss items that will be voted on during that day. Caucus, in either party, seems to be broken down into two distinct parts: 1, reviewing and sharing information on agenda items to be voted on and 2, strategizing on how to advance the caucus position on said agenda items.

Disagreements on opinion, displaying information and “points” on topics, explaining how one smaller item fits into the bigger picture, updates on priorities, and more are discussed during caucus. This is a great way for legislators, who might be unaware of developments in committees outside of their own, to get informed on what is happening. 

I am pleased at how informative the independent caucus has been for me. We meet (generally with an open door policy), share information, make points and counter points, separate fact from fiction and see if there is any mutual agreement on positions. If mutual agreement is found on an issue we do our best to advance it, if there is no agreement we simply ensure all members have the information necessary to make good decisions for the constituents they represent. I look forward to continuing independent caucus after my re-election on November 6. As always, please feel free to reach out with any comments or questions via email at owencasas@gmail.com or by phone at (207) 333-0067.

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