A few glitches and gripes aside, caucus puts national spotlight on Nevada

Today marks Nevada’s first shot at running an early presidential caucus and, inevitably, there will be problems. But somehow it cheered me to learn that Iowa, which has been doing this since 1972, had problems, too.

In Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucus on Jan. 3, there were charges of fraud and incompetence.

There were reports that some folks from Illinois came in to vote for Sen. Barack Obama, although even if true, not enough to change the outcome.

There were questions whether some enterprising Republicans caucused, then went to Democratic sites, re-registered and caucused again.

The timing, a Thursday night, was criticized for disenfranchising people. Sound familiar? Sen. Hillary Clinton complained that folks in Iowa were disenfranchised because some couldn’t get time off from work to participate.

Of course in Nevada, she’s grumbling that the at-large precincts in nine hotels (where people will get time off to participate) are unfair.

So it’s unfair if people don’t get time off from work to caucus and it’s also unfair if they do?

Oh right, Culinary Local 226 didn’t endorse her, and the plan became "unfair" two days after the union endorsed Obama.

We’ll get our share of grumblings and claims of caucus intimidation, some subtle, some not so subtle.

When Elaine Wynn shows she is supporting Obama at the at-large site at Wynn Las Vegas, will her employees figure it might be smart to join with her? Of course they will.

When the Culinary union has endorsed Obama, it’s going to take a Culinary member with backbone and strong convictions to publicly support either Clinton or former Sen. John Edwards at the at-large sites.

Because the Republican caucus is through a secret ballot, there’s less opportunity to intimidate.

Thankfully, with the national spotlight upon us, Nevada has acquitted itself fairly well so far. During the week leading up to today’s showdown, two Nevada judges were called upon to make last-minute decisions. Both ruled from the bench, and fortunately only one looked foolish.

Senior District Judge J. Charles Thompson foolishly tried to force MSNBC to include minor candidate Dennis Kucinich in Tuesday’s televised debate, failing to comprehend that a state judge has little to say about the Federal Communications Act. He might also have wanted to think about those pesky First Amendment issues. The Nevada Supreme Court told Thompson he exceeded his authority, and the debate went on as planned.

The debate, which I anticipated could be pivotal, clearly wasn’t. The biggest gripes I heard came from minorities who thought the questions should have focused on minority issues, since that’s how the debate was advertised. But that’s a gripe about the organizers, not Clinton, Obama and Edwards, who all played nice in that particular sandbox.

U.S. District Judge James Mahan, a Republican, who demonstrated once again he comes to court prepared and knowledgeable, quickly rejected the strategic effort by the Nevada State Education Association to shut down the at-large hotel sites.

He didn’t buy the teachers union arguments and made it clear in the first 15 minutes of the repetitious two-hour hearing Thursday that political parties have the right to govern themselves and he wasn’t going to tell them how to run their caucuses.

If the Democratic Party wanted to increase minority participation by offering at-large sites in nine hotels and giving more weight to those sites, it was well within their right, he said.

During the hearing, John Hunt, chairman of the Clark County Democratic Party, whispered advice to the attorneys representing the teachers union, breaking with his own party and helping to oppose the state and national Democratic Party officials defending the at-large sites. After Mahan ruled, Hunt read a statement about how unfair the at-large sites and the delegate ratios were.

Moments later, Nevada Democratic Party Chair Jill Derby hugged Hunt and said, "It’s time to come together."

Just not quite yet.

The rivalries between Nevada supporters of Clinton, Obama and Edwards will peak today, a day when Nevada is a proving ground.

A state with a diverse population and a strong union presence will crown someone a Democratic presidential front-runner, at least until South Carolina on Jan. 26 makes Nevada old news.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0275.

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