Eagle Co. voters head to caucuses Tuesday | VailDaily.com

Eagle Co. voters head to caucuses Tuesday

Melanie Wong
Vail, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” If you want to weigh in on Colorado’s pick for presidential candidate, have a say in your party’s local platform, or hear what candidates for local offices have to say, Tuesday’s caucuses are your chance.

A caucus is a gathering of party members to chose local leaders for the next couple years, said Eagle County Clerk and Recorder Teak Simonton.

“They’ll talk about the issues facing the county and nationally and step up to roles in the county,” she said.

The caucuses are the first step in the political process ” the party’s local platform is decided at the caucus, and leaders for the county’s 30 precincts also will be chosen.

The precinct leaders organize their neighborhoods, go door-to-door and make calls, said Eagle County Democrats Vice-Chair Carole Onderdonk.

From the precinct leaders, delegates are chosen to attend the countywide assembly and from there, delegates are chosen to attend the state convention, then the national convention.

“Presidential years are always the most exciting. If you want to be a national delegate, you start out at the neighborhood level,” said Vail Republican Mike Mathias. “If you have strong views on an issue, or you want your people on the ballot, this is how you do it.”

For the first time, parties will take a straw poll for the presidential race at the caucuses. The vote is informal, but the statewide results will be tabulated that night.

“We’re important in this race. What we say counts. The media is looking to see what Colorado is going to do just like they looked to New Hampshire or Ohio,” said Eagle County Democrats Vice-Chair New New Wallace.

The Republican caucuses will be held at seven locations around the county. The Democratic caucus will be held in Eagle, and another meeting for the Roaring Fork Valley will be held in El Jebel.

To participate, voters must have been registered with the Democrat or Republican party by Dec. 5.

Candidates for open office positions are chosen at the county assembly. This year there are senate and state representative positions open, as well as two seats on the Eagle County Board of Commissioners seats.

However, the neighborhood caucus is the place for candidates to campaign and get their name out, said Eagle County Republicans Chairman Randy Milhoan.

“I’m especially hoping for two good candidates to run for county commissioner. I’d like to win both seats back,” he said.

Democratic Commissioner Arn Menconi cannot run for re-election because of term-limits and Commissioner Peter Runyon’s first four-year term is ending.

Milhoan said he thinks there will be a good turnout at the caucuses this year, especially with Rudy Giuliani and John Edwards dropping out of the presidential race last week.

“I think those events might generate interest,” he said.

Colorado is one of the few states that have a caucus system. In other states, residents do not have a say in state and national races until the primary elections.

McCoy Republican Melinda Gorman said she likes the caucus system.

“You come, you get to know your neighbors, and it’s pretty small so it’s easier to be heard on the issues,” she said.

One drawback is that people do not seem very informed about the process.

“People often don’t realize you have to declare a party, and it’s hard to get people to come,” Gorman said. “(Caucuses are) a good system if people will get out and take advantage of it.”

The drawback of primary elections is that large amounts of money can go into influencing the election by the time that primaries come around, Milhoan said.

Wallace said the caucus system is not perfect, but it gets people more involved than a primary system.

“If people are involved, that can’t be bad,” she said.

Everyone is invited, even if they are not registered with a party, Wallace said.

“You have to be registered in order to vote, but everyone is still welcome to come and be heard,” she said. “Everyone mills around and talks about who they’ll vote for, and what they think. It’s fun.”

Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 748-2928 or mwong@vaildaily.com.

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