WALLA WALLA - It's sometimes referred to as the "silly season:" that period of time that winds its way through the minefield of primaries and caucuses every four years providing a clash of ideas, ideals and personalities that ultimately leads to the voting booth (or mail-in ballot as in Washington state) in November.
But, in reality, there is nothing "silly" about it.
Thomas E. Cronin, former president of Whitman College and an expert on presidential politics, once wrote that "politics, it is important to appreciate, is the lifeblood of democracy. Without politics, there is no freedom. And, without politicians, we have no choices. Constitutional democracy requires people of courage to step forward, offer choices, debate and listen, and be willing to run for office and then serve."
So, as I write this, we find ourselves in the middle of this noble and vital process. This year, however, things are a little different in Washington state.
In an effort to ease the strain on the state budget, lawmakers decided to "scrap" the traditional presidential primary. Make no mistake, there will be a primary in Washington state. That takes place Aug. 21. It will not, however, be a "presidential" primary.
This means the only way voters will have an impact on the process of nominating a presidential candidate and help to formulate policy and platform will be to participate in the "precinct caucus" process.
For the Democrats, the caucuses will be held on April 15 and will be largely procedural in nature as President Obama is essentially unopposed to be the party's nominee.
For Republicans, the caucuses will be held on March 3 and will be the only opportunity to state their presidential preference for the Republican nominee and have input on the Republican Party's resolutions, policies and platform.
Here's how it works: Walla Walla County is divided into 59 voting precincts, ranging in size from under 10 registered voters to just over 1,200.
People who consider themselves Republican will meet at the Community Building at the Walla Walla Fairgrounds beginning at 10 a.m. March 3. These are called "pooled" caucuses because rather than having a meeting in each precinct, all precincts will meet in one place.
This is due primarily to the difference in number of registered voters in each precinct and the geographical area covered by Walla Walla County.
When you arrive, you will be asked to present ID or voter card to insure you are a registered voter (a requirement for participation). You must have registered by Feb. 27. If you registered recently, it would be helpful to bring your voter registration card since your name may not have been added to the lists we will be using to identify registered voters.
You will also be required to sign a pledge stating you consider yourself a Republican. Remember, in Washington when we register to vote, we don't register with a party affiliation. There is no cost to participate in this process.
Three things will occur at these meetings.
First, attendees will participate in a straw poll. This will "take the temperature" for who they think they will support for the nomination.
Second, they will actually elect delegates from each precinct to the county convention which takes place on April 21 at the Marcus Whitman Hotel and Conference Center.
The number of delegates from each precinct is proportionate to the number of registered voters in each precinct who voted Republican in the last general election.
Those delegates, chosen from the population of each precinct, will declare which candidate they are likely to support. At this stage, however, they are not bound to support that candidate.
That doesn't happen until someone is elected as a delegate from the state convention to the Republican National Convention.
All voting is done by secret ballot and a maximum of 184 delegates could be elected to the county convention. From the county convention, 16 delegates will be elected to accompany three automatic delegates from the local party Central Committee to the state convention.
The third thing that will take place is discussion of the local party platform. Attendees will have an opportunity to weigh in on issues and resolutions that are important to them.
This is grassroots politics at its very best and a real opportunity for your voice to be heard.
Again, to quote Thomas Cronin, "... Politics at its best provides the possibility for leadership, responsibility and accountability, where, by acting together, citizens become free. It is in this sense that politics is not a necessary evil; it is a realistic good. And it is also in this sense that politics is necessarily the preoccupation of a free people, and its existence, with all of its attendant messiness, is a test of freedom."
Jim Johnson is chairman of the Walla Walla County Republican Central Committee. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org