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John Wren Still Believes in Caucusing

Colorado will caucus today, March 6. The last time Colorado caucused, in 2016, Democrats selected Bernie Sanders and Republicans picked Ted Cruz in a messy event that included two @RealDonaldTrump tweets.

In the technology era, some have argued it's hard to defend caucusing, a system that relies on in-person meetings with voters in town hall-style meetings around the state. Complaints against caucuses boil down to this: It's an overly antiquated voting system that's far more complicated than just showing up at a voting booth and simply pulling the lever.

Longtime activist John Wren has fought to keep the system in place for decades; he believes caucuses are a vital part of democracy. Wren even goes as far as to say that Donald Trump wouldn't have been elected if caucuses had been in play in 2016. He runs a website, COCaucus.org, which is dedicated to upholding the caucus system. Wren's involvement in politics goes back to his time working as the state chairman of Colorado College Republicans in the mid-1970s.

Don't quite get the caucus and what it's all about? Here's our guide for today's caucuses, what they mean and how to participate. We also spoke with Wren about the importance of caucuses.

Westword: Is one of the main points of the caucus to get people more involved in politics?

John Wren: Instead of feeling helpless and thinking we have to have the right president to take care of us, there is the sense and there is the reality that the grassroots control the system, so the voice of the average, ordinary person makes a difference. And the caucus system is a megaphone, so you don’t take marching orders from the party. You’re controlling the party. That’s why party leaders want to get rid of it; they don’t like to be controlled by the grassroots. They want to issue orders.

Why have you been such a big proponent of caucuses over the years?

In Colorado, every two years, [politicians] are forced to stare down the barrel of the gun, and if they haven’t been representing their constituency, in the nominating assembly there’ll be competition that comes up.

It seems to me that the people who oppose the caucus most vigorously are either: one, being duped into it by some very misleading information, or two, they are the powerful forces that are doing the duping.

How to you explain the caucus system?

Well what’s supposed to happen and what [does happen] is that when you move into your neighborhood, both parties contact you at different times and see if there’s anything they can do to be helpful to you. The thing that’s different about the caucus is that it’s self-selected. And so you have neighbors that are at a point in their life when they can participate, and they have the interest and the desire, and they go to the caucus. Now if that system is abused, then two years later there’s a new regime, it’s a revolution at the grassroots level. You can elect people that don’t represent their neighbors, and they do wacky things. Like, one of the wacky things would have been to select Donald Trump.

Do you expect more participation in this year's caucuses?

Were you there two years ago? It was jam-packed. So as far as numbers, it’s just not true that people don’t go to their caucus. That’s just a myth. Now what has happened is we’ve developed poor leadership. We’ve had leaders elected to be the custodians of the process that abort the process. Carolyn Metzler was Denver County Republican chair, and she actively worked to kill the caucus, the system she was elected to be in charge of. She had people following her down to the precinct level that supported that, which is outrageous. She should have stepped aside and let someone else [run it]. But she burned out. And instead of stepping aside, she just tries to kill it. Why she did that, I have no idea. I don’t know if it was these people who were doing the duping got to her. I don’t know, I don’t know it all. But it was a bizarre thing, and that happened two years ago.

Both state party chairs were on [TV] the weekend before the [2016] caucus, talking about how we have to get rid of it. Now if that was the weekend after it, I could see it, because it was very much of a nightmare experience for everyone because it was so poorly led. I went to as many caucuses as I could. I went to South High School and saw the Republican in charge of that district stand up and say, 'You know, we have to get rid of this caucus system.’ And here are these people that have showed up to be at the caucus and here they are saying they have to get rid of it. You can imagine the chaos that comes from that. People were demoralized.

But I think when people see it, they like it. I’m hoping some people show up with their iPhones and take some videos and post some comments about what actually happens. It’s bound to be a bit chaotic.

In some ways, it doesn’t matter who is president. What matters is if the grassroots is healthy, and it’s dying all across the country, and the result is Trump.

Look at the results. Trump didn’t prevail in any caucus state. I think that Trump is the beneficiary of these powerful forces that want to get rid of the grassroots. They just want to have their experts study and impose their ideas on citizens. That’s not what made America great.

John Wren Still Believes in Caucusing
Let Colorado Vote Facebook page

What are your plans for Tuesday night?

I affiliated as a Democrat. I just may do what I did two years ago and just go to as many as I can and see what’s going on.

What’s the future of the caucus?

I think both national parties are trying to make up their mind on what to do. I think what’s going to happen is instead of this long, drawn-out process, there’s going to be a caucus date, and all the caucus states will caucus on the same date. There can only be very few states that do it, and the states that have the caucus already are going to be the ones that get that. If Colorado got rid of theirs, it’s going to be a sad thing. And then after the caucus states, then I think all the rest of the states will vote on one date rather than spreading it out like it is, so you can see it up close and personal.

I think there’s good people in both parties. And I think that goodness comes out strongly at a caucus and just gets buried when there’s a direct election.

If we scrap [he caucus], I think it’s going to be a sad, sad day. It’s bound to come up through the caucus, because if I was trying to kill it, that’s what I would do: have a resolution at both Republican and Democratic caucuses up to the state level saying we need to get rid of the caucus. But I’m hoping enough people show up who have the true spirit of citizenship that that won’t prevail. So we’ll see what happens.

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