By Scott Tibbs, October 30, 2013
In the 2012 election cycle, the Monroe County Democratic Party had a cascade of caucuses. First, an incumbent candidate for county commissioner was selected to run for state senate when Vi Simpson was nominated to run for lieutenant governor. A candidate for county council was selected to run for county commissioner to replace the spot opened by the earlier caucus. Then, a caucus was held to fill that spot on the ballot for county council.
Monroe County Democrats held three more caucuses that year - one to replace a candidate on the ballot after she died suddenly, and another to replace an incumbent county council member who died in office. The sixth and final caucus was to replace the county commissioner who left his term early to focus on his work in his new office as state senator.
Was all of this "undemocratic," as the Journal-Gazette opined when it editorialized against Republican caucuses in September? Should we be worried about the number of caucuses, as the Journal-Gazette seems to be in a follow-up story?
It is important to remember that the party officers who choose replacements - either to fill a vacancy on the ballot or to replace an incumbent - are often elected officials themselves. Precinct committeemen run for office in the party's primary, and are elected by their neighbors. (If no one runs, then the party chairman gets to pick the PC.) Voters are choosing people as their representatives to fill these vacancies, so it is not as "undemocratic" as the Journal-Gazette would like us to believe.
Special elections are very expensive propositions for local government, and a party caucus allows the people to have representation quickly and with no real cost to the taxpayers - an important thing to remember as many local governments face tough choices in their budgets. People chosen to replace incumbents who leave office for whatever reason will have to face the voters if they want to stay in office, and there is plenty of opportunity for them to be vetted then.
This is a good system that is working as it was intended to work, and how it is set up to work by the Indiana code.