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Delegates are ones in control of Utah politics

SHARE Delegates are ones in control of Utah politics

If someone complains to you about Utah politics this weekend, ask them where they'll be Tuesday night.

One of the best-kept secrets in the state is that it is controlled by the few people who show up to small neighborhood meetings.

The very best-kept secret is that anyone can attend and wield astonishing political power. Yes, even you. And even that wacky Marxist-Leninist holdover living down the street.

What happens if he shows up and you don't?

Well, he'll have the chance to help dramatically alter the local and state political landscape.

You, on the other, will be one of tens of thousands who vote on local and state races in the June primary or the November general election. But that will be long after many of the big decisions have been made. It's also when many people often feel like their vote doesn't much matter.

Sometimes, they're right.

So if you tell me you feel that way in November, I'll ask you where you were at 7 p.m. on March 25, when you most certainly would have mattered a great deal.

Here's how it works.

On Tuesday night, the Republican and Democratic parties will hold what they call neighborhood caucuses, a really lame term for a meeting where 10 or 20 or 30 regular Joes and Jills you know from church or the PTA will pick a couple of their friends to represent you as delegates to the county and state conventions.

Those delegates will each represent about 1,250 people, most of whom won't even know they're being represented.

I went to my neighborhood's Republican meeting for the first time last year, and I couldn't believe what I'd been missing.

About 40 folks from my neighborhood sat in an elementary school room and made decisions that set the tone for the next two political seasons.

They voted on which of us would become delegates to the county and state Republican conventions. Several came with campaign speeches ready. The savviest showed up with a bunch of friends who promised to vote for them.

Oh, yeah, we talked about the party platform, too. And school vouchers. You want to know how the Legislature came to pass a voucher law the following year?

Neighborhood meetings. Those Joes and Jills selected delegates who were going to vote for pro-voucher legislative candidates.

The anti-voucher crowd managed to defeat vouchers in a ridiculously expensive statewide referendum, but they could have managed the same thing by getting their people to those neighborhood caucuses in 2006.

This is democracy at its finest. Any registered voter in your neighborhood can come and vote for anyone else as a delegate. Yes, one might even vote for you. They can register to vote at the door. They can even vote for your neighborhood's delegates if they're 17 and will be 18 by the November election.

(My son is going to love this.)

You don't have to make a large, corporate campaign contribution. You don't have to hire an expensive lobbyist. You will be viewed as a powerbroker. Even if you don't want to be a delegate, you will be courted by those who do, and who will want your vote.

If you do want to be a delegate, and you win your little neighborhood vote, you'll suddenly be

admired by all the candidates who want to represent your district, from county recorders to state legislators to congressmen and their challengers.

They'll send you mail. They'll return your e-mails. They'll even give you their cell phone numbers.

You'll wonder if your nephew married into the Huntsman or Matheson family and somehow made you important.

Why all the love? You'll have the ability to make or break the political futures of powerful men and women. You help decide who gets on the ballot and who doesn't.

A shocking example popped up two years ago, when about 1,100 delegates at the Utah County Republican convention booted Utah County Attorney Kay Bryson out of office.

Voters in the Republican primary or general election never even saw Bryson's name on the ballot. It was a stunning loss for a man who had won four previous elections.

It all started in little neighborhood meetings where delegates were selected who weren't happy with Bryson.

The question for disappointed Bryson supporters was simple.

Where were you for the neighborhood caucuses in March?

Tad Walch lives with his wife and five children in Provo, their home for the past 21 years. Please e-mail twalch@desnews.com.