Down to the wire on delegates: 8 towns yet to organize a Democratic Party caucus

  • Voters walk into Hopkins Academy in Hadley to vote in 2018. Hadley is one of eight communities in Hampshire County yet to organize a Democratic Party caucus that will help determine which candidates make the statewide primary ballot. GAzette file photo

Staff Writer
Published: 2/28/2022 7:00:38 PM
Modified: 2/28/2022 7:00:12 PM

WORTHINGTON — Eight Hampshire County communities are in danger of not having a say in which Democratic Party candidates will run for a slew of statewide offices this year, after having failed — so far — to organize a caucus to send delegates to the Massachusetts Democratic Party Convention in June.

As of Friday, Hadley, Hatfield, Westhampton, Plainfield, Chesterfield, Goshen, Huntington and Ware have yet to organize a caucus as a Monday deadline looms. Through March 7, any one Democrat can request to have a caucus held in their community by reaching out to Gus Bickford, chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party.

The party chooses its primary candidates through a system in which members caucus, or gather, in their communities and elect delegates to attend the party convention. At the convention, the delegates vote on who will make the primary ballot for statewide offices, with each candidate needing to get the votes of at least 15% of delegates.

This year’s June 3-4 convention, being held in Worcester and remotely, promises to have a big impact, determining which Democrats will make the ballot in primaries for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, auditor, treasurer and receiver-general, and secretary of the commonwealth.

Caucuses can be held remotely or assume a hybrid form, but a remote option must be offered for participation. All registered Democrats who were 16 by Feb. 4 can participate in a caucus. People can also register as Democrats at the caucus and participate.

“The bar is extremely low,” Bickford said.

Bickford said caucus members make up about 80% of the convention’s delegates. Other delegates include certain elected and party officials, as well as add-on delegates from the youth, people of color, LGBTQ+ and disabled communities if the convention’s demographics don’t match those of the state.

Ruth Lehrer helped found Worthington’s Town Democratic Committee in 2019, which will hold its caucus this Saturday. Lehrer, who serves as the Town Democratic Committee’s chair, said that it was only after serving on the committee that she realized the significance of committees in the statewide nominations process.

“I don’t think that Democrats in the Hilltowns understand that, even people who care about politics,” Lehrer said.

She also said that there’s a communication problem with the Massachusetts Democratic Party on the issue of what it means to have a Democratic caucus or committee.

A lack of interest in Democratic Party candidates certainly doesn’t seem to have been the driving force in the number of towns in Hampshire County that have yet to schedule caucuses this year. Many of these areas overwhelmingly back Democrats in statewide elections.

Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, a lieutenant governor hopeful from western Massachusetts, said that a number of the communities in Hampden County that he represents haven’t scheduled caucuses either. However, he noted that this is a problem that applies statewide — with numerous communities facing the prospect of not fielding delegations or full delegations.

“We’ve been seeing this across the state,” Lesser said.

And while Lesser said that some of this is a product of the COVID-19 pandemic, he also thinks that it’s “a broader issue that the party needs to work with and reckon with,” saying that there should be better outreach to rural communities, urban communities and communities of color.

Lesser said the party needs to make things more accessible and that having the caucus structure built into the convention is problematic.

Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, is another hopeful for lieutenant governor in western Massachusetts, and he represents a number of the towns poised to not send delegations. Hinds said that he first became aware of the issue of Democratic Party infrastructure when he was working for Congressman John Olver in 1998.

“He was really committed to building out the Democratic Party infrastructure in his district,” said Hinds.

Indeed, Hinds remembers driving to communities all around the district to find people to form committees.

“It’s good for the party,” he said.

Both Hinds and Lesser said they aren’t worried about getting on the ballot because they are running large statewide campaigns, though Hinds said western Massachusetts towns not sending delegations does present a structural disadvantage for the region.

“While I feel comfortable this cycle … what about future cycles?” he said.

Bickford said that the caucuses he has seen have been energized by the contested races for statewide positions.

“It’s really significantly increasing the amount of interest and energy,” he said.

Those interested in scheduling a cacus in their community can email Bickford at gus@massdems.org .

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.
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