March 8, 1995 in City

Spokane Gets Head Start On Picking President Residents Face Caucuses, Statewide Primary And Poll On Municipal Ballot

By The Spokesman-Review

Spokane residents will get a chance to choose a presidential candidate three times before the 1996 general election.

That’s a record for a community that in the past assiduously avoided early involvement in the presidential process.

Most people stay home on Republican and Democratic caucus night. The state’s first presidential primary generally was ignored in May 1992, attracting a dismal turnout of 9 percent of the county’s voters.

Spokane political party leaders hope the chance to be part of City Vote, the first-ever urban presidential straw poll on Nov. 7 this year, will change that.

“I think exposure is good,” said Duane Sommers, chairman of the county Republican Party. “The more events you have, the more it helps.”

City Vote is an attempt to force a major change in the way the nation winnows the field of presidential candidates.

It also would jump-start presidential politics in Spokane by nearly a year.

Three months before the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primaries, at least a dozen and perhaps as many as 20 cities around the country will place presidential candidates on their municipal ballots. Voters who come to the polls to select city councils and mayors will be asked to mark ballots for president.

The month before that election, Spokane and three other cities participating in the primary will hold a series of debates that organizers hope will draw the major candidates.

The Spokane debate, scheduled for Oct. 22 in the Ag Trade Center, will center on the environment.

“What greater place to have that debate than the home of the 1974 World’s Fair that was themed to the environment,” Mayor Jack Geraghty said Tuesday in announcing the forum.

Holding the debate provides a special opportunity for residents of Spokane and the Inland Northwest to have their issues addressed, said Chris Peck, managing editor of The Spokesman-Review, which is a co-sponsor of the debate.

The newspaper hopes City Vote will inspire people to greater public participation and will build a sense of community, Peck said.

The City Vote primary could help strengthen the political parties and give candidates who come to the city a leg up on the March caucuses, Sommers said.

“If a candidate gets a big following (from City Vote) they could really pack the caucuses,” he said.

The caucuses, to be held in midMarch, are where political parties want the selection of presidential delegates to begin. State law, however, says those delegates should be awarded by a statewide primary, which may be held in midMarch or late May, depending on bills now before the Legislature. Arguments over those two systems created confusion that contributed to poor turnouts in 1992.

The fight between the statewide primary and the caucuses probably will be waged again next year. But City Vote may be able to steer clear of that because it is merely a straw poll.

Jimmy Sirmans, county Democratic Party chairman, said City Vote won’t be confusing if the parties and the sponsors do a good job.

“We’re trying to inform people about the active roles they can take,” Sirmans said.

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