Babs Chase serves as a Program Officer for the State Department's Foreign Press Center.
Monday, March 3, 2008
Texas Secretary of State Phil Wilson welcomed the group this morning and discussed the Texas primary process and the role of his office in ensuring a fair and secure election. He spent a good deal of time talking about the “Texas Two-Step” which is the primary caucus voting system for both parties. The rationale for this type of system is quite confusing for Americans, and even more so for someone from overseas.
As Americans, we often take for granted that an election is fair, secure and private for individuals casting their votes. We were reminded during our presentation that this is not the case in many parts of the world.
The Texas Secretary of State is appointed by the Governor, and it was hard for several in our group to fathom that someone in a political position could be fair and honest to both sides. Corruption is a real concern in so many countries, and it was a great lesson to be able to show them the respectful relationship that can exist between our partisan organizations. Another journalist inquired about whether or not there would be violence at the polls. The Secretary seemed surprised about this question at first as that is not a real threat in the U.S. today, but the sincerity in the question reminds us of how much we have to be grateful for and how lucky we are to live in a free and fair democracy.
We spent the afternoon at the University of Texas at Austin with an excellent group of academic experts in public affairs, government, economics and immigration.
The questions from the group were across the spectrum, ranging from inquiries into diversity impact on the elections to the confusion of the Texas process and the influence of race and gender. With all the talk about Democratic candidates, everyone wanted to know if Texas could actually be in play for the general election. All the experts seemed pretty confident that it might bleed purple in a few areas but would ultimately stay red (Republican).
The Economy discussions focused a good bit on NAFTA and the candidates’ stance on the issue. Conventional wisdom here is that Texas has benefited a great deal from it, and the group found it interesting how the candidates targeted their comments differently with the Ohio and Texas voters. Several in our group are from Latin America and have been disappointed that plans for U.S. relations with the region have not been major factors in the campaign to date but hope for more information during the general election.
One of the key items of interest to our journalists is attending the candidate events, and, a large challenge to our office is helping them gain access. The media is fatigued with the ongoing campaign, but their attendance and interest have not waned. The group was thrilled when they found out that we would be able to attend Senator Hillary Clinton’s final Texas event last evening in Austin.
In typical campaign fashion, media is required to be in place a solid two hours before the event begins, and, also common, the candidate usually appears about one hour after late. This night was no exception, but the excitement of the group to see one of these events was too high to let the waiting get to them! They talked to supporters, took photos and watched in amazement as the crowd filed in, chanting and cheering for who they fondly call “Madame President.”
The event ended close to 10:00 p.m., but the group took their time getting out talking to supporters and buying souvenir campaign buttons for colleagues and friends back home. Discussions on the bus were enlightening as they rehashed the evening. One journalist commented about the number of promises candidates make and wondered how the voters could actually believe that whoever is elected could realistically accomplish them all. Many were surprised that the room was not full, but others commented on how it still felt so intimate. Some were just in awe that they were able to be so close to this historic primary. All in all, they enjoyed the experience and were able to connect with supporters getting a first-hand feel of the activists in the campaign.
Senator John McCain and Governor Mike Huckabee are not campaigning in our area, so they will not get a chance to see the Republican half of the ticket. However, we are anxiously awaiting news from the Obama campaign on whether or not we can take the group to the Primary Night event in San Antonio---fingers crossed!