Level 1 - Precinct Caucus
Caucus night is a declining American tradition, now practiced in only 14 states. Minnesota is one of those states. This is the gateway to becoming a party hack. For those states with only primaries, I suspect your way in is to volunteer for campaigns or the party itself. Anyway, at the beginning of an election year - and thanks to the 2008 season I mean the beginning, as in once you've finished singing Auld Lang Syne - go to your respective state party's website and check the schedule for your precinct caucus. What the fuck is a precinct? A precinct is an arbitrary political district at the neighborhood level. This map will give you an idea of its size.
Some of you may be asking, "but what if I don't have a party affiliation?" Fuck you. No one cares what you think.
My first precinct caucus was back in 2000 and amusingly enough held in the high school I still attended. One of the purposes of the caucus is to elect precinct officers. These are the Private in the political army, and most people aren't interested. I was elected Vice Chairman despite not yet having graduated high school. Don't worry about having to do anything. While the office has responsibilities, your precinct members will like you better if you fail to uphold them. The upside is you're guaranteed a delegate slot to...
Level 2 - Senate/House District/County Convention
Depending on your area's population density, the next step will either be a senate or house district convention or county convention. In my neck of the woods, we have both a senate district convention and county convention but no one gives a shit about the latter. Typically, the more rural the likelier it'll be a county convention and vice versa. These are similar to the precinct caucuses only bigger and with the added responsibility of nominating people for real actual elections like state legislature, county sheriff/commissioner, and any office within the jurisdiction of the convention. Sometimes a big fish will drop by to give a stump speech. They also elect delegates to levels 4 and 5, which brings us to...
Level 3 - Committees
Committees are the "smoky back rooms" of the party and they exist at all levels above the precinct. They set the agenda at the conventions and are the gatekeepers to further advancement. The committee you want to be on is the Nominating Committee but don't bother trying as those seats are jealously guarded by the old party hacks. It is the Nominating Committee who will determine whether or not you advance in the party ranks. The committee you should volunteer for is the Rules Committee, sometimes combined with the Constitution Committee. These guys draft the bylaws governing conduct at the various conventions and are typically populated with Assburger's and OCD types. As such, few people volunteer and your doing so will be viewed with favor.
Check out Robert's Rules of Order and familiarize yourself with parliamentary procedure. The great part about the Rules Committee is despite its unpopularity, it is second only to the Nominating Committee in power. By tweaking voting rules, you can affect the eventual outcome of nominations, not to mention troll the fuck out of the convention if you so desire. Don't worry about pissing anyone off either. I guarantee you at least one crackpot will bitch about your rules, but his bitching will only prolong the convention and piss off all the other delegates who want to get home in time for Leno.
Level 4 - Congressional District Convention
Much the same as the senate district convention, but bigger and more professional. Assuming you signed up for the Rules Committee or some other volunteer work, getting here shouldn't be a problem as long as you remembered to ask the Nominating Committee nicely. A lot of people come to these conventions thinking they can advance by floor nominations. They are mistaken. You are not going to convince the necessary 2/3rds of the convention to suspend the rules because you were too proud/lazy to kiss the Nominating Committee's ass. Note: the ass kissing happens before the senate district convention, so mark your calendar.
Where the aforementioned senate/house district conventions refer to the state legislature, the congressional district convention refers to Congress and you can expect your congresscritter or congresscritter-wannabe to show. Since there is less actual party business to attend to than at level 2, expect more speeches and a lot more bitching about the rules. I should probably mention that the other purpose of all these conventions and caucuses is to amend the party platform, but that's boring and depressing. Don't bother. Your carefully researched and worded amendment will be so mangled and distorted by two passes through floor amendments to the amendment that by the time it reaches level 5 it will be discarded by the Platform Committee for being too retarded. If by some miracle it makes it past, it will be amended by some senile old party hack who spectacularly failed to understand your original point to read that the party should support headstones for aborted fetuses.
If you happen to be a member of a party affiliate, e.g. College Republicans, you might be able to sneak a pass to level 5 at the congressional district convention. It's also a good place to network if you're into that sort of thing. Otherwise bring a book.
Level 5 - State Convention
This was my first state convention. I didn't have enough clout to go in 2004, wanted to focus on my campaign in 2006, and gave up my senate district delegate slot to a Paultard in 2008 with the hope of getting them hooked. This year I was in a new senate district and wanted to firmly establish myself. The Nominating Committee gave me the go ahead once they learned I was a candidate to the state senate. Fun fact: the GOP considers running for state senate the equivalent of a $50,000 donation in terms of clout.
Again, same format as the previous two conventions, much bigger. According to the Credentials Committee, there were 2020 seated delegates today, along with a few hundred unseated alternates, campaign workers, vendors, and press. Alternates, by the way, are there in case a seated delegate fails to show or isn't present for a vote because he's busy taking a shit. It is a testament to Robert's Rules of Order that such a gargantuan meeting can be governed at all. Like any convention, there were floor passes, vendors selling shit, and people wearing ridiculous shirts, hats, buttons, etc in support of their candidate. A bullpen before the stage was setup for the seated delegates and everyone else stood or sat in bleachers.
Amusingly enough, this was my first convention at any level where a nomination was actually contested. When you're the minority party in your area, getting people to run for office is hard enough. Finding multiple people who are willing to compete for the right to run for office is an absurdity. The only reason I ran was because someone from the state party office called and asked me to. They were pursuing a "full slate" strategy in 2006 in order to bleed the Democrats since it was pretty obvious we were going to lose seats anyway. Thursday night's main event was for state auditor. Friday's for governor.
Believe it or not there were four candidates for state auditor. One was the former Republican state auditor, a casualty of the 2006 massacre, two were private sector yahoos looking to pad their resumes, and an assburger's CPA who worked for the state auditor's office who more or less pimped his daughters on the campaign trail. When his eldest stumped for him at the senate district convention, the chairman made a point to mention, "yes, she's 18." His speech to the convention was dripping with nerd rage. One of the private sector yahoos dropped out after the first vote. Assburger bowed out after the second and it dragged on for another two votes until the nomination for first accountant went to the former title holder. At 2AM.
The convention resumed SEVEN HOURS LATER with a bunch of delegates barely paying attention. A bunch of congresscritter-wannabes no one gave two shits about made speeches we all slept through. My favorite congresscritter also gave a speech but we were all too tired to care. Suddenly, people started passing out 2'x4' signs to all the seated delegates. Normally, the candidates leave that and a bunch of other shit on the seats before the convention begins, but these weren't for any of the candidates up for consideration. No, these were for everyone's favorite crazy congresscritter. She had more signs than both the gubernatorial candidates combined. I guess you never stop campaigning.
Yeah, she's not a good speaker. She didn't have any terrible gaffs like the Norwegian transplant who referred to the "Great Slam" in baseball, a mistake that would have been forgivable were it not for the fact his entire stump was based around an extended baseball metaphor, but it was just dull. More proof that politics is 90% cheerleading, and she's quite the cheerleader. She and Palin should form a 2012 presidential ticket and play up the hot lesbian action angle. No one gives a shit about policy anymore. Thankfully T-Paw followed up and showed that ditz how to work a motherfucking room. After hearing from the current governor, we moved on to the wannabes.
The first was the archconservative crank. He must have gotten less sleep than the rest of us because he spent half his 20 minutes bitching about how the GOP lost its way. Next was mainstream candidate #1. He ended his speech with streamers and confetti, because that's what you do before you've won. If that weren't bad enough, mainstream candidate #2 had to one up him by ending with streamers, confetti, and pyrotechnics. Yes. Fucking pyrotechnics. I should add that not one, but two AC/DC songs were played during the convention. Who says Republicans don't know how to rock? Next came the sensible candidate, amusingly enough the only one with executive branch experience. Pitch perfect policy wonk and perfectly boring. He was my favorite. He ended up getting 26 votes. Last but not least was the crackpot who spent half his time telling us the minutiae of his life and inadvertently confirmed what we all already knew about the Jews when he claimed he "bought a seat on the board of Mount Zion Temple."
None but the mainstream candidates survived the first round of voting. Archconservative and the sensible guy both threw their support behind mainstream candidate #1, and the crackpot recited a poem. The second ballot ended with one of the mainstream candidates with 56.3% of the vote, just short of the 60% threshold for nomination. After last night's debacle, we resigned ourselves to a long and torturous night of balloting. I checked the rules to see how long this could drag out. After ten ballots we could vote to not endorse anyone and leave it for the September primary. Each ballot takes about an hour.
I had just left the bullpen to go get more coffee when the chairman called the convention to order. The trailing mainstream candidate had an announcement to make. He moved for an unanimous endorsement of his competitor. We aren't fucking Democrats. We are a party of unity. We are a party of class.
And so it was decided: the guy with the pyrotechnics will be the next governor of Minnesota.