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Join your precinct caucus

I've always voted. But before 2008, I'd never participated in precinct caucuses. I thought I was too small and unimportant to make a difference. Like many of my friends, I considered political parties to be machines that the average person could not hope to influence.

In 2008, tired of the Bush years that on false pretenses (weapons of mass destruction) had led us into disastrous entanglements in Iraq and Afghanistan, my husband and I decided to give it a try. On a February evening, we drove the short mile to our local high school to participate in the Cromwell-Wright area's Democratic caucus meeting.

We were surprised. The meeting was well-run and substantive. We talked through the candidates for our county, state and federal offices. The convener, Steve Risacher, invited discussions of issues that could be brought to the spring county caucus. Several people proposed resolutions. Most were uncontentious. One man proposed opposing cap and trade policies for dealing with coal and other fossil fuel plant emissions. I spoke against his proposal, preferring outright emissions limits to cap and trade. We voted on his resolution. I was the only naysayer. I didn't mind — it was democracy at work.

In an amusing interlude, a well-known local Republican, kind of a cranky guy, walked into our classroom from the Republican caucus down the hall. No one made any attempt to eject him, even though the caucus rules limit participation to registered (or intending to register) Democrats. I guess he was scouting for intelligence.

Toward the end of the meeting, Risacher asked for volunteers to run for the Carlton County caucus. Rod and I raised our hands. We were elected. I left the school feeling invigorated to have shared this act of political participation with my neighbors.

The spring county caucus was upbeat and exciting. We met in the beautiful tiered convening space at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College, filled with light from its two-story windows, every participant visible from the tiered seating. We were introduced to the candidates for state and federal offices. Each had an opportunity to tell us about his or her qualifications and aspirations.

On our arrival, the organizers asked us to submit questions on several topics — jobs, education, women's issues, environment and social services — for an afternoon grilling of candidates. After lunch, four candidates running for state representative stood up on stage. Questions had been selected out of the topical boxes, and each candidate responded briefly. I was delighted that my question, "Besides infrastructure, what other ideas do you have for creating good jobs?," was the economic development question posed.

I admit being less than overwhelmed with the responses. But overall, I was delighted with the quality of three of those running.

Rod and I did not run to be Carlton County delegates for the state Democratic convention. Who knows? Maybe we'll be enthused enough to do so this year.

We left the college feeling happy about the day and our participation. We'd met many motivated fellow citizens who had the courage to commit time and thought to our governance system. Some taught us a lot — about social service issues, for instance, that I knew little about. The toughest issues concerned environmental protections that might negatively affect jobs. The discussions were substantive and respectful.

I'm encouraging my friends and neighbors to join in. The caucuses are held at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 6, this year. You can find your caucus precinct location on the Secretary of State's website, To participate, you must be eligible to vote (at least 18 years old) in the November general election and live in the precinct. You must also generally agree with the principles of the political party hosting the caucus.

This year's November election offers an unusual number of important contested seats up for grabs. Minnesota's governor, our two U.S. senators, all of our U.S. and state House members, and Minnesota's attorney general and auditor.

You may not think your participation and vote count. But you can help shape our democratic process and outcomes. Come see for yourself Feb. 6.