Teachers fight Nevada caucus rule

January 12, 2008 5:18:04 PM PST
Nevada teachers have filed a legal challenge that could curb the influence of the state's largest union in its Democratic caucus later this month. The Nevada State Education Association, its president and five people identified as Democrats planning to attend the Jan. 19 caucus filed the lawsuit late Friday against the Nevada Democratic Party.

The suit claims that party rules making it easier for Las Vegas Strip shift workers to attend the precinct meetings violate Nevada law and federal equal protection guarantees.

Most of those shift workers are members of the Culinary Workers Union, Local 226, a group that endorsed Democrat Barack Obama on Tuesday.

The Culinary is the largest union in Nevada and one of the few with the organizational muscle to have a major impact on the caucus.

Caucus rules boost that influence by allowing shift workers employed within 2.5 miles of the Strip to attend one of nine "at-large" precinct meetings in casinos, rather than return to their home precinct.

The suit claims that the system for determining the number of delegates up for grabs at the at-large meetings is unfair.

The party has "violated the principle of 'one person, one vote' by creating 'at-large' precincts for certain caucus participants, based solely on the employment of such participants," the suit, filed in U.S. District Court, said.

"This may have been a well-intentioned effort but it missed the mark," said the plaintiffs' lawyer, Mark Ferrario.

Messages left Saturday for the teachers union were not immediately returned.

The party argued its rules are an attempt to encourage participation among the state's largest work force.

"We have taken unprecedented steps to include as many Nevadans as possible in this historic caucus day," Democratic party deputy executive director Kirsten Searer said in a statement. "The 'at-large' precincts were included to increase participation in the highest concentration of shift workers - many of whom are minorities."

Culinary union secretary-treasurer D. Taylor said the plaintiffs were using "Floridian Republican tactics to suppress cooks, housekeepers, people of color and women." He suggested the suit was driven by supporters of Obama opponent Hillary Rodham Clinton.

No direct connections to the Clinton campaign were immediately clear. The teachers union has not endorsed a presidential candidate and there are no records suggesting any of the five individuals who brought the suit have contributed to presidential campaigns this election.

Asked about the lawsuit while campaigning in Reno, Clinton said she was aware of it and hopes it "can be resolved by the courts and the state party because obviously, we want as many people as possible to be able to participate ... In the meantime, I'm just going to campaign as hard as I can here in Nevada."


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