Party business at the district convention


“Stand together in a line, in twos, we’ll be easier to count and they’ll be so impressed.” That’s approximately what an informal leader of the Margaret Anderson Kelliher Education, Jobs and Environment subcaucus said at the Senate District 59 DFL (Democratic Farmer-Labor) Convention Feb. 27. Nearly 30 adults were standing among the seats in Edison High School’s auditorium, and they then somewhat dutifully followed her directions, congregating in an aisle. 

What’s a subcaucus, and why does the counting matter? How does one of these conventions work? For anyone other than the 369 who attended (and perhaps for a few who did), the political ritual may remain a mystery.

Getting just the right count in a subcaucus allows for more representation as coalitions form, because “remainders” get rounded up to whole units. Political parties may not represent every potential voter, but they do provide a structure that vets candidates and rewards them with volunteers and help raising money for their campaign expenses. Behavior and loyalty within the party structure is seen as an indicator of how well a candidate will “play with others.”

For example, the smooth running largely shoo-in convention looped off into a series of parliamentary challenges over one potential delegate to a higher gathering: The name of Felix Montez, who was not actually at the convention, was put forward by the nominating committee. A delegate asked if anyone on the nominating committee could speak to knowing him, and how this happened, given that he had been identified as a Republican not long ago.

A substitute candidate stepped forward. There were attempts to suspend rules and remove Montez’ name from nomination, and others who said “just take the vote, it will be obvious.” And eventually it was, Montez got no votes, but the hope of wrapping things up by 1 p.m. had gone out the window on the spring breeze.

East Minneapolis District 59 State Senator Larry Pogemiller, (voted Legislator of the Year by Politics in Minnesota, the moderator pointed out) was re-endorsed by acclamation as were State Representatives Diane Loeffler (59A) and Phyllis Kahn (59B). In his acceptance speech, Pogemiller pointed out that the Legacy Amendment for arts, culture, history and the environment got more votes in Minnesota than did President Obama.

He said “This is the time to build stuff. When interest rates are low and people are out of work, that’s the time to build.” While criticizing Gov. Tim Pawlenty, he alluded to still needing to try to work with him to get things done. “Let’s hope he takes the advice of one of the people he admires, Winston Churchill, and ‘do the right thing when all other options are exhausted.'”

Loeffler focused on unemployment, noting that if the federal government doesn’t extend unemployment benefits, there will be 1,000 people per week in Minnesota falling off unemployment with no job to go to. She said “the people of Northeast call me when they are at the end of the line.”

Loeffler said there are three things people should do: Check off the campaign finance contribution box on their taxes, fill out their census form, and encourage any snowbirds they know to fill out their census in Minnesota, not the other state where they live in winter. It’s been forecast that Minnesota is within 1,100 to 7,000 residents of losing a Congressional seat because its population hasn’t grown as fast as other states’.

Kahn added: “check off the wildlife and environment check box on your taxes.” Kahn, known during her 30-plus years in the Minnesota House for her environment work, said “I get a lot of tolerance from you to work on the kinds of things no one pays attention to.” For example, protecting the Mississippi Flyway bird migration route in the metro area. She noted that the emerald ash borer has leapt the St. Paul border and has been spotted in Prospect Park.

Other speakers echoed the call for a new, this time DFL, governor. Minneapolis School Board Member Jill Davis: “Who we elect as governor is critical. This governor has borrowed back from our students because we managed our resources correctly.”

Rebecca Otto, state auditor: “We’ve got to get people out to vote. If there is a depressed turnout, we’re in trouble.”

Actual governor-candidates spoke: R.T. Rybak, who said we need a tough fiscal manager, and to invest in health care and transportation. He said that in his travels he’s found that the mayor of Minneapolis has “tremendous support throughout the state.”

Tom Rukavina from the Iron Range gave an energetic speech. A John Marty supporter lauded Marty as the voice of the everyday person and the uninsured, a good listener, and first champion of the Minnesota Health Plan, and “now everyone’s gotten behind it.” A Matt Entenza supporter spoke.

When this delegate/reporter left before the resolutions portion of the day, the subcaucus process gave a glimpse of who District 59 decided Democrats most want for governor. Margaret Anderson Kelliher (who has spoken at previous functions) had 89, Rybak 72, others a smattering (including Marty with 17). However, 107 were uncommitted.

The local race to watch is the Minneapolis School Board: For the first time, some members will be elected by district. Both announced local candidates seeking DFL endorsement (the city endorsing convention is May 22), Jenny Arneson and Marcia Thomas, spoke to the District 59 group. For information on the candidates, go to their campaign web sites, and