Stevens County DFL Convention

Waking up at 8:55am to answer a call from my mother, I jumped out of bed because I knew I was going to be late for one of the few hints of a beating heart in 21st century America’s grassroots: the county convention. While often elected by affirmation (or reluctant agreement in some places), the county convention allows for a whole community of people with shared philosophies to come together and discuss the issues most important to them. Whether it is talking about a deadlocked Washington, a proposal to redefine the party or simply speculating who is the right voice to represent their state, it is what it is: democracy. Frankly, I sympathize with those who only have primaries. Where’s the fun in that?

Opening the door of the American Legion for a lady two steps behind me, my hair mattress-styled to the side, my clothes a few days old, I registered myself as a guest: I had caucused elsewhere on February 2. Finding a spot in the area reserved for campaign lackeys, I took a chair and caught the last few minutes of the county chair’s introduction, which eventually opened the floor to said lackeys so that they may condense the philosophy of an individual into a two minute soundbite. After attending several conventions and more candidate rallies than one should ever be forced to admit, it’s all the same: (1) Smile, (2) tell an anecdotal story about your relationship to the candidate – humanize them! – (3) tell a joke, (4) structure your message to the locale, (5) ask for the room’s support and (6) if you don’t think you are winning them over, simply point out how electable the candidate is while slyly slamming the other front runners. It’s as formulaic as that: it’s Al Franken saying, “Now I need you to go out and get one of my bumper stickers, put it on your car and not cut anyone off for [number of days until the election] days” with a pause for laughter as he moves onto the next scripted bullet point; it’s Tom Rukavina pointing out that he’s the love child between Paul Wellstone and Jesse Ventura, the story behind this thought slowly evolving each time it’s told.[1]

But don’t get me wrong, that’s how the campaign machine works and it’s been this way ever since people realized that ad libbing makes us each look like fools even if such impersonal preparation reminds one of the serpent trying to tempt Eve in the Garden.

As I looked to those around me, observing those who were there for Anderson Kelliher, Rukavina, Thissen and Entenza, my heart skipped when I realized that a major candidate’s campaign had no presence whatsoever: RT Rybak. When I had woken up that morning, I did not expect to give a speech, but I did. First asking for permission to speak on the Minneapolis mayor’s behalf, I made a quick trip to my car to my box of literature, buttons, signs from several campaigns that I keep in my car just in case anyone ever asks. Digging out a handful of the materials used in the weeks leading up to the caucus, I made my way back inside just in time to hear, “We’ve had a last minute request to include on more speaker on the behalf of RT Rybak.”

Unprepared, I simply gave a brief spiel about why I believed the mayor to be the right person for the job of bandaging the gaping hole gauged into Minnesota by Tim Pawlenty. Citing not only the fact that he is the only candidate in the race with executive experience, I emphasized not only his plans for health care, job creation and funding public education (both secondary and post-secondary), but also the fact that of all the candidates, he’s electable. Winning not only the statewide straw poll but also delegates all around the state, he has proven that he is not only a suburban candidate but a Minnesota candidate.

Next, as one member at the convention said to me, “if we simply had our gubernatorial races during the presidential election years, we would be a blue-and-true state forever,” but since we don’t and since voter turnout drops by approximately 13% during the midterm, we need a candidate who can excite youth, the footsoldiers of any political campaign, and can turn out the votes on Election Day. In my experience watching the campaigns already, it’s an inspiring sight when the mayor can bring so many young volunteers to a convention that they could practically be a convention themselves!

Finishing up and returning to my seat, one MAK campaign person pulled me aside and explained to me that if Rybak gets the endorsement the unions will go home – my response: so they will be happy knowing that a no-show is a vote for Marty Seifert? If he doesn’t get the endorsement, the youth actually won’t.[2]

After this, the convention went into a walking subcaucus with all of the necessary showmanship fit sometimes more for a used car salesman than a convention, but that’s just the way it is. Of the six delegates the county sends (it dilutes the 3 votes to one-half vote each), four were students and two were prominent members of the community.

  • One went for RT Rybak.
  • One went for John Marty and GLBT rights.
  • Two are undecided but will support someone who is electable.
  • Two are undecided but will support the candidate most vocal on agricultural, environmental, education and health care issues.

[1] At first the “Lovechild Statement” was nothing more than a joke in passing but (presumably) when someone told him it was a little awkward, he began to actually tell the story behind it. The story goes like this: “I went to a rally a few months back on the iron range and after I gave my little speech someone approached me afterward and told me that I was like the love child between Paul Wellstone and Jesse Ventura. At first recoiling from the idea, I understood what he meant: I’m as passionate as the former and just as blunt as the latter.”

[2] As a side note: Don’t take what I have written as a complete adoration of the man. Anyone that knows me both in and out of the campaign knows that there is nothing that bothers me more than candidates and elected officials who ignore rural Minnesota simply because it is not strategically practical – sure we’re a little out of the way, but here’s a newsflash: sometimes simply making the trip and showing that you care is enough to win support and mobilize voters out here. Look at the state electoral history and get back to me.

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