Caucuses launch state election season

K.C. Howard

It happened in the snowy peaks of the Iron Range, the well-lit streets of central suburbia and the citadel of University buildings.

At the stroke of 7 p.m., in accordance with state law, citizens statewide sat down Tuesday in community centers and auditoriums to discuss party politics and kick off the electoral process.

With 201 state legislators, a governor, an attorney general, a secretary of state, an auditor, eight congressional seats and a U.S. Senate candidate to elect in November, there was a lot to discuss.

“It’s been more than 20 years since we’ve had all of those offices up at the same time,” said Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis.

State law requires citizens to take a poll for gubernatorial candidates at precinct caucuses, but the Independence and DFL parties declined to administer the formal litmus test.

“We decided to have a meaningful poll on May 4 at our state convention and not just an internal party beauty contest,” said Bill Amberg, communications and research director of the Minnesota DFL.

The Independence Party waits for Gov. Jesse Ventura – its most viable candidate – to decide whether he will run again.

“(Ventura is) not doing politics right now, he’s doing budget,” said John Wodele, Ventura’s spokesman.

Attendees also elected delegates to go to the district convention. There, delegates will be selected for the state conventions later this year.

Because redistricting occurs this year, all state Legislature candidates will be up for re-election. A separate convention will occur in late spring for state senators and representatives.

Delegates will endorse congressional, gubernatorial, senatorial, state auditor, attorney general and secretary of state candidates at the state convention later this year.

While precinct caucuses occurred in all 4,000 state precincts, many question the gathering’s function because such a small percentage of citizens actually attend.

“If you’re talking about involving the broad range of citizens, caucuses generally don’t do so well and that’s why you see candidates going outside the endorsement process,” said Barbara Crosby a senior fellow at the University’s Humprey Institute of Public Affairs.

University students were released from classes at 6 p.m., and state law allows employees to take unpaid time off work to attend precinct caucuses.

DFL Party

Approximately 30 people gathered at the University’s Tate Lab of Physics to send delegates to the March 23 DFL district convention. While that precinct could send up to 34 delegates, 12 volunteered.

Paul Scheurer, chairman of the precinct, said it is a “rotten borough” – a term derived from English political history in which the district’s population doesn’t comport with the number of active citizens.

Scheurer said in this precinct many people vote, particularly students, but few involve themselves in local party politics.

Green Party

Todd Erickson, the caucus coordinator, said he was pleased by the attendance of approximately 55 people at the party’s first caucus.

Ken Pentel – a gubernatorial candidate – won the informal poll. He is running against Nick Raleigh, Ray Tricomo and Stephen Adams.


Independence Party

Two people – including the man who convened the event – attended the Independence Party caucus for districts 59A and 59B held at Northeast Neighborhood Center.

Lynn Anderson, 58, elected himself as a delegate for the district. The two made no amendments to the party platform and did not conduct a straw poll for the governor’s race.

Republican Party

The majority of the approximately 35 attendees at the Ward 2 Republican caucus at the Van Cleve Community Center were University students. Many received extra credit in their classes for observing or participating.

Precinct 4, Ward 2 – which includes the Stadium Village area – could have sent up to 14 delegates to the state convention but will send eight – all of whom attended.

At press time Ward 2 had not determined the winner of its straw poll.