Al Franken’s warm District 62 reception

Al Franken showed up late to the convention and required a suspension of the rules so he could speak.

Alex Essington

At the senate District 62 DFL party convention on February 24, I discovered that I live in the most activist liberal precinct in the state. Wards 1 and 2 of precinct 2 actually brought more combined delegates and alternates to the convention than there were seats available for them. Had someone told me, as I stood behind several hundred people in the registration line at 9:15 a.m., that I was about to commit to six hours of democracy, I would have believed them. “If you really want to stay, I can go,” is how I disguised my laziness as courtesy. But the woman behind me in line objected before heading home to leftover coffee cake.

Two different bubble forms awaited me at the registration desk. Of the 160 resolutions passed at the Senate District 62 caucuses, 56 would pass to the state convention. As a matter of strategy, I had to vote no for resolutions like, “Be it resolved that party commit to ending poverty and war,” if I wanted to pass resolutions like, “Be it resolved that laws be enacted that mandate safe patient-to-nurse ratios in hospital intensive care wards.” There was no shortage of empty moral stakeouts on the two double-sided resolution pamphlets. Meanwhile, the orders of business commenced.

“Aye,” I yelled in favor of an amendment which excused the delegation from breaking into sub-caucuses in order to vote for a state senate nominee who ran uncontested (Patricia Torres-Ray). “Nay,” a witty parliamentarian in the audience quacked a moment later, the only one to oppose the motion. Would he mount a challenge to the senate seat?

I recognized a man standing in the balcony near the microphone, his toddler son propped on his hip. He was a volunteer at the precinct caucus. Today, as then, his t-shirt was tattooed with Al Franken stickers and magic marker ink, an activist to the bone. “Mr. Chair, could I interrupt for just a second!” he bellowed. “The microphone up here isn’t working. Can we change that before the delegates announce their sub-caucuses at the next order of business? We don’t want to belittle the ‘D’ in DFL.” Good awareness on his part, a party volunteer arrived promptly to switch the power on.

“Testing, 1-2,” he interrupted the chair, who responded with a clack of the gavel. Everyone laughed. Rumor had spread through the registration line that morning that Al Franken would be giving a pep speech, and people anticipated the entertainment. It was a cordial affair. We were the heartbeat of the DFL party in Minnesota, and knowing that numbed the recalcitrant pace of the esoteric proceedings.

Fifty-four sub-caucuses were announced during the next order before I reached the front of the line to the balcony’s microphone. Between Hillary, Barack, Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, Al Franken, Mike Ciresi, global warming, poverty, health care, education and the war, we devised more permutations than math could count. “My name is Beth Sutton and I’m from 9-2, and I’m for Clinton-Franken Gay Marriage”

“In the balcony, please state your name and your sub-caucus.”

It was my turn to partake in the chest-beating. There was a stenographer scribbling furiously on an overhead projector a list that went on for a dozen transparencies. No vote counted unless it had its own sub-caucus. “I’m for the Ron Paul, End the Departments of Education, Agricul-“

“Boo!”

The response was cold, then a few people chuckled, Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer supporters, no doubt. The weather was cold too, if you can believe that, and the chair of convention thanked the Senate candidates thrice for braving the elements to grace us with their presence before he let them give their pep talk. Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer was there and so were Dayton and Ellison. Their deliveries differed radically, but all shared a single focus: to unseat Norm Coleman and restore dignity to the name Wellstone.

Franken showed up late to the convention and required a suspension of the rules in order to pause the fourth order of business and let him speak. A few of us weren’t excited to elect someone who waltzed back to Minnesota for the purpose of national office, and who waltzed into our convention four hours late.

“I’m Al Franken and I want you to know I’m serious about representing you,” he said in a campaign commercial. At the convention, it was “We haven’t forgotten his funeral. This is Wellstone’s seat. We can beat Republican incumbent Norm Coleman!”

“Will the candidate yield?” I interrupted – the mic was mine. No one took me seriously anymore. I had nothing to lose by asking “Mr. Franken, will you pull my finger?” Not even a smirk as Al squinted past the spotlight beams that must have refracted through his bifocals into ant-killers. “Never mind, Al” was my response to the brief silence, “save your retinas.”

The man had been living in New York until New Yorkers elected Hillary Clinton to the Senate. She gave him the great idea, I guess, to move to Minnesota and replace the ambitious New York Democrat-turned-Republican incumbent, Norm Coleman, with himself. Yet we welcomed him with open arms that afternoon, our liberal Hollywood-New Yorker, whose celebrity would champion him into instant seniority at the Senate. We changed the rules of the convention for him. But the turn of heart against core small-D principles disappeared under the radar amidst the rally pop. Mr. Chair, we don’t want to belittle the “D” in DFL.

Alex Essington welcomes comments at [email protected]