Precinct caucuses see meager turnout

by Coralie Carlson

and Brian Close

The University community had its first opportunity to participate in this year’s state elections at precinct caucuses Tuesday night. While University participation for DFL and Reform parties was low, Republicans experienced a stronger student turnout.
At precinct caucuses — a Minnesota tradition — participants elect delegates who will eventually endorse state and local candidates at party conventions. They also vote on resolutions to update party platforms.
In recent years officials have questioned the value of these caucuses because of declining participation, from 80,000 in the mid-1980s down to 26,000 in 1996.
For example, Pat Kvidera nominated and unanimously elected himself a delegate of Ward 3, Precinct 2, a section of Northeast Minneapolis, at the Republican caucus Tuesday — an easy, but lonely, task as the sole representative from his precinct.
Kvidera, who has been actively involved with precinct caucuses for 10 years, said he often sits alone in campaign off-years when political participation cools. But this year University students bumped up overall Republican attendance numbers.
About 100 Republicans convened in District 59, covering northeast and southeast Minneapolis, encompassing 20 precincts.
With more than 40 people attending, Ward 2, Precinct 2 — which includes the Superblock, Comstock Hall and surrounding campus neighborhoods — had the strongest showing in District 59.
Republicans voted on a resolution to keep halfway houses away from University and school buildings. At the University, one facility housing sex offenders sits between two sorority houses.
This issue motivated about 20 sorority members to participate in the caucus, including Shyla Carpenter, a College of Liberal Arts junior who was elected as a delegate.
Carpenter, a sorority president, said the caucus was her first political experience, but she plans to stay involved with the Republicans.
Despite the number of Democratic gubernatorial candidates, their party had a lower turnout, with 12 people present at the caucus covering Ward 2, Precinct 2.
Eleven delegates were selected to move on, out of 28 available positions.
University senior Joe Delaney, the former associate chair of the precinct, said he expected the low turnout, which was only half the size of the 1996 caucus.
He said there seems to be some apathy among University students. A former state convention delegate, Delaney said there is even less participation among young people at the state and national party conventions.
In addition to delegate elections, participants debated several resolutions regarding local neighborhood issues such as parking and freeway noise levels.
The DFL party conducted a straw poll for the governor’s race. Late Tuesday, with 37 percent of the precincts reporting, Attorney General Hubert H. “Skip” Humphrey III led with 35 percent, closely followed by Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, with 30 percent.
The Reform Party also had its caucus Tuesday night, with 10 people from Legislative District 59B present.
All 10 were selected to move on to the next level which, for the Reform Party, is the state convention.
One of the 10 hopes to be the Reform Party’s candidate to compete against Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis.
Dave Wiester, a former University student, said his main focus would be to reduce bureaucratic overhead at the University while raising state funding.
Regardless of the overall low turnout, Cynthia Aldrich, Republican senate district chair, said these grassroots meetings will never disappear from Minnesota’s political scene.
“It’s never going to happen because it is an incumbent protection measure,” she said. Aldrich explained that elected officials send supporters to the caucuses to ensure continued party support.