Party leaders inspire, support College Republicans group

by Libby George

Nearly 200 young Republicans convened at the McNamara alumni center Saturday to be inspired by party leaders, including Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

The University’s newly independent College Republicans chapter hosted the Minnesota College Republican Convention, an annual gathering of College Republican clubs from around the state.

The convention featured speeches from 10 state Republican leaders, including Pawlenty, House Speaker Steve Sviggum, Minnesota Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer, state GOP Chairman Ron Eibensteiner, and U.S. Reps. Gil Gutknecht and Jim Ramstad.

The leaders congratulated the College Republicans for their successful work on campaigns across the state, encouraged them to stay active with Republicans and also took jabs at Democrats and the French.

“There’s a difference between enthusiasm, which you have, and whining, which the Democrats have,” Sviggum said. “I look out there and I see my kids.”

Sviggum also congratulated the group on being the largest College Republican conference in the country, with 250 students registered. He also said he would support students when they ran for office.

“I want to make sure that someday, someplace, somewhere, somehow you’ll be running for office,” Sviggum said. “And I’ll be out there knocking on doors.”

The University club reached “super club” status this year by having at least 400 members. Former College Republicans from the University, including Pawlenty, said they were impressed.

“When I was on the college campus here, it wasn’t a good thing to be a Republican,” Pawlenty said. “The pendulum has clearly swung.”

Ramstad said the same of his college years.

“When I was a College Republican here in the ’60s, we could have had our conferences in the phone booth across from Territorial Hall,” he said.

Minnesota now has the largest College Republican organization in the country – with five “super clubs” and 3,000 members on 35 campuses across the state.

The University chapter just filed as an independent student group this year, after a rift with the Campus Republicans led to the formation of two separate groups.

“This year, being an election year, really brought it all together,” said Jessica Carter, senior vice chairwoman of the University’s College Republicans.

She said recruitment efforts by University chapter Chairman Tyler Richter made the chapter’s “super club” status possible.

Speakers attributed much of the party’s 2002 election success to the help of College Republican volunteers and said if Minnesota – which Eibensteiner dubbed a former “liberal bastion” – can become Republican, anything is possible.

“If liberation can come to Minnesota, I think Cuba is not that far behind,” Eibensteiner said. “There are lots of people who can write checks. What we need is hands and feet, and you are the foot soldiers of that.”

Ramstad donated $2,000 to the group, challenging all state Republicans to match his pledge.

After Eibensteiner and others told the crowd the George W. Bush administration has targeted Minnesota for the next election, Pawlenty said the group should stay active.

“Get involved, make a difference and put down a stake,” Pawlenty said, adding that “being involved makes democracy work.”

Eric Hoplin, College Republicans national executive director, said the group has planned a “pro-American rally.” Following military action in Iraq, the event would start in Minnesota, showing the country that “crazy America-hating hippies that are on college campuses don’t represent you,” he said to the crowd.

Hoplin also told students to support action in Iraq, quoting Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in saying that going to war without France was like going duck hunting without an accordion.

State College Republicans Chairman Michael Krueger said the event was the largest in his two years in office, and the Twin Cities campus was chosen because of its facilities and its chapter’s impressive growth.

Attendees said they were happy with the event.

“It’s a great deal,” said University student Tim Fargen. “It shows that there’s a Republican presence here.”

St. Olaf student Megan Blair, a first-year attendee, also said she was pleased with the event.

“I came because I was active with the College Republicans during the campaigns, and I thought they did a great job of informing people about the message of the Republicans,” Blair said.

Libby George covers politics and welcomes comments at [email protected]