The turnout may not have been in record numbers, but that didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of those who attended their political party’s caucus in Bloomington last week.
The biannual gathering often generates significant interest when a political party is holding a straw poll for the upcoming presidential election. Two years ago all eyes were on the Republican Party as precincts statewide conducted straw polls to indicate the GOP preference for a 2012 presidential election candidate.
Upcoming elections for the U.S. Senate seat held by Al Franken and governor of Minnesota meant that straw polls on the GOP side were again the most suspense-filled portions of the evening, as both Democratic-Farmer-Labor party members Franken and Gov. Mark Dayton are seeking re-election this fall.
True to form, the senate and governor’s races didn’t quite pack them in like the presidential race did two years ago.
Barb Sutter of Bloomington, the former co-chair for Senate District 49, which covers west Bloomington, said there was some disappointment by party organizers in the attendance, even adjusting for the lack of a presidential primary.
Bloomington’s Precinct 19 Republicans managed a cozy group of nine people, including convener Russ Burnison, a former Bloomington City Council candidate.
Beyond the straw polls, precinct caucuses are an opportunity for attendees to become involved in their party as the candidate endorsement process and party policy formation unfolds this spring. Sutter said that despite the light turnout, many delegate slots were filled, either by attendees or those who indicated their willingness in advance of the caucus because they were unable to attend, she explained.
In Precinct 19 they had 13 delegate slots to fill. That meant an opportunity for everyone at the caucus to participate in the senate district’s upcoming convention, with seats to spare. All attending the Precinct 19 caucus volunteered to participate in next month’s convention, and with a few absent volunteers, the precinct managed to assemble a list of 12 delegates.
One of those delegates is Bill Holm, a two-year Bloomington resident who was not only attending his first Bloomington caucus, he was attending his first Republican caucus. He had attended DFL caucuses for years and when he no longer agreed with the party’s platform, he drifted toward independent candidates. Now he sees the Republican Party as the group that best represents his values and beliefs. “I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older or if I’m getting smarter,” he said.
Holm offered the lone resolution in Precinct 19, proposing that the emphasis upon Christianity be magnified. Initially he proposed that the party’s platform stress an increased presence of God in government, schools and churches. Debate amongst the precinct members eventually whittled down the proposal, but it failed to gain the support of a majority of the participants.
Following the meeting, Holm said he would continue to push for an increased emphasis on Christianity in the party platform. While he is respectful of other religions, “Republicans are typically Christian people,” he said.
So what else were Republicans proposing across Senate District 49? Resolutions raised during precinct caucuses included bolstering and reaffirming Second Amendment rights, opposing the Safe Schools Act, term limits, supporting Sunday liquor sales, electing Metropolitan Council members and opposing taxpayer dollars from going to light rail development, specifically the Southwest Light Rail, according to Grant Johnson of Edina, the Senate District 49 co-chair.
The caucus also provides local candidates with an opportunity to meet party members. For Sutter, that was part of her itinerary last week, as she is seeking the House District 49B seat that is held by Democrat Paul Rosenthal of Edina. Sutter’s involvement with the GOP’s organizational matters ended with last week’s caucuses, as she followed up the caucuses by filing her candidacy with the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, she noted.
Turnout was comparably underwhelming for the DFL caucuses, too, according to Karen Wills, the outreach and inclusion officer for the Senate District 50 DFL.
With big wins by the party in elections two years ago and the party’s control of the state legislature, Wills surmised that the there’s less a sense of urgency for party supporters to get involved.
Despite the modest participation, Wills was enthusiastic about the conversations that took place in her precinct. The handful of participants in her precinct were an “incredibly fun, diverse group of people,” she said.
Resolutions offered at DFL caucuses last week included restoring the right to vote or extending the right to vote for people who have had a past felony conviction but are on probation or parole, and a restructuring of how interest is applied for student loans when the student is a deployed member of the armed forces, according to Wills.