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SD41 convention: Process and its discontents

Circumstances and geography made for a contentious GOP convention in the new 41st Senate district.

As we discussed in an earlier post, the Republican SD41 convention took place yesterday at the Eagles Club in New Brighton. It turned out to be a pretty long day because of two things, circumstances and geography.

The new Minnesota Senate district 41 comprises the following communities:

  • New Brighton
  • Fridley (and a small corner of its neighboring community, Spring Lake Park)
  • St. Anthony
  • Columbia Heights
  • Hilltop

While these communities are all contiguous, it’s a riot of a district for these reasons:

  • New Brighton, and the northern third of St. Anthony, are in Ramsey County
  • Fridley, Columbia Heights and Hilltop are in Anoka County
  • The southern two-thirds of St. Anthony is in Hennepin County

In addition, the area is divided this way:

  • New Brighton is in the 4th Congressional District
  • The other communities are in the 5th Congressional District

And as the redistricting line was drawn within the overall district, the district was apportioned this way:

  • Fridley and the northern half of New Brighton are in House District 41A
  • St. Anthony, Columbia Heights, Hilltop and the southern half of New Brighton are in 41B

Demographically, the cities line up as follows:

  • New Brighton and Fridley are both primarily middle-class, with a mix of white- and blue-collar workers and retirees, while both cities have wealthy areas
  • St. Anthony is a small enclave that is a little wealthier than the other communities in the district, but also skews significantly older
  • Columbia Heights is a working class suburb that is has seen a lot of hard times. Increasingly, it holds a larger immigrant population than the other communities and the population tends to be more transient than the other communities, even though most of the community features single-family homes
  • Hilltop is a trailer park community

As you can see, it’s possible to slice and dice the district in any number of ways. You can even point out that New Brighton is considered to be a suburb of St. Paul, while the other communities are considered to be suburbs of Minneapolis. 

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So if you are a political party and you are trying to organize, how do you do it? The state party rules allow you to either set up the district as a single, unified district, or to split up into two units based on the two house districts.

That was one decision facing the delegates at the meeting. To complicate matters, the delegates were operating under rules that had held when they were in the old districts that existed prior to the current plan. In the previous map:

  • New Brighton, Columbia Heights and a small portion of Fridley were in Senate District 50
  • The remainder of Fridley and the small portion of Spring Lake Park were in Senate District 51
  • St. Anthony was in Senate District 54

This was important because the areas were operating under different rules concerning delegate strength. Explaining the mathematical formula would take time, but the upshot of the rules was this: some of the delegates at the convention would have their votes count twice, while others would have their votes only count once. I had two votes, although I wasn’t entirely sure why, while some other New Brighton delegates only had one. The same thing held true for the Fridley delegation.

So how do you come up with a coherent outcome with all those variables at play? Well, it isn’t easy, and it takes a lot of time. I got to the convention about 8:40 in the morning and did not leave until after 4 p.m., and things were still going on.

So how did it play out? The key things, as I mentioned yesterday, were these:

  • Even with all the disparate strands and strains inherent, we decided to remain one unified Senate district. Had we split our BPOU (Basic Political Organizational Unit) into separate house districts, we would have immediately had to adjourn and start anew with organizing the two units in separate rooms in the facility. That might have been the smarter thing to do in the long run, but after nearly 3 hours of parliamentary hijinks, I sensed that most people didn’t have the heart to see it through. In the short term, I think it will be beneficial to the upcoming campaign. I’ll explain why in a future post.
  • Gina Bauman, who currently serves on the New Brighton City Council, has the party endorsement for the Senate seat for the new district. Gina is a strong fiscal conservative and has been a key player in keeping costs under control in municipal government here. She ran for the old SD50 seat and lost to Barb Goodwin, who apparently will be running for the new SD41 seat. At one point, it appeared that Goodwin would be stepping aside for another DFL candidate, but that did not happen, so it will be a rematch. Goodwin hasn’t done much in the Senate other than be a gadfly and I’m guessing that while she’ll get DFL support, she may have to win this on her own, because I’m guessing the DFL will think they can win the seat without expending too much effort. I think that is a miscalculation. With the population shifts involved, the race should be closer than last time and Gina should have a good chance.
  • On the 41B side of the district, the endorsed candidate is Laura Palmer, who has served with distinction on the Columbia Heights School Board. The race in 41B is going to be a tough one, with DFL incumbent Carolyn Laine in the race and a third party candidate, Tim Utz. In the last cycle, when the seat was for 50A, Laine beat Utz, who was running as a Republican. Utz had a falling out with the party following the election and is now running as a Constitution Party candidate. There’s a long story involved in all that, but it’s really not worth rehashing. The larger issue is that Utz will likely split the potential conservative vote with Palmer. Laine is a backbencher with little to recommend her other than having the initials DFL after her name, but that might be enough to win by itself. I live on the 41B side of the district, so we’ll be watching this one closely.
  • On the 41A side, the endorsed candidate is Dale Helm, who ran a very strong race for the old 51B seat against the incumbent, Tom Tillberry. The geography of 41A is likely to be better for Helm and he should be a formidable candidate. The DFL had two incumbents who lived what is now 41A, Kate Knuth and Tillberry. In addition, the previous representative from 51B, Connie Bernardy, was seeking the endorsement. Knuth had stepped aside earlier, leaving the battle between Tillberry and Bernardy. As you can see from this report from the lefty blog The Cucking Stool, the challenger Bernardy won the endorsement. It’s an interesting situation, because if you look at sheer political talent, Knuth would have been the best standard-bearer for the DFL in the district. We’ve had plenty of criticisms of Knuth in this space, especially concerning her global warming climate change politics, but no one doubts her intelligence and diligence. It had seemed like Knuth was going to be part of the leadership team for the DFL and she might still be, but for now she’s out. Tillberry has been a backbencher and isn’t an especially impressive individual, so it was surprising that Knuth would step aside for him. If a particularly strong candidate had emerged to oppose him, I could see why Tillberry would be in trouble. But it’s hard to understand what happened in this case, because Bernardy had been a backbencher as well in her tenure in the House. I won’t pretend to know what caused the maneuverings on the DFL side, but the upshot is this:  instead of running against an entrenched incumbent, 41A is now an open seat. Bernardy and Helm both have the same job — to introduce themselves to the north side of New Brighton. I suspect Helm should have a good chance.

The rest of the convention was about electing delegates to the CD4 and CD5 conventions and, ultimately, to the State Convention. This was a bit of a logistical nightmare, because it meant that the newly unified district had to split to conduct the vote. Eventually all the delegates were chosen, but only after a protracted debate concerning how to split the room, with so many parliamentary dodges that it became nearly impossible to figure out what was being debated. While this sort of thing is often necessary, it’s also what chases a lot of people away from the political process. A lot of people want to make a difference and get involved, but most people aren’t especially interested in trying to hack their way through the parliamentary thicket.

All told, it was a day that was alternatively frustrating, amusing and, in the end, satisfying. You play the cards you are dealt and given the hand we have in SD41, things don’t look too bad.

This post was written by Mark Heuring and originally published on Mr. Dilettante’s Neighborhood.

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