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Political strategies and theories abound as ‘players’ and ‘deciders’ get ready for weekend decision time


Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center
DFLers will gather at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center this weekend to endorse a candidate for governor to lead this fall’s ticket.

First of two articles

The gubernatorial candidates for endorsement all will be smiling confidently as they mingle with delegates arriving in Duluth for the DFL state convention, which begins Friday: “How you doing?” “Great to see you.”

But those smiles will be masking twisted nerves, sweaty palms, flipping stomachs. After months of telephone calls and panel discussions and house parties and handshakes, it’s decision time. Sometime late Saturday, there are going to be four former gubernatorial candidates.

Break it down one more time:

Margaret Anderson Kelliher
Margaret Anderson Kelliher

The players: House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, Reps. Paul Thissen and Tom Rukavina, Sen. John Marty and former Rep Matt Entenza.

Kelliher and Rybak go into Saturday’s endorsement balloting as the leaders. Both are expected to hit 25 to 30 percent of the vote on the first ballot, far short of the 60 percent needed.

The key target for the others is to hit at least 4 percent of the votes on the first ballot. Below 4 percent means see ya later. The drop-out rule increases by 4 percentage points each ensuing ballot.

Matt Entenza
Matt Entenza

Entenza, who has made it clear for months that he’s headed to the primary no matter the outcome of the endorsement, is the one candidate unlikely to survive beyond the first ballot. In fact, there is considerable speculation that Entenza will pull out of the endorsement race before the first ballot to avoid the appearance of a poor showing.

The deciders: 1,200 elected delegates, plus as many as 130 “super-delegates,” elected officials and party leaders who did not need to go through the caucus process to get a ballot in Duluth. It’s believed that as many as 10 percent of the delegates are arriving in Duluth undecided about whom to support. No DFL convention probably has had fewer labor-affiliated delegates. As many as 40 percent of the delegates may be first-timers, meaning they may not have the old-time loyalties of delegates past.

The strategies: Each candidate is approaching the convention with the same general goal. Win over as many undecideds as possible and then start picking off the delegates of the candidates who fall by the wayside in the early balloting.

Now, we get into the areas of the great unknowns. This convention may be unique because unions, traditionally power players on the floor, are not lined up behind just one or two candidates.

Lots of activity below the surface
That’s the big-picture stuff.

It’s what’s swirling beneath the surface that makes this convention so intriguing:

• At what point, for example, will a new experiment in Minnesota politics, reNew Minnesota, unite behind one of its three endorsed candidate (Rybak, Thissen, Kelliher)?

• Will such powerful unions as Education Minnesota, the Service Employees International Union and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees get directly into the fray, or will they continue to stay relatively close to the sideline?

These unions’ non-positions are the stuff of rumors and conspiracy theories.

On Wednesday, for example, Javier Morillo-Alicea, president of Local 26 of the SEIU, came out in support of Rybak.

R.T. Rybak
MinnPost photo by Bill Kelley
R.T. Rybak

“I’m writing today to tell you why I support R.T. Rybak for governor,” Morillo wrote to delegates and fellow SEIU members. “I take this step as an individual — the four local unions that represent SEIU members in Minnesota have decided not to endorse a candidate for now. But after consulting with member leaders of Local 26, I know I am representing their views as well.”

This individual endorsement is intriguing on every level. It’s good for Rybak, certainly, because his one great weakness to date has been his ability to garner much support among large unions. Now, he’s got Morillo, a personal friend and usually the political face of SEIU, in his corner.

But will Morillo be able to bring other SEIU-affiliated delegates to Rybak? Or does his individual endorsement mean that SEIU leadership is so fragmented in whom to support that those with SEIU affiliations are going to be spread out across the board?

It’s believed, by the way, that many SEIU leaders wanted to support former Sen. Mark Dayton, who is the giant question mark hanging over a convention he’s not attending. Instead, he’s primary-bound.

AFSCME endorsed Dayton months ago, and the union’s executive director, Eliot Seide, said this week his organization will not be present in Duluth. But in the next breath, he said that “200 to 250” of his union’s members are delegates to the convention. He doesn’t believe they’ll vote as a block, but …

Mark Dayton
MinnPost/Terry Gydesen
Mark Dayton

One longtime party activist, who asked not to be named, is a Dayton supporter and will not be a delegate at this year’s convention. She believes that there will be large numbers of Dayton-leaning delegates at the convention who will tend to support “whoever would be the weakest candidate in the primary.”

But former DFL Party Chairman Rick Stafford, who is a super-delegate, doesn’t buy that. Though he is a Dayton supporter, he said he believes most delegates, even those who ultimately will support Dayton, will want to endorse “the strongest candidate possible.”

And then there’s Education Minnesota, which has been keeping its powder dry. Certainly, Dayton held out his arms to the teachers and their union in a fiery news conference a week ago. And Kelliher, too, has been said to be working the teachers hard.

Friday: Could a group of progressive organizations decide the endorsement?

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.

Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 04/22/2010 - 10:58 am.

    Since all of the legislatively-based candidates seem to have learned to bow to King Timmy in ways that I find unacceptable, I’m drawn to Rybak and Dayton as the DFL’s best hopes for governor.

    Although Rybak is a big-city mayor, and his motivation arises out of watching Minneapolis suffer mightily from the King’s LGA cuts, he shares that suffering with every other city, county, township, (and school district) in the state. Thus he should be able to make common cause with voters statewide.

    I’m more drawn to Dayton, however, because he’s not afraid to drag the (figurative) elephant in the room out into the light and wrestle it into submission, that elephant being the big lie of the last 20+ years of Reagan Republicanism: that massive tax cuts for the rich would lead to a rising tide that would lift all boats.

    The facts clearly show that too-low taxes on those with the most means, who also gain the most benefits from everything “Minnesotan,” are destroying our state’s infrastructure in any and every direction and reducing prosperity and quality of life for rich and poor alike.

    Since Reagan’s “voodoo economics” came into play, those with the most have been blindly, ignorantly and dysfunctionally working to kill everything that has undergirded their own successes, because, with their particular set of psychological blinders, they’re led to cling desperately to the notion that they’ve accomplished that success completely unaided by anyone else and thus share no responsibility for the well-being of their friends and neighbors or to society in general (as far as I’m concerned, they all deserve to wear some form of the Biblical “mark of Cain” so we can all identify who the most dysfunctional among us are). If they continue to reign, they will continue to work to destroy Minnesota, all the while earnestly believing that they are saving it (despite any and all evidence to the contrary).

    I’m hoping that Dayton and his more psychologically-functional wealthy friends may have the credibility to tell the rest of us the truth: that they have more than enough resources to be able to easily afford to pay a good deal more in taxes and still remain fabulously wealthy.

    Without one of these two outsiders as the DFL candidate, I fear whoever is elected will continue to bow to Timmy and his ilk out of habit even after Timmy’s gone off to whatever reward the Rebs have been promising him as the result of his selling his soul to the big money/no taxes, enrich yourselves on the backs of the poor and middle class while you steal their retirement savings and send their jobs overseas, wing of their party.

  2. Submitted by Sheila Ehrich on 04/22/2010 - 12:39 pm.

    Doug, your comment that “as many as 40 percent of the delegates may be first-timers” thrills me. I am a long time DFLer who has been attending conventions since 1984. During the Presidential election of 2007 I saw how many newcommers there were on caucus night, and I made a decision then and there that it was time to let others participate fully. I have not been to a convention since then.

    These are the people, without the old loyalties not only to unions or organization but also the ways Democrats do things, that are going to make the changes needed in our party. I know many of them wonder about the logic of walking sub-caucuses and why labor is always beating their delegates over the head to stick with the union choice. Now maybe people can vote for their own choice and conscience. It is only then that the DFL will have candidates that the rest of Minnesota is willing to elect Governor.

    And Greg, I got a kick out of your comments. Some thoughtful insight was put into them

  3. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 04/22/2010 - 01:35 pm.

    I hope there will be enough “code-words” to go around at the convention. The candidate who can best satisfy this liberal “special interest” crowd will get the endorsement.

    Whoever gets the endorsement, I hope they run on the platform outlined by Greg, which will guarantee yet another Republican victory.

  4. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 04/22/2010 - 02:58 pm.

    I can only hope all of the Republicans will keep thinking those circa 1998 thoughts. Think them…. Scream them. (You better, or the Tea Partiers will start their own party and out scream you!)

    Meanwhile, while you’re still screaming, the election will be over and the functional adults will be taking charge and begin to rebuild all the things that are falling apart in this state while returning to the tax rates prior to the Ventura/Swiggum/Moe tax compromise (you remember, back when the state worked for almost everyone).

    Yup, they’ll be answering to all those “special interests;” the ones who want good roads, bridges that don’t fall down, timely and adequate snow plowing, good schools, affordable post-secondary education, greener, more sustainable energy sources, a business climate that attracts high-tech industries that pay high salaries and good benefits, you know, ACTUAL REGULAR MINNESOTANS. Yeah, THOSE special interests, the ones to whom you bay lip service while you steal their retirement savings and ship their jobs overseas.

  5. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 04/22/2010 - 03:23 pm.

    A front-page story in today’s Pioneer Press informs us that Hennepin County Hospital may remove itself as a provider of care to indigent patients, as some other hospitals around the state have done. They fear an inundation of such patients from these other hospitals would be impossible to meet with any kind of competence.

    This is perhaps the ugliest symptom of what the anti-tax/anti-government/anti-union/anti-poor people ideologues like Tim Pawlenty have been creating for the last eight to ten years.

    Delegates can solve this problem — and all the problems the poor, uninsured and underinsured face when it comes to health care access — by choosing John Marty for their first-ballot vote. The other candidates will sign the bill if the legislature passes his Minnesota Health Plan, a few even enthusiastically, but John Marty will make it his first priority.

    What could be more important to accomplish than health care for all via a bill which completes the change begun by the federal bill BUT WHICH would save about 20% of our state’s total health care bill?

  6. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 04/22/2010 - 04:13 pm.

    Pity the Catholic church is in such disfavor….a heartfelt prayer to St. Jude would be a most excellent way to start the Democrat convention this year.

  7. Submitted by Sally Heiser on 04/22/2010 - 04:57 pm.

    Oh, how I miss the logical thought and reasoned discussions of Minnesota politics! Here in Arizona, everyone hates everyone else, everyone carries a gun, and everyone squints into the ubiquitous sunlight and frowns when faced with any decision which might actually accomplish something. Mark Dayton, (sigh), could you possibly change your residence?

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