ROCHESTER — The highlight of the DFL convention this weekend was to be the party’s endorsement of U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
But other speakers — U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, Gov. Mark Dayton, state Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, state Sen. Scott Dibble, among others, — stole the show as they passionately took on Republicans and Republican legislative goals and GOP-backed constitutional amendments.
Given that Klobuchar was unopposed, her endorsement was not exactly an event of high drama Saturday.
Oh sure, there was loud rock music (Bruce Springsteen’s “We Take Care of Our Own”) as the senator, hugging every delegate in sight, moved slowly toward the podium at the Rochester convention center. (She wrapped up with Katy Perry’s “Firework,’’ apparently a favorite of hers.)
There were some chants of “Amy, Amy, Amy.’’
And there were a couple of standing O’s for Klobuchar, one ovation when she finally arrived at the podium, one when she finished her speech.
But the senator’s speech was two things: a little dull and very instructive.
At a convention filled with fiery rhetoric about evils Republicans want to do to the middle class, Klobuchar was typically cautious.
“Even in the wilderness of Washington, the best way to lead is to follow the North Star,” she said.
If that doesn’t stir your emotions, how about this: “My moral compass points one way, forward.”
That doesn’t do it?
Klobuchar spoke of the gridlock in D.C. and how pols are placed in two corrals.’’
“One is marked right, one marked left,”’ she said. “… I refuse to recognize that fenceline. … It’s not what’s right or what’s left. It’s what’s right and what’s wrong.”
These aren’t the sort of phrases that draw roars of approval from a passionate DFL audience. But they are the sort of phrases that have led the senator to have high approval ratings in Minnesota. In just one term, the senator also has built a substantial national base.
Even at a DFL convention, Klobuchar speaks to the middle.
That caution made her unique Saturday. Most of the speeches were filled with fire — and a little humor.
For example, there was Gov. Mark Dayton. Just two years ago, Dayton was not allowed to attend the convention in Duluth because he was bypassing the endorsement process. At the time, Dayton was furious.
Today he was treated as a hero by speaker after speaker and by delegates.
He approached the whole subject with grace and humor when he spoke.
“Thank you for letting me in this year,’’ he said as he opened his speech.
There was much laughter in the hall.
“More importantly,’’ he added, “thank you supporting me in 2010.’’
In his speech, Dayton attacked the Republican legislative majorities. Specifically, he ripped into GOP bills that he said would have undermined public education and public school teachers. He also repeated his old mantra: “tax the rich.’’ The only way to move to a fair tax system, he said, is to raise the taxes of the 2 percent of Minnesota’s wealthiest.
To loud cheers, he said that the proposed marriage amendment and the Voter ID amendment “are demeaning, divisive, destructive and we’re going to defeat them.’’
Opposition to those amendments was a constant of this convention.
Dibble, a gay senator from Minneapolis, spoke to the marriage amendment on behalf of the organization, Minnesotans United for All Families, which has been set up to fight the amendment that would constitutionally restrict marriage to a man and a woman.
Dibble spoke of his own marriage to the man he fell in love with years ago.
Minnesota, he said, will be the 31st state in which the amendment is on the ballot.
“But we will defeat it,’’ Dibble said. “Minnesota is better than that. … Love is love, and love belongs to everyone.’’
Following Dibble’s short but strong speech, DFL Party Chair Ken Martin rose to offer two resolutions. He asked that delegates endorse the work of Minnesotans United for All Families, which opposes the marriage amendment, and Our Vote, Our Future, the organization formed to oppose the Voter ID amendment.
The two resolutions passed by acclamation.
Of course, it couldn’t be a DFL convention with at least some bows to labor.
Yes, union members were very upset by a platform item supported by the body that labor believes hurt’s copper and nickel mining in northern Minnesota. That dispute over obscure phrasing in a platform that soon will be put on a shelf and forgotten underscored the fundamental split between metro area/environmental-focused delegates and the lunch-bucket DFLers.
But the delegates seem to come back together in support of unions when Evelyn Gronke, a locked-out American Crystal Sugar worker from Crookston spoke. (That lockout began back in August.)
“The company I helped make millions locked me out,’’ said Gronke, who said she’s worked for American Crystal Sugar for 34 years.
She spoke of how executives of the company represent “the 1 percent’’ at the top of the economic heap.
“But the 99 percent in the Red River Valley are fighting back,’’ she said.
The cheers were loud and long.
And there were huge cheers for House Minority Leader Paul Thissen as well. Thissen was introduced as “the next speaker of the House.’’
He spoke of the DFL as the party “that represents the middle class majority.’’
Then, he tossed out a challenge to the delegates, much as Bakk had hours earlier.
“Outrage isn’t enough,’’ he said. “It’s not enough to sit on your couch and shout at your TV.’’
There were big cheers.
Given the lack of drama in this convention, the lack of things to argue about, the fact that delegates remained enthusiastic on this gorgeous early-summer day might have been the one big surprise.