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Bingo, Bob, and kisses of death: checking in on the Minneapolis Republican Party’s convention

“Some folks are afraid to show up and even let their neighbors know they’re Republican.”

Thirty-four delegates attended the city Republican Party’s endorsing convention earlier this week at the Eagles Lodge in the Seward neighborhood.
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan

The band of people trying to revive the all-but-dead Minneapolis Republican Party have no illusions. Not about their political clout, nor about their candidates’ ability to actually win elections.

But lowered expectations also mean there are opportunities for small victories for the 34 delegates who attended the city Republican Party’s endorsing convention earlier this week at the Eagles Lodge in the Seward neighborhood. Over the calls of a Bingo announcer in the bar next door, delegates spent two hours organizing, talking strategy, and considering which candidates the party will endorse for what are nominally non-partisan municipal offices.

“It’s kind of hard in Minneapolis to be a Republican because they have managed somehow to totally demoralize us,” said city party chair Christina Pierson. “I’m a fighter and very rarely demoralized. But some folks are afraid to show up and even let their neighbors know they’re Republican.”

In what may be the most-liberal and Democratic city between Chicago and Seattle, to be a Republican is to be vastly outnumbered, and always outgunned. Though Donald Trump received nearly 26,000 votes from Minneapolis voters last November, Hillary Clinton got 174,585.

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So if their candidates can’t win, why bother?

The kiss-of-death factor

Party activists say they would rather win than lose, of course, and feeling politically impotent is what led to the dissolution of the city party after the 2013 elections. “Our first objective is to elect a Republican mayor and a Republican city council — good luck with that,” quipped Alan Shilepsky, a former GOP candidate for state Legislature and secretary of state.

But Shilepsky thinks city Republicans can at least play a role in city elections. They can look at the candidates for mayor with an eye toward finding someone who is better than others from a GOP perspective. And in a close ranked-choice-vote election, those votes could make a difference. “I sure know who in the general election for mayor will be my second choice,” he said. “And if we don’t have a candidate, that person will be my first choice, because I’d rather have them than Ray Dehn or Nekima Levy-Pounds or Jacob Frey.”

Besides, offering tacit support to candidates running as DFLers could show other residents that the party is reasonable, he said. “We’re not saying we only accept Republicans for mayor and city council. We have second choices and we see a difference between some of these people,” he said.

The problem, however, is that there are DFL campaign teams that would relish having one of their Democratic opponents being praised by Republicans. Shilepsky acknowledged that reality. “I will say the one thing that worries me is the Kiss Of Death Factor,” he said. “Maybe in this city it could hurt some candidates. It’s something we need to think about, maybe talk to some people, whether they welcome or totally disdain our encouragement or support.”    

Still, Pierson said her central committee will consider providing GOP voters with some suggestions to distinguish among the candidates for city offices. Party rules permit only one candidate to be endorsed by the party and to carry that label with them into the election, but Pierson said her committee will consider whether it should recommend second or third choices to members and on sample ballots.

A dearth of delegates

The numbers of city Republicans willing to show themselves Tuesday, or perhaps willing to devote a summer evening to politics, was meager. A credentials report revealed that while the party had allocated 347 delegate slots to the city’s 13 council wards based on the 2013 GOP vote for governor, only 34 delegates arrived to claim them. Wards 2, 4, 5 and 6 had no delegates present and the tables set aside for them sat empty.

Wards 1 and 10 had just one delegate report. That led to an odd situation when the convention moved to endorse council candidates. That sole Ward 10 delegate, Bruce Lundeen, was also a city council candidate seeking the GOP endorsement. Under the rules, only delegates from each ward could vote on endorsements. So, technically at least, Lundeen voted to endorse himself.

To give him company, convention chair Carlton Crawford allowed everyone to join in the voice vote. And one delegate joked that the minutes should at least record that Lundeen was endorsed unanimously. Lundeen has been a loyal GOP ballot filler over the last several elections, last serving as the party nominee for state Senate district 62 against incumbent DFL Sen. Jeff Hayden. Lundeen managed to capture 11.7 percent of the vote.

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There were no delegates from Ward 6, for which Fadumo Yusef was seeking the party endorsement for her challenge of Minneapolis Council Member Abdi Warsame. The city central committee will consider endorsing her when it next meets, Pierson said. In the meantime, Pierson said she would appoint Yusef to the empty chair of the ward organization, making her a member of the central committee.

Wards 1, 2 and 5 remain without a representative on the committee, something Pierson said she hopes to remedy soon.

When nothing is better than something

The party did give endorsements to six candidates. For at-large seats on the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board, it endorsed Jonathan Honerbrink and Rob Sullentrap. Honerbrink had until this week been running for mayor, but changed because he has more knowledge of the park system, he said.

For the district 6 park board seat, the party endorsed Jennifer Zielinski. And, in addition to Lundeen in Ward 10, the convention also endorsed Joseph Kovacs for city council in Ward 7.

And what took the city’s DFLers 12 hours to not accomplish took Republicans just two. They did not select a party candidate for mayor of Minneapolis. While the Democrats failed to choose among seven hopefuls, the Republicans had just one. But rather than endorse that candidate  — Bob “Again” Carney — the convention followed the recommendation of its nominations committee to reject him and go with no one instead.

Brian Bergs, the chairman of that committee, told delegates that after interviewing Carney, the four members found that he “did not have a strong background to be mayor” and was focused on a single issue: transportation and transportation funding.

And then there was the fact that Carney has written a book calling for the impeachment of President Trump. One delegate said he recalled speaking to him and that Carney noted that he hadn’t voted for a Republican for president in 48 years.

Said Carney: “I voted for Romney.”

Having supported GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney in 2012 wasn’t enough for delegates, though. The motion to not endorse for mayor was approved on a near-unanimous voice vote.

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When Republicans ruled

It wasn’t always this way. Delegate John Bergford recalled that when he was GOP leader of the Minneapolis City Council, there were 10 Republicans and three Democrats.

That was during the 1960s. The current council is 12-1 but the one isn’t a Republican. It’s Green Party member Cam Gordon, who is to the left of several of the DFL members.

Pierson was apologetic for the stripped down arrangements and the paucity of delegates. Until a microphone was provided by the lodge, speakers struggled to compete with the Bingo caller. But she said the city party will try to become more organized and more conspicuous, showing up at city council meetings and attending truth in taxation hearings in the fall.

“We’re still putting the spokes on the wheel so we can get the wheel on the wagon,” she said.