It wasn’t dramatic. It wasn’t especially exciting. And Tim Walz and the Minnesota state DFL leadership seemed fine with that.
The endorsement of the DFL governor for a second term by state convention delegates Friday night was expected; he was the only candidate put into nomination, after all. But compared to four years ago, when Walz lost a long and divisive endorsement to Erin Murphy, the the lack of drama seemed welcome.
That 2018 convention’s governor endorsement process took hours and led to a three-person primary. This one took six minutes for delegates to nominate and endorse both Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan by acclamation.
It also freed Walz and Flanagan to focus on November — and on their likely opponents, Scott Jensen and his running mate Matt Birk, who won the GOP endorsement last weekend. “Let me be very clear. This is not the state of Scott Jensen and Matt Birk. This is the state of Fritz Mondal and Paul Wellstone,” Flanagan said.
Walz didn’t mention Jensen by name. He did compare the DFL convention to the GOP convention held a week before on the same stage. “Just one week ago on this very spot was a very different vision of what Minnesota could look like,” Walz said before quoting Maya Angelou, who wrote, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”
“When our opponents stood on the stage and threatened to jail one of the most-honored elected officials in this state in Secretary of State Steve Simon, they show you what they believe,” he said.
The reference was to Jensen’s statements that Simon should be jailed for unspecific crimes related to the election. “When they stood on this stage, two white guys, to tell women about their reproductive rights and ban abortion, believe them,” Walz continued.
And he criticized Jensen for last week calling for the defeat of a bipartisan legislative deal on budget and taxes. “The folks who stood on this stage said reject it and don’t sign it,” he said.
“But here’s the good news,” Walz said. “They are never going to be in this office to do any of that. Ever. Ever.”
Walz also defended his record on responding to the pandemic, a frequent source of criticism among his Republican opponents. “There were choices to be made, and there were folks who are telling you they wouldn’t have done it that way: ‘We wouldn’t have done it the way this administration did.’”
But Walz argued that the number of deaths was lower in Minnesota than in other states and the long-term economic impacts were less severe. “This isn’t a game, a political game,” he said. “These were decisions that impacted the lives of people across the state and across this country.”
Abortion rights were a theme throughout the first day. Planned Parenthood is a convention sponsor, and Sarah Stoesz, the president of the regional Planned Parenthood was given a prominent speaking slot.
Flanagan said she and Walz want to keep moving on their agenda. “Let me be clear about what that means,” she said. “It means access to abortion because abortion is essential health care. Our opponents want to go back to the days before Roe and that is unacceptable.”
The lack of contested races is the reason the convention was relatively sparsely attended, tepid in tone and lacking in hoopla.
“We’ll take boring,” DFL Chair Ken Martin joked.
With the state Legislature in its final weekend in St. Paul, very few senators and House members attended. Without contested races for statewide offices, campaigns didn’t bother to recruit delegates and encourage their attendance.
Walz may be running for re-election, but this is his first DFL endorsement for governor, and he and Flanagan both said they enjoyed this event a bit more than four years ago when they lost the endorsement. Walz, however, said that experience was worthwhile to have gone through.
“I viewed it like basic training,” said the former Army National Guardsman. “If you’re honest about yourself when you’re there, it’s not much fun at all. But once you’re done it’s kind of exciting.”
Compared to the state GOP a week ago in the same hall, this convention was, well, not nearly as interesting. All five state constitutional officers were unopposed. Walz, Flannigan and state Auditor Julie Blaha were re-endorsed Friday. The same is expected Saturday when Secretary of State Steve Simon and Attorney General Keith Ellison will receive the delegates’ imprimatur.
When the convention convened a little after 4 p.m., there were plenty of good seats still available. Only 515 voting delegates were seated and nearly any alternate who made the drive to Rochester was seated.
Martin welcomed delegates with a plea for unity and a request to consider the 2022 election the most important of their lifetimes. Sure, he acknowledged, he always says that. But this year, it really is, he said.
“Some activists have opined lately that, ‘When is the Democratic party going to realize that it’s OK to lose an election to prove a point,’” Martin said. “The answer is, ‘never.’
“Reproductive rights are on the ballot. Voting rights are on the ballot. Racial justice and equality is on the ballot. Health care is on the ballot. Fair wages are on the ballot. Clean air and water are on the ballot,” Martin said.
Martin said he has seen Democrats around the country “wringing their hands, hanging their heads” over predictions of an electoral defeat in 2022.
“We’ve got a great story to tell,” he said. “Stop agonizing DFLers. Let’s get out there and evangelize. Let’s get out there and tell our story. Let’s tell people what we’re fighting for and who we’re fighting for.”
In what served as a keynote address, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar tried to rally the delegates with a speech that praised DFL officeholders and pushed the party to take the election to Republicans.
“I want you to cheer so loud that the earth starts to shake at the GOP headquarters,” Klobuchar said. “We’re moving forward with the belief that what unites us is so much bigger than what divides us.”