District 62 Convention: Candidates & Chaos

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Senate candidate Al Franken

I am out early this Saturday morning. It's about 9:40 am on March 8 as I enter the doors of Roosevelt High School in South Minneapolis for the Senate District 62 Democratic Convention. The district, arguably the most liberal in the state, looks to be a hotbed of Senate candidate Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer supporters.

"Jack for Senate" signs litter the entryway and his loyal followers enthusiastically campaign for their man. Al Franken supporters are present in good numbers as well with several signs posted inside. Mike Ciresi backers meanwhile, are conspicuously absent.

After snaking through the school hallways for about 25 minutes, I am finally registered. I quickly notice my friend and neighbor Shannon McDonough chatting it up with the District's senator Patricia Torres Ray. McDonough, a local political maven, explains to me that he is here to support school board candidate Jill Davis.

It's now about 11:00 am and the festivities are getting underway. 5th District Representative Keith Ellison is first to address the partisan crowd. The freshman congressman voices his displeasure with the president's proposed FISA legislation that gives immunity to telecommunications companies and says it will "unfortunately take more than one term in congress to end the Iraq War." He also adds that his goal for the upcoming election is to register 20,000 new voters.

Mark Dayton is the next speaker. The former senator is introduced as a "Hillary Clinton supporter." Dayton acknowledges Barack Obama's overwhelming win in last month's caucus, but explains he "sat next to Hillary for six years in the senate" and told her that if she ran in 2008, he would "probably&" support her. In the end however, Dayton believes "both are better than Bush and McCain" and says he will support the Democratic nominee either way.

Moments later Nelson-Pallmeyer takes the stage. The St. Thomas professor calls for the end of the Iraq War and claims he is the only candidate in the U.S. Senate race who supports a "national, single-payer health care system." The longtime peace activist believes we cannot afford to send a "mainstream Democrat to Washington" and claims to be "No. 2 in the delegate count," presumably behind Franken.

After city councilman Scott Benson speaks on behalf of Franken, it is time to form sub caucuses. In all, 54 groups register, including "Justice for Palestinians" and "More Trees, Less Bush." In the end only about 20 reach the 31-delegate threshold needed to remain viable.

During that process, Al Franken enters the hall and an immediate buzz comes over the room. The former Saturday Night Live star's presence comes with some controversy however, as many in the crowd want him to speak, but Nelson-Pallmeyer's supporters quickly point out that Benson has already used Franken's allotted time.

A debate ensues before it is finally agreed that each senate candidate or a surrogate will get an additional five minutes to address the crowd. Franken then steps up to the podium and declares that health care is a "right" and calls for a "responsible, fast" exit from Iraq.

The comedian emphasizes his long record as a conservative agitator stating that he "wasn't afraid of Newt, Rush, Bush or even Cheney" and "sure as hell is not afraid of Norm Coleman." Franken claims the "truth is on his side" and Coleman had a chance to do right by Minnesotans and "blew it."

After advocates of Ciresi and Nelson-Pallmeyer stump for their candidates, it is time to elect delegates. The process is chaotic and difficult to make sense of, especially for a first time conventioneer like me. By late afternoon however, the disorderly procedure finally concludes when the 846 attendees select 28 delegates (13 for Franken, 10 for Nelson-Pallmeyer, 1 for Ciresi and 4 uncommitted) who will attend the Congressional and State conventions.

A seasoned observer said it best, "Democracy is a messy thing."
-David Zingler
 March 8, 2008

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