Note: These two posts will deal more with the procedures of the convention, as the candidates themselves have plenty of forums to give their viewpoints, and as I hope to make the convention processes more accessible and transparent.
If you were to take your junior high experience and put it on steroids, then add a healthy dose of Robert's Rules of Order, throw that in a blender, and consume the concoction for twelve hours straight, that would give you some idea of what a local senate district party convention is like. And last Saturday North Minneapolis, Bryn Mawr, and parts of downtown gathered to choose DFL endorsements for our newly numbered Senate district 59. While the endorsement process itself had plenty of drama, the setup for the convention didn't help much either.
We were slated to begin at 9:30 a.m. and I arrived about ten minutes early. Even if I missed the first few moments of the convention, this should have been plenty of time to register and find my spot. For the uninitiated, local political conventions require you to know or find out the ward and precinct where you were elected as a delegate, and then find the corresponding table at the registration to sign in. Once registered, you have to find your ward and precinct on the floor of the convention as well. I've been doing this for years, and I often forget how disorienting even the registration can be for newbies.
And whoever did the set-up for the event must have thought to themselves, "If there were a zombie attack while everyone was registering, what would be the surest way to make sure the whole convention gets infected?" Zombies, after all, are the epitome of groupthink, and would certainly make the endorsement process faster. (I nominate the candidate who promises the most free brains! All those in favor signify by saying "eeeerrrrrrhhhhhhmmmmm.") Joking aside, the registration tables were set up in a narrow hallway right in front of the main entrance for the auditorium. So we had people entering the school from both sides of the hallway, attempting to get to the registration tables, while other registrants were trying to leave, and while people already registered were trying to come and go from the auditorium. Then when a few people in wheelchairs had to attempt passing through, that somehow added to the gridlock.
This had to be the worst placement of registration I have ever seen at a convention--unless the planners were inspired by Leonidas and the Spartans' battle against the Persians. You might think I'm exaggerating here, but the 1:20 mark of the video below contains actual footage of the convention registration process.
It took me close to a half an hour just to get registered and up to my seat in the balcony area. Even then we waited a while longer before starting the convention. Why is the registration so important? Because people with kids or pets can't be there all day. Eventually you've got to go home and let them out of the kennel so they can go to the bathroom. (The PETS, just to be entirely clear here.) So the longer the day drags on, the fewer people are still around participating in the endorsement process. We started almost an hour later than scheduled, and that was in large part due to the registration logjam.
The other unnecessary delay came when...
...someone decided to propose a whole host of rule changes. This is another thing that most first-time conventioneers aren't familiar with; most newcomers are there to support one or two candidates with a vote, and then they leave. But before that happens, a report on credentials and delegates must be read, the affirmative action statement must be read, precinct officers (i.e. a chair of the convention) have to be elected, and rules have to be adopted. Most of these things are procedural and happen rather quickly. But the endorsements, which are what most people come for, were the 10th and 14th items on the day's agenda.
One woman chewed up another fifteen or twenty minutes with proposed rule changes. There wasn't much wrong with her proposals, but my take on the rules is that if you feel strongly enough about how the day should be structured, then get involved with the rules committee in the weeks leading up to the day. Then everyone else can just quickly adopt the rules and get to the business of the day.
So, more than an hour and a half after the announced start time, we were ready to begin the endorsements. I was away from the floor, getting upgraded from an alternate to a delegate when Bobby Joe Champion handily beat Troy Parker on the first ballot, roughly 80% to 20%. I actually wish there had been more drama here. Champion will serve us well, of that I have little doubt. But from the moment Senator Higgins announced her retirement, it seemed like Bobby Joe Champion's ascendance to the senate seat was a foregone conclusion. A stronger opponent and a more vibrant debate over an open seat would have benefited the community and made the winner a better public servant.
When we broke into two groups for 59A and 59B, I wound up with the B-side. I am living in B at the time, but when I close on a home and move, I'll be in A. I checked several times with the rules committee and the DFL headquarters, and was told to caucus and attend the convention for whatever area I currently live. So although I support Joe Mullery in A, and will vote for him in the primary and (hopefully) the general election, I wound up in B where I was undecided.
59B had seven declared candidates: Ian Alexander, Ray Dehn, Terra Cole, Nancy Pomplun, Willie Dominguez, Mike Jones, and Ken Lawrence. Each were given ten minutes to have themselves introduced by others and to speak about their campaign. By the time seven candidates had spoken, we had trudged through an hour and a half of convention time. And while I don't want to discourage participation, it's clear that Jones and Lawrence didn't have any serious network. They had to nominate themselves, and had no supporters to introduce them. They might or might not have had a pretty good network of supporters within their own community, but what they clearly lacked was delegate support.
Remember now, conventions are like junior high with Robert's Rules of Order. Under parliamentary procedure, you may adopt a set of rules, but you may also suspend those rules to do a particular thing, as long as there is a 2/3 majority wishing to do so. Unlike the senate part of the convention, we changed rules to make things more expedient. After the candidate introductions, the rules called for a question and answer session with all candidates. Since it was clear that at least two of those running were not serious contenders, a motion was made to suspend the rules and have an immediate first ballot. While the ballots were counted, all seven candidates could participate in a debate. But once the first results were in, anyone without 15% of the votes would be removed from consideration.
Jones and Lawrence managed three votes between them, meaning they each voted for themselves and one of them got one other delegate in support as well. For probably the first time in their lives, they were part of the 1%, but this was not a good thing for them. Dominguez and Pomplun came close to the requisite 15%, but each fell short. I was disappointed to see Pomplun eliminated quickly, as she was one of the candidates I was considering supporting. Dominguez had his chance to represent us before, and I haven't been terribly impressed with him as an elected official or a candidate.
We were down to three candidates, Alexander, Cole, and Dehn. Interestingly enough, each of them has a particular drawback that leaves them open to a dirty campaign from the other two opponents.
- Alexander was once a Republican. For some people this is just about the worst thing. Better to elect a lifelong DFLer, right? Wrong. In my experience, most people who have switched parties have given more thoughtful examination of the issues before us than the candidate who stayed with one party unquestioningly. Alexander has never hidden his background, nor has he given any indication during the campaign or in the years that I have known him that he is unwilling or incapable of upholding the values of the DFL.
- Dehn has a felony on his record. A long time ago, he made poor choices as a young man. He paid the price for that, and has been an upstanding community member since. Far from a drawback, I have seen him express an understanding of our criminal justice system, and the difficulty of re-entry into society that exceeds what his opponents have articulated.
- Cole does not currently live in 59B. She began her campaign in the old 58B, but was on the dividing line when redistricting came through. Since she built up campaign support with individuals on the B-side, and has been focusing on issues specific to this community, she remained as a candidate for 59B. If elected, she will become a resident in the new 59B, but scrapping the previous campaign work was not a reasonable choice for her.
The rules of the house convention stated that a candidate needed 60% of the delegates voting for him or her in order to get the endorsement. Without an endorsement, the party cannot allocate party resources to a campaign until after the primary. Raymond Dehn was ahead after one round of balloting, with Alexander in second and Cole in third. Our rules allowed us to cast five ballots, or to hold our convention for five hours from the time a chair was elected. We would adjourn if:
- An endorsement was made,
- Five ballots were cast without either an endorsement or suspension of the rules to continue balloting.
- Five hours passed before either 1. or 2. occurred, or
- A motion to adjourn was made, seconded, and carried.
Alexander started off with the strongest presentation, and stayed pretty close to the 30% range throughout balloting. Dehn debated very well, and appeared to be winning over the Bryn Mawr and downtown contingents. He started off in the mid-30% range and got up around 40% on the last ballot. Some of his support likely came from people (like me) who were undecided but wanted to leave the convention with an endorsement.
After four ballots, 59B hit the five-hour mark and was forced to adjourn without an endorsement. At this time, Alexander, Cole, and Dehn are still campaigning for the primary win. I have looked and been unable to confirm if Pomplun, Dominguez, Jones, or Lawrence will continue their campaigns as well. There was still business to conduct at the 5th Congressional District level, so the die-hards (without kids or pets) reconvened to finish that work.
The Sergeant-at-Arms drama in 59A will be documented in part 2. I told you this was like junior high and Robert's Rules of Order on steroids.