Sunday, November 5, 2017
Minneapolis Needs a Second DFL Party
As elections get ever closer, the level of vitriol keeps escalating. The crisis du jour happens to be a set of mailings that have gone out from Minneapolis Works! that have been in support of some of the less liberal candidates for city council. The hints of big, downtown money swaying the election has even brought out the most dreaded word imaginable in Minneapolis elections.
Now realistically we don't have Republicans as a political force in Minneapolis. Sure, we had one run for mayor in 2013, but to borrow from the legend of Keyser Soze, and like that he was gone. Underground. Nobody has seen him since. He becomes a myth, a spook story that DFLers tell their kids at night. Run against a more liberal candidate, and the Republicans will get you. And no one ever really believes.
So this mailer comes out, and to be honest, the real story ought to be that these really rich political action groups had to crib campaign photos without permission and used poorly cropped Getty image photoshops. With that much money, if you want to be progressive with an actual 'p' then hire a northside photographer from a minority-owned business or a local arts group to take actual photos, and then get another such business to design the postcard. Instead, the uproar is that the less liberal candidates were called "progressive," when the new crop of left-wing candidates thinks that word belongs to them.
And the problem with that is that the DFL in Minneapolis is essentially the only path to political legitimacy (Sorry, Cam Gordon, but until we get more Green Party representation, I stand by the assessment). So ascendancy within the DFL party, and the DFL endorsement at conventions is not a consensus by Democrats of who represents their values. It is instead a tool to be used to gain the appearance of credibility.
Contrast that with statewide DFL conventions and endorsements...
...where delegates and alternates know that at the end of the session they damn well better 1) be able to define the policy positions and values that make someone a Democrat, 2) gauge which candidates best meet those values and can win an election, and 3) come away with some degree of consensus that we'll get an endorsement and stand behind that endorsement. The idea that we would block an endorsement or otherwise leave the convention without a chosen candidate is anathema. After all, the Republicans and possibly Independents are going to define their values and choose their candidate, and without a clear alternative those parties will dominate the election narrative.
At the local level, there is no such worry. So each candidate and their delegates arrive at the endorsing process entrenched in their own camps. If the endorsement isn't a mathematical shoo-in, then the convention becomes either a fundamentally undemocratic exercise in attrition until only the old faithful are left or a pointless exercise in denying anyone a 60% threshold. I can honestly say I have never gone to a ward, city, county, or senate district DFL convention with the mindset that by God we have to endorse *someone.* I've either been undecided (like this year's city convention) or I've been in attendance specifically on behalf of a candidate, doing whatever that campaign thought was in its best interests. Our local conventions are not about the party, they are numbers games to achieve or deny an endorsement. They are a means to an end so that a preferred candidate gets to access party money and machinery, and maybe get a postcard or doorknocking stint with a DFL rockstar like Ellison, Klobuchar, or Franken.
I've racked my brain for a solution here, and I think I've come up with one. If you read the title of the post, then you know what it is. Minneapolis needs two Democratic/DFL parties.
At first, I wanted to have two different parties entirely, or make the resurgent left wing of the DFL splinter off to the Green Party or a new entity altogether. (And let's face it; moderates like me are pretty unlikely to form our own party.) But as much as I may disagree with some elements of this year's political scene, I do think there is enough room in the Democratic Party/DFL tent for the neoliberal moderates and the more hard-line leftists.
To be clear, I get equally furious when I read the ongoing reports about how the national Democratic party stacked the deck for Hillary Clinton and tilted the field away from any other contender like Bernie Sanders. I find it troublesome when I read reports of purging left-leaning activists from national party leadership. I was quite dissatisfied with Alondra Cano's Rose Garden strategy at her ward convention, where she avoided question and answer sessions and then just had her delegates take over the process. Whether it's on a national or local scale and whether the misdeeds are perpetrated by moderate or hard left DFLers, I find attempts to shut down dialogue and bypass the will of the people to be entirely distasteful.
The main benefit of a two-party DFL system would be that Minneapolis could actually define who has what political territory. For instance, we all overuse the word "progressive." I bristle when someone tells me my more moderate stances are not actually progressive, yet I tell my left-leaning friends that their views are far enough removed from reality that they aren't progressive on the grounds of being unworkable. At the end of the discussion, terms like "democrat," "liberal," and "progressive" lose any mutually agreed-upon meaning. They mean whatever the user wants them to mean.
We could also endorse a moderate and a liberal candidate for local elections, and that process would allow party resources and fellow elected representatives to campaign on behalf of more colleagues without crossing party lines. I don't envision the endorsement process as simply taking the top two vote-getters, as that doesn't solve the problem of being able to more clearly stake out ideological differences. And I'm not yet sure how we'd get those endorsements without even longer conventions. To be honest, multiple endorsement processes would be kind of the opposite of kids with divorced parents who say, "Well at least we get two Christmases."
Finally, there are a whole host of issues within the city, ranging from affordable housing to crime prevention strategies, where people behind the scenes don't always speak openly about what they see as political shortfalls from various candidates or elected officials. Their voice is muted precisely because the DFL has a monolithic dominance over paths to political capital.
Creating a second DFL party in Minneapolis could let some steam out of that pressure cooker of a political environment. And since this would not be a separate party, participants could still vote in other Democratic primaries and remain active within local, state, and national political structures. (Since such participation requires attesting that one is not a member of another party) And admittedly this is a pie-in-the-sky thought experiment at this point. But hell, if mayoral and council candidates can openly talk about abolishing and disarming the police and still get taken seriously, then this blogger can indulge in a political daydream.