Sunday, September 11, 2005

Republican State Convention 2005

On Saturday at 7:30 a.m. I found myself in the middle of the crowds arriving at the Xcel Energy Center for the Promise Keepers convention. Thousands were beginning to make their way to the registration tables, some already with coffee, most with well-worn Bibles in hand.

But I wasn't there for the Promise Keepers convention. I was there for the state convention of the Republican Party of Minnesota. I immediately began wondering whether I had just paid $10 to park in the ramp for a meeting that wasn't happening until next week.

After asking a security guard for directions, I found my way up to the second floor of the adjoining Saint Paul RiverCentre convention center. Fortunately, the Republican Party seemed to have a better sense of direction that day than I did. This was clearly the kickoff event for the 2006 campaign, a rah-rah session for party delegates, precinct chairs, and BPOU leadership. So here begins my grassroots coverage of the 2006 campaign.

Governor Tim Pawlenty hosted a coffee-and-doughnuts reception before the convention was called to order. Gov. Pawlenty was greeting folks in an impromptu receiving line, which I regret that I did not join. I sighted state Sen. Steve Smith (R-Mound) there too.

I ran into other party faithful from Senate District 43 (Plymouth), my home district. One of them, Rep. Jeff Johnson, with more than a dozen of his deep blue-shirted campaign volunteers, was campaigning for the office of Attorney General. I will be campaigning for this neighbor of mine, as well as a few others I'm sure, during the next fifteen months. I re-introduced myself to a face from the Bush Cheney '04 campaign, state eCampaign head Larry Colson (well, we only met once at a MOB event at Keegan's).

I saw Rep. Phil Krinke, (R-Lino Lakes) candidate for Congress in the Sixth District, before the convention. Sen. Michele Bachmann (R-Stillwater), also a candidate for that seat, had a table nearby, but was at home celebrating her wedding anniversary. Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer and State Auditor Pat Anderson were chatting it up with delegates, very accessible and rubbing elbows as usual.

On the convention floor, chairs were lined up for the several hundred delegates. Sen. David Hann (R-Eden Prairie), whom one insider told me is "the smartest guy in the Legislature," sat in front of me with my friends from SD 42. A vocal duo sang patriotic songs to a piano accompaniment. The convention was called to order by recently-elected state party chairman, Ron Carey. The chair of the state Teenage Republicans, Nora Jensen, led the Pledge of Allegiance to two huge American flags hung on the wall behind the podium. The vocalists led the singing of the Star Spangled Banner and God Bless America. Chuck Knapp of KTIS-FM led a brief but spirited invocation.

These "odd year" conventions are truly for the party faithful, with little significant business and even less controversy (nothing to rival the epic, into-the-wee-hours, 2002 gubernatorial endorsement clash between Tim Pawlenty and Brian Sullivan). The four-plus hours this year were filled mostly with routine committee reports, highlighted by speeches from Republican elected officials (lots of Republicans elected to statewide office, it was noted with satisfaction), and the kickoff of the latest state and national voter identification and get-out-the-vote efforts.

Tim Pawlenty

The centerpiece address was given by Governor Pawlenty, who continued the "I Am a Conservative" message delivered in a letter to party activists a week or two ago. Pawlenty reached out to former rival Sullivan, who is now National Committeeman from Minnesota, with praise and thanks. This gave Sullivan a chance to feel the love from his applauding supporters (they are still out there, still somewhat irked at Pawlenty's cigarette "fee" and his pursuit of state-run casino revenue). For his part, after his endorsement defeat, Sullivan rolled up his sleeves and helped to elect Pawlenty, and has since worked behind the scenes to strengthen the party.

For those bleary-eyed delegates who weren't getting Pawlenty's early-morning message, his campaign volunteers distributed a flyer during his address, printed on bright red paper, titled "Conservative Reform for Minnesota." Even grumpy right-wingers must concede that Pawlenty has brought the state (and the governor's office) a long way since the days of feather boas, "my governor can beat up your governor," Playboy magazine interviews, and jokes on the David Letterman Show about "drunken Irishmen" from Saint Paul. So far during Pawlenty's first term, he has:
  • Turned a $4 billion deficit, second only to California's, into a surplus in two years, without raising taxes (not counting the cigarette fee)

  • Made Minnesota more pro-life by requiring a 24 hour waiting period, ensuring that expectant mothers receive information about fetal pain, and funding groups that provide positive alternatives to abortion

  • Allowed law-abiding citizens to carry firearms (this law was actually passed a second time after being challenged in court)

  • Oversaw the replacement of the Profile of Learning with rigorous, knowledge-based academic standards; and moving toward (Pawlenty claims "implementing") performance pay for teachers, also known as Q-Comp

  • Supported a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman

  • Slowed the growth of government, including merging or eliminating state agencies and reducing the number of state general fund employees (Lt. Governor and Transportation Commissioner Carol Molnau had more to say about this later)

The governor also paraphrased Ronald Reagan, saying that the First Amendment "was designed to protect people of faith from government, not to protect government from people of faith." Reagan's original quote:
To those who cite the First Amendment as reason for excluding God from more and more of our institutions and every-day life, may I just say: The First Amendment of the Constitution was not written to protect the people of this country from religious values; it was written to protect religious values from government tyranny.

Sixth District Congressman Mark Kennedy

Kennedy gave warm greetings that turned into a rousing campaign speech for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Sen. Mark Dayton. Kennedy touched on the themes he would emphasize if elected, not least of which would be as a Republican counterweight to that "other" Senator Kennedy.

U.S. Senator Norm Coleman

Coleman was also away visiting family, so he sent his greetings via a staffer.

Lt. Governor and Transportation Commissioner Carol Molnau

Molnau gave some very lively greetings, conveying the fun she was having at the convention and on the job. She told a funny story about the chandelier in the Capitol dome, which is lit only on special occasions and if "something happens" to the governor (that is, if he dies). So Molnau said that the first thing she does when coming to work is look up at the dome. If it's dark, she heads over to the Transportation Building. Molnau also told some great stories about reducing the size and complexity of MnDOT, while undertaking an ambitious construction schedule, much to the delight of the audience.

Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer

Kiffmeyer emphasized her work to ensure fair elections, and encouraged all Republicans to work as election judges in 2006.

State Auditor Pat Anderson

Anderson gave a speech not about campaigns but about underlying principles like accountability. I am a big fan of Anderson's work to make state agency spending more transparent to the taxpayers.

Speaker of the House Steve Sviggum

Speaker Sviggum gave a very enthusiastic speech about Republican achievements, and gave attendees many reasons why they should "feel good" about being Republican.

Senate Minority Leader Dick Day

Day, who once encouraged everyone to drive past freeway ramp meters, assured delegates that there would be no special session. He almost apologized to social conservatives for his promotion of the racino at Canterbury Park, but listed his talking points in favor of it anyway. (In a mailing to supporters, Rep. Mark Olson (R-Big Lake) makes a very interesting case that voting against the expansion of gambling actually has the effect of expanding gambling sans state regulation, given the current agreements with Native American tribes, as casinos such as Mystic Lake continue to expand to meet market demand. But Olson, a conservative, is torn on the issue and is asking for constituent feedback.)

State Rep. Jeff Johnson

Johnson promised to show up for work every day as state Attorney General to protect children like his own two young sons. He complained that criminal prosecutions by the AG's office under Mike Hatch have been neglected, putting children at risk.

U.S. Senate Candidate Harold Shudlick

Challengers to the presumptive endorsee are always welcomed with respect by Republican delegates, but Shudlick's address was basically an attack on Mark Kennedy without offering much reason to vote for Shudlick, other than the oft-repeated platitude "a vote for me is a vote for you." This graceless performance made it difficult for delegates to imagine endorsing Shudlick over Kennedy — or anyone else.

Ironic moment of the day: when the RNC staffer's PowerPoint presentation reached the slide demonstrating the triumph of 2005 technology over 1975 technology, the embedded video would not play until after several attempts, advancing the slides forward and back, exiting out into the PowerPoint slide sorter view, and other frantic mouse-clicking. The video, featuring Ronald Reagan presiding over voter ID and GOTV efforts using not much more than stone knives and bearskins, was well-received once they got the 2005 technology figured out.

Joke of the day: How many Democrats does it take to screw in a light bulb? None: they expect the government to do it.

More coverage, with links to speech audio, at Residual Forces.

Saint Paul Pioneer Press, "GOP unites as Pawlenty launches '06 campaign."

UPDATE: I have been informed that Michele and Marcus Bachmann were there after all, at the back of the room. Convention Rule #1: all of the interesting conversations happen at the back of the room, in the hallways, and next to the free food.

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