Last night's turnout was nothing like 2008, but I don't think we'll ever see another precinct caucus night in Minnesota like 2008...until maybe 2012!
When I arrived 30 minutes before the call to order at 7:00 pm in 2008, the parking lot at Wayzata Central Middle School was full and I had to park a block away. This year, I arrived at a similar time and the lot had plenty of space. Senate District 43 BPOU officer and state Senate candidate Norann Dillon was in the airlock when I entered the school, with her son, getting ready to meet and greet. Within several yards of the front door, I recognized several other of my SD43 cronies, busy with sign-in sheets, precinct maps, and caucus room assignments. It was like coming home again, except for the absence of former BPOU chair Frank Weir, who passed away in 2008.
A table in the lunchroom had three coffee urns with the signs "Regular," "Decaf," and "1/2 and 1/2." Only in Minnesota. I helped myself to a cup of decaf and a cookie, and went looking for my precinct caucus room.
The precinct caucus proceedings are fairly scripted, yet the size of the groups are small enough (ours had around 30) that they are also fairly informal, with a minimum of parliamentary procedure. The idea is to encourage folks to participate in the discussion and volunteer for various roles such as BPOU officer, delegate to the BPOU convention, be a campaign worker, or serve as an election judge (more on that later).
I recognized several of my precinct neighbors from previous election cycles, renewed acquaintances, and met some new friends. In particular, I was pleased to meet fellow blogger Walter Hudson, who blogs at Fightin' Words (http://www.fightinwords.us), and his family. Also on hand was BPOU committee member Master of None, who blogs at Jack of All Trades blog (http://jackofalltradesblog.com/). So the blogosphere was well represented in SD43.
Two or three homeschool families were in my caucus, along with a few twentysomethings, several younger kids as observers, a few married couples, and a few first-time attendees whose children had grown up or jobs had changed such that they had some time they could commit to political activity. All professed social, fiscal, and Constitutionally conservative views, although I think some may have been taken aback when I claimed to be a TEA Party conservative!
Our gubernatorial straw poll results: 15 votes for Marty Seifert, 14 votes for Tom Emmer, and 2 votes for David Hann. Many in the room did not seem familiar with the candidates, so we took a few minutes to read the open letters to the caucus from all three of them before the vote. I think that all three are great conservative candidates. I admire how Seifert has run the House GOP caucus, Emmer has a refreshing, "gimme a break" presence (and has garnered an impressive roster of endorsements, including former U.S. Sen. Rod Grams and colleague Rep. Laura Brod), and I know and respect Hann's work in the state Senate from my education reform efforts.
We received visits from three local candidates: Brian Grogan, who ran unsuccessfully against HD43B Rep. John Benson (DFL-Minnetonka) in 2008; Kathy Dettman, a former Minnesota House of Representatives staffer who is running against Grogan for the endorsement; and Dillon. Republican HD43A Rep. Sarah Anderson is not expected to face an endorsement challenge this year.
Grogan was in full campaign mode, with a group of young volunteers in tow passing out his campaign brochure, and campaign signs pre-positioned in the hallways and caucus rooms. Grogan has been busy preparing in the off-season for a rematch against Benson. (Grogan is an occasional guest commentator on North Star Liberty.) Dettman is regarded in House circles as well-informed and well-spoken, which she demonstrated in her 60-second caucus stump speech. Dillon was similarly prepared to speak, even down to a gold-tone name tag like you might have seen elected officials wear when they speak to groups away from the Capitol.
The surprise visitor to our caucus was Third District Congressman Erik Paulsen, in a rare mid-week visit to Minnesota. Paulsen told us that he was there to support local candidates, whose needs he understands well from representing HD42B from 1995-2008, including five years as Majority Leader. Paulsen is also up for re-election, although he will not be facing Terri Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka) who recently announced that she will be defending her state Senate seat instead (in none other than SD43). After his remarks, Paulsen left the room to a round of applause.
The last order of business, resolutions, was mercifully brief, with only two resolutions offered. I think that the standing platform of the state GOP is already way too long.
There will be plenty of work to be done, and not just the party business of conventions or the candidate ground game of lit drops, door knocking, phone banks, debates, lawn signs, and parades. As the election for U.S. Senate in 2008 demonstrated, we need more Republicans to step up to get trained as election judges, work the polls, and be ready to help to ensure fair and legal voting on Election Day. To underscore this point, two of our caucus attendees related experiences of shall we say less than kosher poll incidents in 2008. Contact the state GOP, the Minnesota Secretary of State, or your city clerk for details. The time commitment boils down to a few hours of training and four to eight hours on Election Day, but the importance to election integrity is huge.
So Campaign 2010 begins. As Sarah Palin said recently of the Tea Party movement, here are the kinds of people I saw at the caucus last night:
They're folks in small towns and cities across this nation who saw what was happening to our country and decided to get involved. Thank God for them. Many of these good Americans had never been involved in their government before, but now they attend town hall meetings and participate in online forums. They write letters to the editor. They sign up to be precinct leaders and run for local office and support other independent patriots. They have the courage to stand up and speak out.
With all hands on deck, this year we can put a conservative Republican in the governor's office, elect a Republican state auditor, grow the Republican caucus at the Legislature, and restore fiscal responsibility and a warmer business "climate change" to the North Star State. I hope you'll join us by contacting the Minnesota GOP and finding out how you can help.