Elections 2016: Minneapolis School Board At-Large

Minneapolis has an at-large School Board seat coming up for a vote this year, and the incumbent, Carla Bates, isn’t running again.

Two candidates are running:

Kim Ellison
Doug Mann

Kim’s site is pretty content-free. She’s worked as a teacher both at a regular high school and an alternative high school for very at-risk kids (this 2012 interview with her gives a lot more detail on her work as an educator). She’s actually served on the school board for four years already, but previously she held the seat for the District 2 representative. She’s retiring from that seat and running for the at-large seat.

She has the DFL endorsement, which is weirdly not mentioned on her website, and the only person running against her is Doug Mann, who’s been running for the school board since 1999 with no luck.

My issues with Doug Mann can be summed up pretty well by noting that on the front page of his extensive website he lays out his priorities for schools (better retention, more mainstreaming of special ed kids, avoid watering down curricula), then adds, “Cut the war budget and raise taxes on corporations and the rich to fund the transition from fossil fuels and nuclear power to clean energy and to fund social welfare programs” and lists out a grab-bag of other left-wing positions (Medicare for all, raise the minimum wage to $15, eliminate tuition for public universities, legalize marijuana…)

I mean, do I think most of these things are a good idea? Sure. Do I think the Minneapolis School Board has the power to enact any of them? No. I am in favor of electing people who have a sense of what the job entails.

Doug’s contact information is a Facebook page which he last posted to in February. He is endorsed by the Green Party.

If I were voting in Minneapolis this year, I would vote for Kim, despite her mostly useless website. I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again: serving on the Minneapolis (and St. Paul) school board is supposed to be a part-time job, but it’s not; it’s a full-time job, and one of their major responsibilities is getting yelled at for making unpopular decisions. It is a terrible job for which they get paid less than $15,000/year. For much of the time I was living in Minneapolis, most of the people who served didn’t run for re-election, which meant the school board lacked any real institutional memory. At some point I decided that I would always vote for incumbents on this board running for re-election unless they had really pissed me off. Kim Ellison definitely qualifies.

Also, I think that when the work on a school board has become a full-time job, the school board members, like City Council representatives, should be paid a salary they can actually live on. (This would have to be changed at the state legislative level, and I do not think it’s anyone’s priority, unfortunately.)

 

Election 2016 – Judicial Races -4th District Court 45 and 4th District Court 37

When I looked at the candidate lists yesterday I missed the fact that there were in fact two contested judicial races for district courts in Hennepin County.

4th District Court 37

Carolina A. Lamas (incumbent)
Luke Kyper Bellville

4th District Court 45

Paul R. Scoggin (incumbent)
Chris Ritts

I’ll do the 4th District Court 37 first.

Carolina Lamas

Judge Carolina Lamas is a relatively recent appointee — she came to the bench in 2014, appointed by Governor Dayton. She’s relatively young, having graduated from law school in 2003. (Not scandalously young. But probably younger than me.) She’s an immigrant from Peru and prior to becoming a judge, she worked as a public defender and for a nonprofit that serves indigent people who’ve been charged with felonies.

Looking for news stories about her turned up a piece about Hennepin County judges doing free weddings for people on Valentine’s Day this year, and she set a typical (rather than an extremely high) bail for someone back in February. Searching on the guy’s name turned up no additional articles, so I’m not sure whether his trial is still pending or what. (Also, protecting the public is not supposed to be what bail is for; you’re innocent until proven guilty. You’re only supposed to be denied bail, or given an extremely high bail, if you’re a flight risk, at least that’s the theory as I understand it.)

Anyway, overall she seems to be doing a fine job.

Luke Kyper Bellville

If you visit Luke Bellville’s site you’ll probably have the same first thought I had, which is, “wait…Tripod still exists?”

Luke appears to have a family and enjoy sitting in grassy settings. He emphasizes his deep local roots, which I initially read as a fairly standard iteration of Minnesota parochialism (there are people in both Minneapolis and St. Paul who will brag about how they never ever go to the other city, which always makes me want to speculate that they’re secretly a vampire who can’t cross water) but having read up on Carolina Lamas I’m now wondering if he’s trying to channel anti-immigrant sentiment. He also says, “I, having grown up in the inner-city of Minneapolis, have little tolerance for violent crimes, and feel they are the number one thing in the modern era that needs addressing.” So possibly he’s mad about the low bail or that one guy, or again, this actually sounds a little dogwhistle-y.

He does not even hint at any actual qualifications to work as a judge, like having gone to law school. Which is weird, because he appears to indeed be a lawyer. I found his LinkedIn, which adds another odd thing to the mix — he talks about attending the U of  M Twin Cities on both his “hire me to be your lawyer” page and his “vote for me for judge” page but he got his JD in North Dakota. Which is a perfectly reasonable place to get a law degree so why he wants to cover up this fact is bizarre. (And, I mean, on his “vote for me” page, he gets really detailed: “I am a fourth generation Minnesotan who grew up on the West Bank in Minneapolis. I attended Marcy Open Elementary school when it was still on Como Avenue, then Anderson Junior High off Lake Street, and South High School off Cedar Avenue. After this I graduated from the University of Minnesota on the Twin Cities Campus.” Like, you considered it important that you attended Marcy Open but you didn’t want to tell us where you went to law school?)

Anyway, the tl;dr here is that this guy is a flake. Vote for Carolina Lamas.

On to Court 45.

4th District Court 45

Paul R. Scoggin (incumbent)

So two years ago, Paul Scoggin was running against Bridget Ann Sullivan for an open seat and I wrote about it. I thought they both sounded like strong candidates who’d make excellent judges. And in fact Sullivan won the election but Scoggin was appointed to fill an opening the following year.

I went looking for news articles about Scoggin and didn’t turn up anything about his work as a judge. Interestingly, though, I did find a news article from 2013 about a criminal case that he prosecuted and his opponent in the race defended: Minneapolis man who wrecked Lamborghini gets six months in workhouse. The case involved this idiot who was hired to repair, then store, a Lamborghini. (Presumably for the winter months.) He took it for an unauthorized drunken joyride and wrecked it. Then he tried to bill it to insurance and lied about the accident. Honestly, click and read, the whole story is sort of hilarious in an “omg what an idiot” kind of way. (I’ll note that I did some follow-up googling fascinatingly enough, his auto shop is not only still in business but doing fine. He must be one hell of a mechanic. It appears that he committed himself to sobriety and stuck with it, so hurray for the wake-up call he got working as I’m sure everyone hoped.)

Anyway, both Chris Ritts and Paul Scoggin were doing their jobs as expected in that case — I don’t think either did anything wrong. Reading the article I felt a bit more sympathy for the prosecutor, but there’s nothing wrong with defending someone guilty, I mean that’s solidly part of the job of a defense lawyer. I’m not sure how good a deal Chris got for his client — this was a plea deal — but when a guy digs himself that sort of ten-foot pit before he calls you, there’s only so much you can do. (Oh, wait. Plus he had priors, according to the Strib article. He must be an amazing mechanic to still be in business.)

Chris Ritts

Two years ago, Chris Ritts was running against Bev Benson for an open seat and I wrote about it. I thought Bev sounded a little too cozy with the police but I thought Chris sounded super flaky and not overly bright.

His website is less embarrassing now, though it definitely telegraphs “campaign committee of one.”

Searching for news stories on him turns up a couple of different stories about his work as an attorney. He defended a Maple Grove City Council Rep who stole money from her elderly father while working as his caregiver. (Maybe Brad Gerten, R-51A, should give Ritt a call.) Ritt has also worked for the family of a man killed by a Plymouth police officer and won a settlement for a man who sued a St. Paul police officer for excessive force.

The fact that he has only a single endorsement (vs. Soggins’ long list of endorsements) makes me think less “courageous outsider” and more “the people who know this guy don’t actually think he should be a judge,” though.

I would vote for Scoggins.

 

 

 

Election 2016: Constitutional Amendment 1

There is a constitutional amendment on the Minnesota ballot this year! Statewide. (Obviously.) Here’s what it says:

Remove Lawmakers’ Power to Set Their Own Pay
Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to remove state lawmakers’ power to set their own salaries, and instead establish an independent, citizens-only council to prescribe salaries of lawmakers?

You can vote Yes, or No. If you leave it blank, that counts as a No.

So my first gut reaction to this is as follows: I suspect that the legislators have put this on the ballot because they would really like a raise, and they would really like it not to be on them to give themselves a raise, because if you do vote yourself a raise people will slam you for it and sometimes people will indignantly run against you because you gave yourself a raise after not accomplishing whatever it was they particularly wanted you to get done that session.

How much are legislators paid at the moment? I found that info over on the Minnesota State Legislature FAQ:  a Legislator’s salary is $31,140 per year. That said, it’s allegedly not a full-time job; you’re not in session all year. If legislators have another job, the FAQ notes they’re protected from firing over their legislative-session-absence and also their employer isn’t allowed to fire them if they dislike how they voted, which is hilarious but also a good idea, I’d say.

They get a per diem during the legislative session (key, for people who live somewhere up on the Iron Range — it’s not like they can go home at night to sleep) and I was trying to find that info out from this helpful document about compensation and that wasn’t in there, but it did mention that the last time the legislature got a raise was in 1999. It also noted, “The 2013 Legislature proposed a constitutional amendment regarding how legislators’ salaries are determined. The 2014 Legislature modified the text of the proposed amendment and passed a bill that put that amendment to voters. The amendment will be voted on at the 2016 general election.” So this has been in the works for a while.

There’s a MinnPost article from 2013 about the question of whether legislators are underpaid.  It covers the per diem issue but also quotes former Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe on the whole “part time” issue. “It’s difficult for the public to understand that it’s really not part-time,” Moe says. “It’s a 150-percent of the time job for five or six months of the year, and about a 75-percent of the time job the rest of the year. It’s more than a full-time job and you kind of build your life around it.”

(They’re not as underpaid as the Minneapolis and probably also the St. Paul school board. I can tell you that Minneapolis school board members work a more-than-full-time job for under $15,000/year and a measurable percentage of the job is to be the target of hatred, resentment, and angry criticism. I would raise both Minneapolis and St. Paul school board members’ salaries tomorrow to a reasonable full-time salary, if I could, because I sincerely believe that they’d get better people who would be more likely to be able to solve the district’s problems if people who need to work for a living could afford to serve. That salary: also set by the legislature.)

The MinnPost article notes that the legislature has the same problem, to some degree: the skimpy pay doesn’t stop people from running, but it causes a lot of people to decide they can’t afford to run again.

The comments section on that article kind of illustrates the problem: “Slackers and lemmings not ‘entitled’ to increases.” “That does not justify higher pay because constituents did not benefit from your choice to work long hours.” Several people pointed out that we might get better, smarter people running for office if we paid them a living wage; a not-outstandingly-smart-sounding retired woman who can’t spell said she’d serve for free.

A more recent article in MinnPost talks about this issue again, noting that even mentioning legislative pay is just full-on radioactive for legislators, and that a lot of legislators wind up really struggling financially.

Apparently in New Mexico, state legislators don’t get paid at all. This piece compares legislative pay and talks about the benefits (and drawbacks) of a well-paid legislature.

Here’s the fundamental thing, I guess. I do think people should get paid fairly for their work, and that includes lawmakers. The solution to crappy legislators is kicking them out of office at election time, not saying “none of you get paid today!” I think a citizen commission will pay people fairly. (I don’t think it will pay them lavishly. I think it will compensate them reasonably for the actual hours they work, or at least, they’ll do a better job of this than the legislators can politically do for themselves.) This seems like a good idea to me and I am going to vote in favor of this amendment.

 

 

Election 2016: St. Paul School Board

St. Paul is holding a Special Election for school board member at-large. This is to replace member Jean O’Connell, who resigned in protest after Superintendent Valeria Silva was fired. (The board appointed an interim person back in August, but Cedrick Baker is not running.)

On the ballot:

Eduardo Barrera
Tony Klehr
Cindy Kerr
Greg Copeland
Jeanelle Foster

Eduardo Barrera

Eduardo Barrera is an executive director at CLUES, a nonprofit that provides services and referrals to the Latino community. An article about the start times of St. Paul’s high schools mentioned him: “Eduardo Barrera, a parent of two elementary students who also sits on the St. Paul Public Schools Foundation board, said he had read up on the science before joining the steering committee. But, he said, like fellow committee members, he tries to keep an open mind.” (They didn’t end up moving start times later but it’s still under consideration.)

(Here’s the thing about later high school start times: they will improve learning outcomes, improve your graduation rate, lower teen pregnancy rates, and cut the death rate because of fewer people hit by sleepy teenage drivers. It is the winniest win/win of all win/wins, except for sports coaches, who like those early afternoon hours for practices.)

His website is pretty minimalist and includes the following platform: “Eliminate the persistent disparity in educational attainment; include voices of parents, teachers, and staff who support our children; ensure collaboration for the benefit of the district; increase enrollment levels and decrease classroom size; make every resident of Saint Paul proud of our public schools.”

That is the most boilerplate generic school board platform I think I’ve ever seen, and I’ve sat through quite a few DFL endorsing conventions so I’ve heard a lot of generic boilerplate delivered out loud, fists raised, with cheering volunteers holding signs as backdrop.

That is really telling me less than nothing about what you will do with your seat.

He also tried for the interim position but not hard enough to show up on the day the school board made the selection (he had a meeting) and he didn’t try for DFL endorsement. He also didn’t turn in a website when he filled out his paperwork so there’s no link on the Secretary of State candidates list; I did find him when I googled, but it’s pretty far down the page. I’m a little dubious that he actually wants the job. Oh, there’s also no way to contact him from his campaign website. Hmm. Yeah. I’m increasingly skeptical. Next!

Tony Klehr

Okay, here’s what I was able to find out about Tony Klehr. He’s a teacher in the Stillwater Public Schools (a “Credit Recovery Teacher, Generalist,” which I’m guessing means he  works with students who’ve failed classes to make up the credits.) In the comments of a pissy Joe Soucheray column about the St. Paul school board, someone named Fred endorsed Tony and said he was a Republican. According to Tony’s mostly-private Facebook page, he graduated from Woodbury Senior High in 2004, and the U of M Duluth in 2010; also, it looks like he went to China in 2006, and it looks like it was with a student group. He has a selfie on the Great Wall that is captioned, “taken moments before i threw up all over the great wall. they may have a booming economy, but we have struck at the heart of their national diginity.”

Next!

Cindy Kerr

So, this is new: a GoFundMe page as a campaign website.

Cindy has two kids, both adopted from foster care. She pulled her son out of SPPS last year after what sounds like a very frustrating experience with the IEP process. When adopting from foster care, she had to take a bunch of training on fetal alcohol syndrome and other special needs; she clearly sees the lack of similar training in the Saint Paul Public Schools.

Other info I found: via LinkedIn, she’s a an “Engagement Manager” for a company called ClickSoft, and her employer and her job description are so absolutely saturated with buzzwords I have no earthly idea what she does. She’s on Twitter, but appears to use it mostly for her job. I also found her filing form. She also lives ridiculously close to me, like I could go knock on her door right now and ask her some questions. (She doesn’t have her campaign e-mail address on her GoFundMe but anyone who reads this and wants to follow up with her can try votecindykerr@gmail.com.)

My thoughts here: it sounds like she has some personal experience in a very specific area that would be useful, but it’s a really narrow experience, specific to her children. That’s where most of us start, actually, but for school board I like to see people who’ve got some broader experience, either via working or volunteering. It’s also clear that political campaigns are an opaque black box to her — a GoFundMe page is better than no website at all but she’s gotten exactly one donor since putting it up.

Cindy, if you’re reading this, I would encourage you to join the St. Paul Special Education Advisory Council. Volunteer for the campaign of a politician you like (maybe not this season, when you’re campaigning yourself, but next year or the year after). Attend your DFL precinct caucus and become a delegate to the City Convention. You’ll have the opportunity to see how campaigns work and if this is something you’d like to pursue, you’ll have a better base of knowledge (and connections) to go forward.

Greg Copeland

Greg Copeland is a loud Republican, a perennial candidate, and the former extremely incompetent Maplewood city manager. He ran for school board two years ago, partly on the platform of firing Silva, and has not updated his website since Silva was fired. He’d like to see ward-based school board representation, like Minneapolis has — I tend to think this is a good idea, FWIW.

On his Biography page, he talks about how  every student should have an IEP created in consultation with parents, teachers, and guidance counselors. IEPs right now are created for special needs students and spell out goals and services. I’ve been through this process: it’s time-consuming. Doing this for every student would require a whole new layer of school bureaucracy. Of course, elsewhere he says that more money should go to teaching, and not to bureaucracy. To be fair, he doesn’t seem to consider guidance counselors to be the bureaucracy; he notes that the American School Counselor Association suggests that schools employ one guidance counselor for every 250 students, and the St. Paul schools have 435:1. (It’s not that I’m opposed to guidance counselors in the schools but asking the American School Counselor Association how many guidance counselors a school needs seems a little like asking a cosmetology school whether it’s really necessary to license hairdressers. This guy is solidly Republican so why guidance counselors, specifically, are the one form of non-teacher bureaucracy he thinks are awesome is something I’m kind of curious about.)

Anyway, it sounds ot me like his vision of the every-student-gets-an-IEP is that the process is less intensive than the current IEP process used for special needs students, but more intensive than parent-teacher conferences. He wants teachers, parents, and guidance counselors to set academic goals and address gaps with tutoring and other interventions. You know what, fundamentally I think this is a pretty good idea but it would cost a lot of money, and eliminating “failed, costly Silva era programs such as those operated by the Pacific Education Group” is going to round up relative pocket change. (He also suggests the technology levy funds be redirected. I am skeptical that this would work. On one hand, they’re spending money on iPads maintenance and so on but on the other hand, there are other things they were able to not spend money on like printed copies of a whole bunch of textbooks. I’m not saying that the iPads weren’t a stupid use of money — I’m saying, at this point, dumping them won’t save you much.) He then goes on to say in bold face font that no new funds or property tax levies will be required, because of course he does, he’s a Republican. This is bullshit.

I mean, okay. He says there are currently 85 counselors, and this is 1:435 and he wants 1:250 so let’s say we’re going to hire 75. That might be do-able with the money we’d otherwise be spending on stuff like PEC, maybe, but here’s the thing: the 1:250 is assuming the normal set of Guidance Counselor tasks. If you’re going to say that every student in St. Paul now gets an IEP, you’re going to need a lot more. If you’re going to say that students who’ve fallen behind will get tutoring or other interventions, you’re also going to need to hire an army of reading and math specialists who will do that tutoring. (They actually have a bunch of these people now, but that’s part of where some of that money that’s not going to classroom teachers and guidance counselors is going to.)

He says he wants to spend the maximum amount possible in the classroom, and says that he’d start budget cuts with the central administration, followed by an examination of School Support Services budget and the District-Wide Support Services budget.

So okay, the School Support Services budget is where you pay for those reading and math specialists who do the tutoring that kids needs to bring them up to speed. I imagine this is also where they pay for behavior specialists who deal with the kids who unruly and seriously disruptive, so that the teachers can teach rather than spending long periods of time dealing with kids who are being disruptive. The district-wide support services is where you get the people who go from school to school providing OT or PT or other services that a small number of students need. Do you want every child to be able to write and thus take the MCAs? Some students need OT and PT in order to be able to hold a pencil and make words on a page.

I mean, I could be making the wrong assumptions about how the money is allocated and who pays for what.

When I look back at our (frustrating) experiences in Minneapolis, there were absolutely staff members that I don’t know what the hell they did all day. In some cases they were definitely doing stuff, it just didn’t seem to bear any real relationship to what their job title suggested they might be doing. And I seriously don’t know what some of the central people were doing: not calling my kid’s teacher back ever, would be what one of them did all day, as far as I could tell. But there are also the people who test all the 3 and 4-year-olds for Kindergarten Readiness; there are the people who manage the central food services and the central transportation services. There are people who run community education, who investigate civil rights complaints, who help families who are experiencing homelessness, who make sure everyone’s checks get auto-deposited on schedule. Sure, some of the people in these offices are undoubtedy useless, lazy assholes like the person who never called my kid’s teacher back ever. Others are doing super useful work. I do not remotely trust Greg Copeland to be able to tell the difference.

On his main page he has a blog where he suggests that we should institute middle-school testing to sort all our kids into college-bound and vocational tracks, complains about “transgenders” using the bathroom, and advocates for vouchers.

Anyway, this guy is not my candidate.

Jeanelle Foster

Jeanelle (“Jeanie”) Foster was endorsed by the DFL at a tiny City Convention held a few months ago. (I got a phone call about it, I think even from Jeanie’s campaign, but was out of town that day.) According to her biography, she is a former teen mother who pulled herself out of poverty using the power of education and went on to become a teacher, then work at the Wilder Child Development Center to help struggling families get their kids through the system. Now she works as a Head Start administrator.

Her platform is another absolutely boilerplate set of goals: “Bring staff together and improve relationships with administration; Keep children and equity at the center of our decision-making and help the system to be more responsive; Increase parent and family engagement so kids and families can better navigate the system to find success.” Her background at least suggests she has experience with these specific things. (Increasing parent and family engagement was a component of her job at Wilder, I think.)

She’s my pick, and I’ll admit it’s heavily for her past experience. I have friends who went to college as single mothers, and they’re all frankly pretty amazing. The fact that she got a Master’s degree (!!!) after having a child at 16 shows that she’s someone who can work really hard and who knows to an intimate degree the transformational power of education.

If (like Greg) you’re suspicious enough of the central offices that you’d be hesitant enough to vote for anyone who’s worked there, I guess in that case I’d go for Eduardo Barrera. He’s been heavily engaged with the public schools in the past as a parent and citizen. I’m going to say that Tony Klehr is a flake, and Cindy Kerr is well-meaning but too inexperienced to jump into this particular job. Greg Copeland is the GOP equivalent of the socialists who want to fund things with gold pooped out by magical unicorns. (The GOP version of this is when you’re convinced that you can just check the trash cans for all the gold people are mindlessly throwing away because cut waste is the answer to everything, and the possibility that St. Paul spends a lot of money because it gets a lot of kids whose needs are more extreme than, say, Wayzata does, has not occurred to him.)

 

 

 

Election 2016: U.S. Representative, District 4

(I’m going to tackle the ballot out of order and do the presidential race last.)

I live in St. Paul, and our Congresswoman is Betty McCollum. This is largely regarded as a safe Democratic seat.

Here’s who’s running:

Betty McCollum (DFL)
Greg Ryan (Republican)
Susan Pendergast Sindt (Legal Marijuana Now)

Continue reading

And then suddenly it was September

::wipes dust off blog::

So hey! Early voting in Minnesota just started, which means I am overdue for getting started with this year’s election blogging. But before I get started with that, I really feel like I should mention that back in August, like over a month ago now, I won a Hugo Award for Best Short Story for Cat Pictures Please. I have no idea if there are people out there who read my blog here but do not follow me on either Twitter or Facebook, where I gleefully and excitedly jumped up and down right afterward.

14368757_10153983713857843_5247787616909744829_n

Me with my Hugo. Photo taken by John O’Halloran, Ohana TyeDye Photography

The star-and-moon batik jacket and skirt belonged to my mother. It was her favorite dress-up outfit for years and years. When my sister and I cleaned out her closet in July, Abi suggested that I wear it to the Hugo Awards as a way of having her with me. When I got dressed for the Awards Ceremony, I also carefully stashed a couple of Kleenex in the pocket. Every single time Abi or I checked the pockets of anything our mother had ever worn, there were a couple of tissues in the pockets. She wanted to be prepared! (My Grammie has the same habit. She always wants a tissue in her pocket, sleeve, or the little carrier bag of her walker. Or ideally all three.)

The Hugo rocket is currently sitting on the buffet in our dining room. I will eventually find another spot for it, but here’s the thing — as you may have guessed, we are cat owners. In fact, we got a new cat in June.

cassie

Our newest kitty, Cassie Fluffypants

One of our cats is sufficiently large that he managed to (accidentally) shove a literal stone sculpture off the mantelpiece a few months ago. The Hugo rocket is heavier than you might expect but it’s also a bit top-heavy and I really don’t want it to get broken. Where it is, it could get tipped over but it’s not going to make a six foot fall to the floor.

After winning, I got interviewed on MPR, which was awesome, and I got quoted in a Salon article, which was cool, and Chuck Tingle called me a “True Buckaroo” (and bitter conservative puppy John C. Wright called me a “graying spinster,” which was bonus levels of hilarious because Ed and I celebrated our 20th anniversary in July! Actually, we briefly acknowledged our anniversary, promised ourselves a lovely meal out, and … still have not taken it because our summer was ridiculously busy.)

I always have this weird idea that things will calm down a bit once school starts. This is a patently absurd belief. Not only does school mean my kids’ activities all ramp up again, September is also when BOTH of my daughters have birthdays. Molly turned 16 this year, and Kiera turned 13. Plus I got called for jury duty — I actually initially got called for the week of WorldCon, but I got a deferral until September. That was the week of the 12th through the 16th, and I actually got on a jury. Jury service was extremely interesting but surprisingly exhausting. (You have to sit and listen to people for long periods of time.) Molly does Mock Trial, so I’d actually been in Ramsey County courtrooms before to watch her team competing — it was very odd being in that same setting for real. Also, the prosecutor started out his opening statement in almost the exact same way that the Mock Trial kids do. (He was very young. I totally bet he did Mock Trial back in the day.) All the jurors took things very, very seriously — no one tried to evade jury service by trying to make themselves sound biased, and no one tried to rush through deliberations to get the heck out. I might write more about it later — I’m allowed to say whatever I want now that it’s over — if people are curious.

During voir dire (the part where the judge, then the lawyers, get to ask you questions to try to filter out the people they don’t want), the Defense lawyer asked us each to share some personal detail about ourselves. I’m not sure what her goal was in doing this but it gave us all stuff to chat about in the jury room, which was nice. (You’re not allowed to discuss the case among yourselves until it’s over and you’re deliberating.) Anyway, for my personal detail I told everyone I’d won a Hugo Award in August. One of the other jurors had actually read the story! Which was very cool. (And the judge’s clerk told me afterward that he and the judge were going to look up my story now that the trial was over. I hope they liked it.)

Anyway! I will be be back in a bit to start blogging about the 2016 election. In the meantime, I’ll note again that if you live in Minnesota, you can find your ballot at the Secretary of State’s website — both a list of candidates (that includes links to websites when available) and a literal sample ballot so you can see how it will look. You can send away for an absentee ballot right now, or go in early and vote right now. (They call this “no-excuses voting.”) The two things on my own ballot that I legitimately don’t know right now how I’ll vote on: a school board special election (someone quit their seat) and a proposed constitutional amendment on how we pay state legislators. Honestly, every other race I already know how I’ll vote — but writing about this stuff is fun, so you’ll get my full take, barring any unforseen disasters.

 

Election 2016: U.S. Representative, District 4 Primary

In Minnesota Primaries, you get a ballot that’s divided into a DFL section and a Republican section. Pick one. You can vote in either the DFL section, or the Republican section. If you vote in both, that’s a spoiled ballot that won’t be counted. (Mostly the machine will spit it back out at you.)

At Diversicon last weekend, one of the other attendees told me that she was working for the Secretary of State’s office when we started having machine-read ballots instead of hand-counted ballots and she was flooded with irate calls from people who wanted to know why they could no longer vote in both primaries. The information that they’d actually never voted in both primaries, that their ballot was simply tossed without being counted, did not go over well.

Anyway. In Congressional District 4, we are represented by Betty McCollum. She has a primary opponent named Steve Carlson. The Republicans hoping to oppose her are Nicolay Nicolayevich Bey, Greg Ryan, and Gene Rechtzigel.

I’m going to go through all five of these candidates but remember, you only get to pick someone off one side of the ballot.

DFL

Betty McCollum

Betty McCollum is the sort of solidly reliable liberal Congress person you get in a solidly blue congressional district like this one. She is less flashy (in terms of “making the heads of the right wing explode”) than Keith Ellison, but I find her a generally satisfactory representative and I expect her to hold this seat until she gets tired of it, say because she got offered a cabinet position or something.

A+, would vote for her again.

Steve Carlson

One of the many tells of a flake candidate is the URL they registered six years ago and never updated. (If you’re considering “quixotic pursuit of political office” as a hobby, I would suggest a URL like yournamehereFORTHEPEOPLE.org because that can be endlessly repurposed and never gets dated.)

Far and away the #1 reason to visit his website is if you’d like to watch a rap video in which an aging white guy with no particular sense of rhythm or rhyme tells you that “all lives matter.” (Which offers up an anti-abortion message with the problematic white cluelessnes.) I watched that video, and … I feel much better about my rap abilities now, so time well spent, I guess?

REPUBLICANS

Nickolay Bey

Nickolay has a website for a business that … I’m not even sure what the hell the business is. (“NNB know’s how to grow business, it’s not all about advertising, or that marketing plan. But at the end of the day, it’s all about knowing how to keep that customer coming back for more.” Who would give this company money, and for what? IT IS A MYSTERY.) The website talks about the primary election and mentions he’s running but says nothing about his views on much of anything.

He has a Twitter account with three tweets, a Facebook page that reveals he’s one of those people that thinks every other word should be a hashtag, and an incoherent press release. A very persistent reporter from Stillwater managed to get some verbal comments but they don’t make him sound any more qualified.

Gene Rechtzigal

Gene has a solid URL for a flake candidate but a wide variety of other flake flags:

  1. He capitalizes things randomly but especially the word YOU. (“The Gene for People Rechtzigel Political Revolution is now here to be your congressional candidate of change for YOU, by YOU and with the Power of YOU.”)
  2. The writing is incoherent and ungrammatical. Actually, some of his bullet points sound weirdly like (surrealist erotica writer) Chuck Tingle on Twitter. (“Gene for People Rechtzigel wants to make You safe from the Zika Mosquitoes, potential GMOs health hazards, while giving you affordable health care of your choosing from orthodox medicine and alternative medicines; and thereby insure you the right to know (listed with the price) what is in your food at both the grocery store and restaurants before you buy or order.”)
  3. His ideas are super vague and super ambitious. (“Gene for People Rechtzigel will work, help plan, and implement a Super-Freeway Highway System that will rid the Twin Cities of Freeway Congestion for the next 100 years during rush hours!”)

Poking around a little I noticed that he ran for mayor of Apple Valley in 2014 (and spelled “campaign” with an o, “compaign”) so the “gene for people” URL is serving him well. The reporter who interviewed Nickolay tried repeatedly to get ahold of Gene and Gene never called him back.

Greg Ryan

The actual (endorsed by his party) Republican candidate. Greg Ryan owns a family plumbing business, Ryan Plumbing and Heating. (They get mixed, but generally okay reviews.)

He talks a bunch about “listening” and “change” and then lists off a fairly boilerplate set of Republican principles, including gun rights, dogwhistle racism, dogwhistle anti-gay stuff, and a bunch of puffery that doesn’t mean anything at all (“Restore Jobs and Economic Growth” with zero specifics). About what I’d expect for someone who’s running as a Republican in a solidly blue district with an entrenched, popular Democrat in office.

I’ll give him credit for running and having a website that isn’t going to embarrass the people supporting him. If you’re a Republican, you should definitely vote for him, and heck, if I were actually choosing someone to support me on this side of the ballot, I’d probably pick Greg because he does not come across as fundamentally incompetent at the basic functions of the job of Congressional Representative.

 

Election 2016: MN Supreme Court Primary

So it is August 2nd, and we have a primary on August 9th. Primaries used to be in September, and got pushed back because they wanted everyone to have more time to campaign. I’m not sure this was a good idea, because I’m just not used to having to pay attention to this stuff in August; it’s easy to just miss it accidentally because I’m not in election mode yet.

There is one statewide race, and it’s the sort of easy-to-miss incredibly important office that hopefully you’re reading my blog for information about: the State Supreme Court. There are three people running:

Natalie Hudson
Craig Foss
Michelle MacDonald

Natalie Hudson

Natalie was appointed to the Minnesota Supreme Court by Mark Dayton in October of 2015. She was appointed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals by Ventura. She is endorsed by basically all the current and former MN Supreme Court justices, the Star Tribune, and 90% of the lawyers in the state, according to a Bar Association poll. She is smart, she is qualified, and she has the breadth and depth of experience you’d hope for in a judge.

Basically she’s a no-brainer. GO VOTE FOR HER.

Craig Foss

Craig doesn’t have a website but I did find a brief newspaper article about him. He is an unemployed lawyer and is running for justice because hey, it would be a job!

I’ll say that I think it’s unfortunate that he’s dealing with prejudice because he’s legally blind. Blindness is not a disqualification from being a lawyer. That said, “I’m unemployed and want a job” is a terrible reason to run for Supreme Court Justice. As someone who’s known a lot of math-oriented people, I’m frankly not convinced that “I bring the logic and analytical skills of a mathematician. The law would be much easier and more understandable if all lawyers were mathematicians” is a persuasive case, either.

Michelle MacDonald

I wrote about Michelle back in 2014 when she ran for the same job (different seat) and I’m just going to link you there, because there’s way too much to recap.

Looking her up two years ago, I discovered a jaw-dropping rabbit hole of bizarre behavior, including the drunk driving charge but also this incident where she got arrested in a courtroom that is too convoluted to summarize.

Her (former) client  Sandra Grazzini-Rucki has been back in the news lately because her missing kids turned back up and Sandra was charged with deprivation of parental rights for helping them hide from their father.

Anyway. MacDonald was endorsed by the Republicans two years ago after making a rousing speech that involved some literal Bible thumping; she tried for an endorsement again this year and they refused it. (The Republicans will currently endorse for judicial races; the DFL will not. Most of the respectable candidates, like Natalie Hudson, do not seek party endorsement at all.)

Despite the fact that Michelle MacDonald is the sort of batshit that makes Michele Bachmann look like a model of rational and responsible behavior, she got 47% of the vote against Lillehaug in 2014. Vote in these races, people. And go vote in the primary.

 

 

 

Minnesota Caucuses: FAQ

So I want to address a couple of questions that I’ve been asked about caucuses (or seen people asking about caucuses) over the last week or two.

Q. Do I go to my polling place? 

No. Find out your caucus location here:
http://caucusfinder.sos.state.mn.us/
and note that Republican and DFL caucuses are in completely different locations. Don’t go to the wrong one. A vote for Marco Rubio cast at a DFL caucus will be snickered at and filed with the other oddball votes and spoiled ballots. Ditto a vote for Bernie cast at a Republican caucus.

Q. Do I have to stay for the whole meeting?

No, you don’t.

If you’re a Democrat, you can go, sign in, get your ballot, cast it, and leave.

If you’re a Republican, you can leave after balloting, which is the first item of actual business on the agenda. Exactly when that will happen is a little uncertain, since it depends on how long it takes to get everyone signed in and for the convener to get things going. But if you want to leave once you’ve handed in your ballot, you can do so.

Q. How early can I come and get a ballot / how late can I come and still vote?

If you’re a Republican:

The caucus should convene at 7. The ballots will be handed out as the first order of business; my helpful Republican contact thought that at most caucuses this would probably happen at around 7:15. I would recommend that you try to get there at the beginning of the meeting.  Once you’ve handed your ballot in, you can leave. If you arrive late and they’ve finished voting, you are out of luck.

If you’re a Democrat:

According to the DFL’s official call (which you can find here) you can get your ballot as early as 6:30, when they start allowing people to sign in, and they need to keep balloting open until 8 p.m.

The actual language from the official call is in section II.B.4., on the fourth page of the PDF. “4. Preference Ballot. After registering by completing and signing the precinct roll, each eligible attendee will be given a ballot on which the attendee can indicate a preference for President (including uncommitted status). Balloting shall begin when registration opens and shall end one hour after the caucus convenes.” (Caucuses convene at 7 p.m.)

Following the precedent of polling places, if there are people in line at 8, they are supposed to keep balloting open until everyone’s gotten a ballot.

For either:

I mentioned this before but it bears repeating: before you head to your caucus, make sure you know your ward and precinct numbers. If there’s a huge line outside the school building, probably the bottleneck is not “signing in and getting ballots” but “a bunch of people are consulting the ward map to figure out which classroom they should go to.” If you can find another way into the school, you can head straight to the classroom where your precinct is meeting. There will undoubtedly be another line outside that classroom, but at least this one will be indoors.

Q. I’m a Democrat and in a hurry. What is my best strategy for getting in and out quickly but still being able to cast a ballot? 

Here is my suggestion. My recollection from 2008 is that the lines were at their worst between 6:45 and 7:15 as everyone got sorted out, sent to the correct room, and signed in. I would aim for 7:30 as the best compromise between “standing in the endless line” and “possibly getting delayed and not making it in time.” If you want to cut it a little closer, you could aim for 7:45, but bear in mind that parking is likely to be extremely annoying.

Even arriving late, you may still have to wait in a long line. They are expecting attendance to be extremely high this year.

Q. So okay, I actually am fine with either Bernie or Hillary but I am really not fine with Trump. I am thinking of going to the Republican caucus instead, and voting for Marco Rubio, even though I am definitely planning to vote for the Democrat (either Democrat) in the general election. Can I do that?

Short answer: you’re not supposed to, though it’s unlikely that anyone would stop you.

Longer answer: when you sign in for a caucus, you are affirming your overall agreement with the principles of the party you’re signing in for. Whether you’re comfortable doing that when it’s not true is really between you and your conscience (or between your conscience and your ability to focus on statements in the Republican platform that you agree with.)

In theory, if someone is in a caucus who really doesn’t belong there, the person who knows they don’t belong can challenge their participation. And, you are caucusing with your neighbors, so if you routinely put up yard signs for DFL candidates, someone from down the block might out you as a liberal. I think the odds of this happening are actually really slim, because Minnesotans in general are not a confrontational bunch.

Far more likely: you’ll run into a neighbor you’ve never discussed politics with. And they’ll get all excited when they see you and say, “oh, wow, I had no idea you were a fellow Republican!” and then going forward they’ll want to chat politics with you and you’ll either have to admit why you were in there or live the lie forever. Awkward. 

Finally, you have to write down your phone number when you sign in. And you will get endless calls hitting you up for money not only for the eventual Republican presidential nominee but for any Republican candidates in tight races. (Note: signing in at a DFL caucus will also get you a bunch of phone calls, of course. I spent a period of about three years fielding endless calls from both parties, and in my experience getting fundraising calls from my own side is not a whole lot less irritating.)

IMPORTANT NOTE: The one thing you really truly may not do is go to more than one caucus on Tuesday night. Caucusing twice is illegal.

(I am not sure if there are any Republicans out there considering crossing party lines to caucus with the Democrats, but all of the above information applies in the other direction: you’re affirming agreement with the principles of the party when you sign in, you can theoretically be kicked out if someone realizes you’re actually a Republican but that’s very unlikely to happen, and you might run into a neighbor who is super excited to realize that you are in their political camp. And you’ll get badgered for money for Democratic candidates.)

Q. Don’t we have a primary in August? Can I just wait and vote in that?

We have a primary election in August but it is not a presidential primary. This is your one shot at participating in the process of selecting a presidential candidate.

The August primaries are for Minnesota races, like seats in the legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives. (And you can, and should, participate in that election.)

Q. I am a [CANDIDATE] supporter and I’m pretty sure that if anything goes wrong, that is [OTHER CANDIDATE]’s dirty tricks and/or the party establishment conspiring against us!

[heavy sigh]

This is a system run by the political parties using unpaid volunteers who attended maybe a two-hour training.

Things are going to go wrong. The lines are going to be horrible and that is not due to a conspiracy by anyone; it’s just what happens when you have to get hundreds/thousands (depends on the location) of people through a narrow bottleneck and sorted out into classrooms, over the course of about a half hour, using a process that almost no one is actually familiar with.

I am sure that the local DFL party leaders have preferences between Hillary and Bernie, (and the local GOP party leaders have preferences between Rubio, Kasich, Trump, and Cruz) but their #1 priority on Tuesday night is to build the party. They want to get you through that doorway, writing down your name and phone number and affirming your support for the DFL (or GOP) alongside your neighbors. They care about that far more than which presidential candidate you vote for, because they’re not just in it for the presidential race — they are deeply aware of the importance of the other races, not just this year but two years from now.

No one from either party wants to keep you out of the process. The problems you will inevitably encounter are not the result of malice. It is incredibly difficult to build organizational competence at running a complex event when (a) you have an all-volunteer staff and (b) this ginormous event happens either once every four years or once every eight years. (Caucuses are held annually, but a caucus when it’s just the wonks showing up is basically a completely different event.)

Q.  Caucuses are terrible. Who do I talk to about switching to a Primary?

I would suggest e-mailing your State Senator and State House Representative. To find out who those people are, you can check here: http://www.leg.state.mn.us/leg/districtfinder

You can also try e-mailing the Minnesota Secretary of State, Steve Simon, since his office runs elections in general: http://www.sos.state.mn.us/

Finally, you might consider introducing a resolution at your caucus to have Minnesota implement a Presidential Primary election rather than relying on party caucuses for this purpose! The DFL resolution form is here; the Republican form is here.

Print it and fill it out before you go to your caucus. (You will have to stay for more of the meeting if you want to introduce a resolution.) You don’t have to use fancy language: “Minnesota should have a Presidential Primary” is a perfectly acceptable action item. When you speak on behalf of your resolution, bear in mind that the people at your caucus will include at least a few people who think caucuses are the greatest thing ever (so “caucuses suck” may not be very convincing), but even fans of the caucus system will often agree that it’s a problem that caucuses exclude all the people who have to rely on absentee ballots to vote in elections, from immune-suppressed cancer patients to deployed members of the U.S. Military.

My recollection from some years back is that one sticking point with primaries is that the state pays for elections, elections are really expensive, we don’t do any other elections in March or April that we could just piggyback the presidential primary with, and just overall, the State of Minnesota would greatly prefer to just stick the parties with the cost of running caucuses rather than shouldering the cost of running a primary election. But this could be changed, and I’m pretty sure it would be up to the legislature.

 

 

Political Conventions, and why you might want to go

I was actually going to write up a FAQ on caucuses next, but I got hung up on not knowing the answer to something for the GOP caucuses. I sent out e-mails, had to wait for a response, and decided that in the meantime, I might as well write my post on political conventions.

When you go to your caucus, if you stay for the meeting, one of the questions you will hear is whether you’d like to be a delegate to the next-level convention. Most of the time, there are enough slots that anyone who wants to can sign up to be a delegate.

Sometimes there are a few more people who want to be delegates than there are slots, and they’ll ask if anyone’s willing to be an alternate. If you’re an alternate, the theory is that you’ll fill in if any of the delegates from your precinct don’t show up. (Most of the time, all the alternates who show up get promoted to delegates.)

When you vote in the fall, your ballot will have the Presidential race at the top. In Minnesota, we are not voting on the Governor (or other statewide offices like Attorney General) this year, nor are either of our Senators currently up for re-election. However, all our U.S. House Representatives are running for re-election and that race will be on the ballot. (If you are in the 2nd district, this is a particularly interesting year. If you’re represented by Betty McCollum or Keith Ellison, not so much.)

Continuing down the ballot, you will also see your state legislators. You have a State Senator and a State Representative, and both races will be on the ballot. Finally, depending on how your city structures things, you may have city races this year. (Not in St. Paul or Minneapolis, though.)

The DFL endorses people for most of the non-judicial races. The statewide people are endorsed at the State Convention, but the legislative races are endorsed at the smaller, local-unit conventions and you, if you go, can get to be one of the ones to decide.

(I’m pretty much just making this post about the DFL, because I have never been to a Republican convention. I expect that they are very similar in most ways, but I don’t know in which key ways they differ.)

How much the DFL’s endorsement matters varies tremendously by race. Historically, in the very big statewide races — U.S. Senate and Governor — it doesn’t actually matter much. In the smaller races, though, especially legislative races, it often basically decides the race. My district would be a good exapmle of this. I live in a solidly DFL district in St. Paul (and previously, I lived in a solidly DFL district in Minneapolis). In this sort of district, legislators who are DFL incumbents almost always win, and when they retire, the DFL-endorsed candidate for the office nearly always wins. So any time there’s an opening, the big race is for the endorsement.

The endorsement for State Senator and State Rep is done at the Senate District (/House District) convention. That is the thing to which you can probably become a delegate, if you want.

(The other major thing that happens at the local-unit conventions is that they elect delegates who get to go to the State Convention. I’ll explain that in more detail further down.)

State Legislature Endorsements for Beginners

So first off, your district may not have an upcoming vacancy. There’s still a convention when there aren’t any vacancies, but endorsing a bunch of unopposed incumbents is pretty dull.

But, sometimes you have an open seat; sometimes the incumbent has done something infuriating and generated a bunch of opposition challenging him or her for endorsement; or maybe you live in a swing district, and there’s currently someone from the other party in that seat and your party has a shot at retaking it. (If you live in a district that is a safe seat for the other side, these endorsements tend to be more “let’s volunteer Fred, since he’s not here.” Okay, I exaggerate slightly.)

Let’s say you have an open seat because your State Senator is retiring, and let’s say you signed up to be a delegate when you were at your precinct caucus. There are several hundred delegates who will be meeting at your Senate District Convention to decide on an endorsement, and one of them is you. That means that each candidate who is running, and there will probably be quite a few, really needs your support. Instead of convincing 50% of the thousands of voters in your district, they need to win over 60% of the delegates — a much, much smaller group.

So if you’re a delegate, you can expect to be contacted, personally, either by phone or by door-knocking, by each of the people who are running. They may not be experts on your particular set of concerns, but you will never have a more attentive ear from a (future) legislator than when they’re running and you’re a delegate. Since they need strong enthusiasm from a small number of people, you can expect that they will have the time to answer your questions and respond to your very specific concerns, whatever they are.

In addition to chatting with candidates, you might also want to chat with politically-connected friends in your district who can dish any interesting back-room gossip. I recommend having a favorite, a list of people who would be fine with you, and a list of people you really don’t want to see get the nod.

At the Convention

So for your imaginary open Senate Seat, let’s say you’ve got five candidates who’ve filed. After talking to all of them, your favorite is Andrea Jackson. Your least favorite is Bill Smith. You think that Carmela Garcia or Dan Feinman would also be fine. You think that Esmeralda Moonbeam sounds like a weirdo.

When you first arrive, you will have to check in with the organizers to get your credentials. There will probably be a line. Once you sign in, they will hand you a printed form on colored paper (it’s about the size, shape, and weight of an ancient computer punch card, if that means anything to you) with your precinct and ward printed on it along with the word DELEGATE. It will be on a ribbon or piece of yarn so you can wear it around your neck. You are expected to do so.

Next, you should check in with your candidate’s campaign. (They’ll have a table.) Tell them you’re a supporter, and they will give you a t-shirt or button or both. Put those on, too. The t-shirt serves a couple of purposes, but the most important is that it communicates to your candidate’s campaign that they need to let you know if there’s something they need you to do. Often, candidates want all their supporters to come up on the stage and stand behind them when it’s time for them to make a speech. More crucially, sometimes there’s some interesting parliamentary maneuver that someone is trying to pull, or trying to thwart, in which case your candidate’s volunteers need to know that you need to get the message on what’s happening. You might not realize that it’s critically important that you vote NO on some very routine-sounding procedural thing until your candidate’s campaign tells you.

These are always held at schools, so far as I can tell. Typically the convention itself is in the school auditorium, lunch room, or gym. Each campaign gets a classroom that’s like their campaign clubhouse. They will have snacks for their supporters (another reason for your t-shirt!) and when it gets to be dinner time, they’ll order pizza. Usually, when I go to a convention, I check in with my candidate first thing, then go track down their room so I know where to go when I get hungry.

There will be a section of the auditorium that’s reserved for your precinct, and that’s where you’ll be spending most of the day.

This is a Really Long Meeting

Typically the convention gets called to order at 10 a.m., although a lot of delegates arrive late. There is a ton of time at these that is spent on stuff that makes you wonder why you gave up a lovely spring Saturday to go sit in a high school auditorium. Like ten-minute-long debates on whether some person should be allowed to speak for two minutes.

There are people who are much better at running efficient conventions than others, you will discover if you go to a bunch of these. I am a big fan of the efficient people.

Bring an extra battery for your smartphone, bring your knitting, bring a book.

Speeches!

There will be lots of speeches.

Typically there’s some time allocated for candidate Q&A, so that people who have not made up their minds will have information to go on.

Lots of elected officials come to speak, either about their own upcoming race or to get you revved up about the DFL generally. At various conventions I’ve heard Al Franken, Amy Klobuchar, Keith Ellison, Betty McCollum, R.T. Rybak, Chris Coleman, various and sundry City Council reps, Park Board people, County Attorneys… never all of the headliners at one convention, mind you. (They try to spread themselves out.)

If there’s a state-wide race coming up, you’ll also hear either from candidates or from people who are there to speak on their behalf.

 

When it comes time to really deal with the people running for State Senate, there are official speeches from each candidate (that’s when you might get herded up to stand behind them. If you don’t want to do that, you don’t have to.)

It is entirely up to you how much attention you pay to any of this. At the last convention I went to, there were large portions of it that I couldn’t hear at all due to bad acoustics and a lot of ambient noise, so I just ignored it.

You may also find yourself talking to candidates and campaigns through all of this. Especially if you look around the crowd and notice that your t-shirt color is super outnumbered — that’s a good sign that you should start thinking about your fallback choice. People from the other campaigns will find you and say, “hi, can I talk to you about Carmela?” or “can I talk to you about Bill?” They’re not necessarily trying to sway you from Andrea; they’re trying to get you to consider their candidate as your fallback.

When I get this question, I usually say, “sure!” and let them give me their pitch. One of the questions I often ask volunteers is, “why did you decide to support Carmela?” because their answers are often very enlightening. (Unless it’s, “oh! well, she’s my mom.”) At an actual convention, they’ll sometimes ask you, “would you like to speak to Carmela directly?”

You may get asked this same question by the people you’re sitting near. Feel free to talk about what you find appealing about the person you’re supporting! Remember that you’re not trying to convince them to drop their candidate for yours; you’re presenting reasons why your candidate would be a terrific second choice, if their candidate gets dropped from the ballot early.

 

Balloting

I am always shocked at how late in the day it is when we finally start balloting.

This is the bit where you really need to be wearing your credentials. If you were an alternate, a lot of the time everyone present just gets automatically upgraded, but if that didn’t happen, definitely check in before balloting and see if you can get an upgrade. If not, you won’t even be allowed in the room when the balloting happens.

They will seat everyone in their precinct, and they will give carefully counted ballots to the precinct captain, who will bring them, distribute them, and collect them.

Right before the balloting happens, they “freeze the floor,” which means that they shut the doors and no one else is allowed in. If you go to the bathroom at the wrong time, you can literally lose your chance to vote in that round. Once the countdown starts to voting, get into the room and stay there. It won’t actually take long, and you’ll have plenty of time to pee or get a snack while they’re counting all the ballots.

Then they count the first ballot, which also takes forever. (It speeds up a lot as they eliminate candidates.)

The Resolutions

Somewhere in this whole process you’ll get handed a packet of resolutions and a scan-tron sheet to fill in. This is a compilation of all the resolutions that got passed by precinct caucuses, compiled together by people who did their best to roll stuff together so that “MN should have a primary!” and “caucuses are the worst, holy cow, THE ABSOLUTE WORST, and we should have presidential primaries like every other civilized state” get combined into something concise.

During the various periods of downtime you can go through this packet and mark the scan-tron ballot to indicate the ones you find particularly important or unimportant. There’s no limit to how many you can mark. This data gets compiled after the convention and forwarded on to the platform committee.

Dropping Candidates and More Balloting

Once the results come back, they report the results and then immediately start the countdown to freeze the floor for the next round.

They will drop any candidates that got below a certain threshhold of votes. The required percentage goes up with each round, so each time it gets harder to stay on the ballot — or maybe they’ve switched to just dropping the lowest vote-getter until we’re down to two? I can’t remember if that’s officially how they do it, or if it’s just how functionally it tends to work out.

In this make-believe Senate race, we’re going to say that in the very first round of balloting, they drop Esmeralda Moonbeam and Dan Feinman.

Esmeralda and Dan’s people now have to vote for someone else. (Or leave. Sometimes they just leave.) At this imaginary convention, you’re seated next to an Esmeralda supporter, who is very disappointed that her candidate dropped out, but decides to vote for Andrea because you’re wearing an Andrea t-shirt and she has bonded with you over knitting so thinks your favorite candidate would be a good choice.

(At the last convention I went to, the woman across the table from me told me that I seemed like a delightful person and did I know any single women who might be interested in her son? I said, “well, I do have some single friends. But, um, I kind of don’t have their permission to randomly matchmake for them at political conventions?” and she said, “oh, here, let me give you my card.” I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP.)

You usually have a couple more rounds of balloting. Sometimes this is expedited by people seeing that they have no realistic chance and pre-emptively dropping out so as not to waste everyone’s time. Eventually you get down to two people.

The Final Face-Off and All the Fun Ways This Can Go Awry

In order to get the endorsement, a candidate needs 60% of the ballots. So you get down to those last two, and there’s a split.

At that point, a couple of things can happen.

The most frequent outcome I’ve seen is that some people shift. If I came in planning to support Andrea, and she’s made it into the final two but she’s got 45% of the vote and Carmela has 55%, and I’m fine with Carmela, I’ll usually go ahead and shift. Enough people do that, and voila, on the next ballot Carmela has the 60%.

If things are very close, or if this is an acrimonious campaign where the two sides feel very strongly that the opposing candidate is unacceptable, there’s more likely to be a deadlock. The very first Senate District Convention I went to ran until after 10 p.m. It can turn in a test of endurance.

Frequently, when it’s clear no one will shift, there’s an adjournment without an endorsement. There are a number of ways in which this can happen. That very late-night SD Convention, we weren’t allowed to vote for adjournment until after a certain number of ballots, but once we’d racked up the required number of rounds, we could adjourn with a simple majority and didn’t need 60%. And that’s what happened.

At a Minneapolis City Convention some years back, both campaigns sent representatives up to propose an adjournment (making it clear that this was desired on both sides). It was very clear even after the first ballot that things were sufficiently split that there wasn’t going to be an endorsement, and so we had a (surprisingly amicable) agreement to adjourn.

In order for a convention to conduct business, you need a quorum: there has to be a certain number of people there. So sometimes a campaign will herd all its people out of the room, then call the quorum, usually right before a floor freeze. If a quorum is not present the convention is required to adjourn immediately. (If you get grabbed by someone wearing your candidate’s t-shirt saying “out, get out, get out!” … that’s the tactic they’re attempting.) This can massively backfire if not enough people leave the room — since at that point, you’ve just yanked a bunch of your supporters out of the room and they won’t be able to vote on that ballot and the other candidate will happily coast to endorsement.

The other risk with using the “break the quorum” approach is that when a convention just adjourns without finishing its business, the local central committee has the option of doing an endorsement. (I think in theory this is an option with a planned adjournment as well, but much less likely. Or maybe you usually pass a “no going behind our back and endorsing someone” motion as your adjourn? Usually by that point in the process I’m so desperate to get the hell out I’m not paying close attention.)

Picking Delegates for the State Convention

One of the other agenda items at the Senate District convention is picking delegates to go on to the State Convention. There are always more people who want to go than slots available, so to send delegates, we do Walking Subcaucuses.

People “nominate subcaucuses,” which means they go up to the microphone and suggest groups. Sometimes the groups are to support a specific candidate for whatever major statewide office is currently up for grabs; sometimes they are uncommitted, but with a specific focus on a certain issue. The idea is that those delegates will go to the State Convention with the goal of endorsing whichever candidate is the best on whatever their particular issue is.

So if you’re sitting there, you’ll hear people go up to the microphone and say things like, “Uncommitted for Environmental Issues,” or “Uncommitted for Stop Global Warming Now,” or “Uncommitted for Education.” As well as “People for Mike Cerisi” or “Minnesotans for Al Franken,” and there was a trend for a while where a dozen different people would all nominate the same candidate but with a different phrasing, like “Al Franken for CHOICE” or “Al Franken for VETERANS” or “Al Franken for KITTENS AND PUPPIES AND RAINBOWS AND UNICORNS.”

The organizers will then announce where everyone should go. Groups that are obviously related (like Environmental Issues and Stop Global Warming) will always go next to each other so that they can easily combine (…because they totally will).

Now it’s time for everyone to move around! (This is why it’s called a walking subcaucus.) You pick your favorite subcaucus and physically go over and hang out with them. If you have a favorite candidate for the contested statewide office, you go stand with that group. If you want to send uncommitted delegates for some issue, pick an issue.

Someone will run around and physically count everyone and then they will announce a number that gives a subcaucus “viability.” That means that your subcaucus needs to have that many people in it in order to qualify for one delegate and one alternate. If the number is 12, and you have 11 people, you look around for a person at loose ends or a smaller subcaucus you can absorb. If the number is 12, and you have 5 people, you might look for a larger subcaucus you can join as a group, or you might just go your separate ways. In any case, they give you a few minutes to shuffle around and redivide, and then they freeze the floor, count everyone again, then tell each subcaucus how many delegates they get.

So let’s say you’re in a subcaucus of 14 people and will have one delegate and one alternate. Now you have to pick your delegate and alternate. Let’s say you have four people who would love to go to the State Convention: typically each person gets a minute or two to make a speech to the rest of the subcaucus about why they’d be a good person to send, and then you vote, probably just by raising hands and counting. The top vote-getter is the delegate, the runner up is usually the alternate, and I am trying to remember if the DFL still mandates gender-balance because if it does, then it’s the nearest runner-up of the opposite gender.

If you actually go to the State Convention

It lasts for multiple days and I’ve never been elected as a delegate, so I can’t tell you much about what it’s like.

Other Conventions

So there’s a Congressional District Convention (for your U.S. House seat) that will be critical this year in the 2nd District, since Kline is stepping down. I don’t remember if they send a subset of the State Convention delegates or if that one gets its own Walking Subcaucus process.

In Minneapolis, in years with city races, there may be a Ward Convention if you need to endorse a candidate for City Council, and there’s a City Convention to endorse candidates for Mayor, School Board, and Park Board. There’s also a County Convention where candidates for County Board, Sheriff, County Attorney, etc. get endorsed. St. Paul does a similar set of conventions — Ward, City, County — but has no Park Board. City offices vary some by city.

Last year in St. Paul, the school board race was particularly contentious. Sufficiently so that we had to do walking subcaucuses at my precinct caucus to select delegates to go to the City Convention. Usually you can just sign up to go to Ward or City Conventions.

 

So in summary

If you go to your next-level convention, you will have to spend a weekend day, often at the point when the weather is finally turning nice, sitting in a high school auditorium listening to people give speeches.

However, some years and in some districts, this can give you a truly outsized piece of political influence.

Worth it or not? Very much up to you. If imagining sitting through all this makes you want to gnaw off a limb to escape, don’t put yourself through it. If you think you’d like to give it a try, sign up! (And you’re definitely allowed to sign up and not go.)