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DFL State Convention Live Blog

by Eric Ferguson on May 31, 2018 · 3 comments

The DFL state convention starts tomorrow (or today if you’re reading this on June 1). A “live blog” means that I’ll be blogging about it as it happens rather than writing up something later. I’ll be explaining what’s going on, and maybe opining on some things. We’ll see what provokes me to opinionating. The current plan is to watch the livestream on The Uptake Friday, which obviously you can watch yourself and I’ll post a link so you can do that. Saturday, I’m hoping to be there watching in person, so hopefully I’ll pick up some stuff that’s not apparent on the livestream. Sunday will likely be another livestream day. Yes, I maybe could have gotten a hotel if I hadn’t been so cheap and tried to reserve a room early enough and blah de blah. Fortunately I live in daytripping distance.

Convening time Friday is 4. The rest of the schedule I assume will be adjusted according to circumstances. The proposed agenda is posted here. Emphasis on proposed, since delegates can move to change the agenda when the rules and agenda are debated, and you never know for sure what will be proposed and what will pass. I’ve run some conventions as a local party chair, and worked on some as a committee member or with a campaign, and can attest that unexpected changes get made. I’ll spare you the “expect the unexpected” cliche — except I guess I just didn’t. You should have expected that. What you can expect is I will explain some of the “what on earth are they talking about” parts that conventions have.
Probably, you care more about the state office endorsements and not committee reports or party office elections or rules debates. So, according to the proposed agenda, Friday will see the endorsements for the US Senate seats and Secretary of State. Attorney General and Governor are scheduled for Saturday, and Auditor is scheduled for Sunday.
Actual updates and reportage start below. Keep refreshing during the convention for updates. If you’re curious about the 2014 or 2016 convention, check out those live blogs. See if you can catch me griping the same gripes (yes, you can).

And we’re off, I think. The livestream was having trouble loading. At least that shouldn’t be an issue for me tomorrow, but for today, and if you want to watch it yourself, go to The Uptake web site. If you want to glance over at the MNGOP convention also going this weekend, go here.

State chair Ken Martin is speaking. It’s expected that the unit chair say something to welcome people to the convention, I’ve done that a few times, but it’s weird because you know no one really cares that much what you have to say and half are still milling about socializing outside the convention hall knowing the real business hasn’t started yet. I did my best though to keep it short while still something rousing (at least once I got a bunch of hands raised with a promise to join the phone banks and doorknocks) and get to the housekeeping stuff: no food in the hall, bathrooms are located there and there, etc. The state convention is a bigger platform, so there might be multiple welcomes and lots of guest speakers, partly to fill the time, partly because there are actually news media cameras present. It’s maybe a chance to get our candidates a soundbite on TV.

Convention chairs get elected which has always struck me as strange, because chairs can be a challenge to recruit when there are bags of conventions at the same time so they can be hard to recruit, the job takes some training, chairs prepare by studying the proposed rules and agenda, so the idea of maybe electing someone else is absurd. Rules usually mean something happened once, so there must have been disputes about who was appointed chair at some time. Now that they’re done with that, the sergeant-at-arms is explaining some procedures.

The chair introduced committee chairs. The committees are often called pre-convention committees because they do a bunch of the work putting the convention together. Though this convention has the state DFL staff to do a lot of the work, at local levels this is all-volunteer. It’s why I always get irritated when someone gives a convention organizer a hard time — they volunteered to do that work and you didn’t. The platform committee put the resolutions ballot together, and they were explaining those procedures.
The credentials committee deals with figuring who are the delegates and alternates and dealing with challenges. The floor is hearing a challenge from someone in my senate district. An alternate is saying her subcaucus (something that like needs explaining later) picked her as a delegate but she ended up being an alternate. The credentials committee read the challenge but didn’t support or oppose it. Apparently a delegate hasn’t shown so she’ll be upgraded. Most of the work of credentials at a convention, and I do mean most, is dealing with alternates. Some thought they were delegates, sometimes they get upgraded to delegates and then downgraded if a delegate shows up (always a difficult conversation, and might happen to this person) and now the chair is going to — try — to explain this. Alternates have to upgraded by rank and within their subcaucus — yes, it’s as huge a mess as you’re thinking, and utterly pointless. There is no benefit to having alternates. And many alternates don’t bother showing. We could increase the number of delegates 50%, abolish alternates, and be seating the same number of people. The one exception is that some people always get elected as delegates from the wrong precinct, and since a delegate is a representative of their precinct, it seems unfair they get elected by a whole different precinct, so they get made “last alternate”. That means they are the last alternate to get upgraded in their actual precinct. Other than that though, having alternates at all is a stupid waste of effort. Yeah I know, tell us how you really feel.

This is something new. Voting will be by pushing a button on a voting device that looks a lot like a remote control or old candybar style phone. We tried it at a state central committee meeting and it seemed to work. I admit to wondering if it’s secure, or if someone will hack into it just to cause chaos. But it will be much faster than hand-counting paper ballots which has been the method until literally today. The rules actually have to build in time between ballots for the usual buttonholing of delegates.

While they’re going through a test vote, now for the fun part, some prognosticating, and some voluntary disclosure about biases. The US Senate seat now held by Tina Smith will be contested by Richard Painter and a couple other candidates I never heard of before. Why they want to run a hopeless campaign for senate instead of something local eludes me. Maybe they’re “perennial candidates”, the people who run for something every election as a weird sort of hobby. Anyway, I feel safe predicting Tina Smith on the first ballot.

Governor is much less predictable. From very limited and not-inside information, I’m expecting Tim Walz and Rebecca Otto to come in first and second in no particular order, with Erin Murphy a quite respectable third. Be aware though that “uncommitted” was a close fourth. My best guess is we’ll have no endorsement, with “no endorsement” getting a majority after five ballots.
In terms of disclosing biases, I’ve met Tina Smith, but I can’t say I know her or that she’d have any reason to remember who I am. She is however the incumbent, appointed by a governor with strong liberal credentials, and she’s been the only one seeking the endorsement until Richard Painter recently changed his mind. So I’m with her. I do wish she would get on AM950 however. Apparently she’s been avoiding going on liberal talk radio. Do we ever hear of Republicans avoiding conservative talk radio? Republican politics basically consists of playing to the base, while Democrats so often avoid their base in an attempt to appeal to centrist swing swing voters. Do they really think the tiny number of centrist swing voters is monitoring who appears on liberal talk radio? They don’t seem to hold it against Republicans for going on conservative radio.

Gubernatorially, hard to say “just vote for who you know”, but letting readers know that I know Rebecca Otto, and I’m inclined to support her. I’m acquainted with Erin Murphy and think she would do fine. My wife and I had a long talk with Tim Walz at a fundraiser back when he first ran for Congress and we have a lingering positive impression, though there’s no reason he’d have a clue who we are. Though I’m leaning to Otto, and I’m not going to be upset if Walz or Murphy win, and I’m going to feel bad for the losers regardless. Losing sucks, and in all the back and forth that goes with intra-party contests, these are still human beings who’ve been pouring themselves into this for a long time. So no schadenfreude here.


The livestream keeps cutting out. I can tell they’re debating the rules and agenda. The rules and agenda are temporary to start every convention, and then delegates can move amendments. I get the impression they passed as presented. Well, that doesn’t often happen. Usually someone wants to change speaking times or the number of ballots or the drop rule, which determines when trailing candidates get dropped from future ballots. Then again, the stream is stuck on a loop, where I see the same few seconds over and over. So who knows for now.

A bit after 5:30, the livestream is still stuck on the agenda vote. Try back in a while. Hopefully we won’t miss anything really interesting.
A bit before 6:00, it’s working again. Steve Simon is giving his acceptance speech. First endorsement of the convention, so progress. Simon got a scare in the primary four years ago when he won with just a plurality against two perennial candidates whose campaigns consisted of filing. He won the general but a plurality of just over one percent. That happens when no candidate has name recognition, and in a red wave. He’s a strong enough candidate that I found both results surprising, but enlightening. I remember pushing him towards the top while doing my volunteer doorknocking. Hopefully won’t need to do that this time in a likely blue year with better name recognition that comes with incumbency. US Senate endorsements still to come.

The Amy Klobuchar endorsement was quick and uncontested. They had a video ready to go anyway. Best to be prepared, just in case. Not that a challenge would have won, but seeming to take it for granted is a great way to draw a strong challenger. Rumor has it the MNGOP will run somebody against her. Even Republicans might not know that person’s name until seeing it on the ballot. The livestream is stalling a bit again, but Klobuchar gave shoutouts to Tina Smith and Al Franken. Not going to try to summarize the whole speech, but will note that she just called for national automatic voter registration. Automatic voter registration is popular with Democrats, so I just don’t get why so few candidates talk it up. Glad she mentioned it here, but she needs to talk it up to the press.

I think MN Senator Matt Little is the first candidate guest speaker. Having candidates speak from the convention platform signals that the party thinks the candidate has a tough but winnable race, and Little has a suburban swing district. It mirrors what parties do at their national conventions. Not sure it has an effect at a state convention, but there’s a chance he’ll be seen in his district if he can get a soundbite on TV so might as well try. That said, US Rep. Keith Ellison is speaking next and he’s quite safe. He’s also one of the best speakers in the DFL, so ideal for the rally aspect of a convention. Presumably, behind the scenes they’re getting ready for the other US Senate seat endorsement.


Keith is talking about the need to have a groundgame campaign ongoing, not just right before the election, and working on local offices and issues. He focuses heavily on “field”, meaning doorknocks and phone banks, and he has never run a TV commercial, but he raised turnout in our district to where it’s matching anywhere else, and that’s very good for Democrats. “When Democrats lose, bad things happen to good people.”

Here we go with the B senate seat. Chairs just explained rules for the nomination process. Each candidate needs 50 seconds to their nomination, and each candidate gets 15 minutes for demonstrations and/or and speeches.

Ali Ali and Nick Leonard got their 50 seconds, even though not nearly that many people will vote for them. Those seconds just wasted a half hour. Another nominee didn’t get 50. Tina Smith and Richard Painter got their 50 obviously. Delegates of course had to try to make speeches despite being told not to. Tina Smith is first, and the video is silent over the livestream. The Uptake tweeted that the reason is Youtube rules. Downside of using Youtube for a platform.

Tina Smith is a strong speaker. I noticed that when she ran for lt. governor four years ago. She emphasized her on the ground volunteer and organizer experience, which should play well with active DFLers. She’s a good polished speaker. I’m not so sure about how she does in interviews. She seemed somewhat unclear the one time I heard her interviewed on MPR, and maybe that’s why AM950 isn’t hearing back from her. A difference in her speech as opposed to Klobuchar’s is her endorsement is highly likely, but hardly done, and she needs to rally activist support, so she’s had to do more Mondale-Humphrey name-dropping.

Richard Painter is speaking. He felt he needed to explain the nerve damage to his face that prevents him having a “Jimmy Carter” smile. Somebody must be telling him to smile more. He’s likely glad he can physically speak. He name-dropped volunteering for the Carter-Mondale ticket. Shows he knows his vulnerability, that he was a Republican until Trump took over the party. Doesn’t mean he isn’t a liberal, but does mean he has to convince DFLers of that. My reasoning is people stay in a party for a reason. He’s hitting the right notes on issue. I just keep waiting to hear why he didn’t quit the GOP a long time ago. But if he gets the endorsement, I’ll get behind him. If he wins the primary, I’ll get behind him because better Painter with his GOP background than anyone the GOP puts up. I doubt either he or Smith will drop out if they lose the endorsement, since he just only started seeking it, and she’s the incumbent, so the primary will be competitive.

The chair just gave a 10-minute warning that the floor will be “frozen”. That means only delegates and convention officials can be on the floor, and no one can enter. They can leave, but they can’t come in. There’s always a delegate or two upset because they didn’t manage to get back in time and maybe hadn’t heard what “frozen” means until it was explained at the closed door. This is done to control who is voting. It might seem like overkill, but I was recently at a convention where one campaign sneaked a ballot to a non-delegate. Like I said, the existence of a rule suggests something once happened.
Remember that this electronic voting is new, so who knows if it will work. Didn’t work at the MNGOP convention. Apparently they are trying a different system, but they learned the hard way to have paper ballots handy. I gather from Twitter they had a delay over it. Tempting as it is to mock the opposing party over this, the DFL system is only just now about to have it’s first test, and two, I’ve had to deal with technical issues with people looking, so I feel some sympathy. The chairs are wisely going to go over voting instructions again since it’s the first time for everyone except for the test vote earlier.

I interrupt this ballot for a gripe, one that’s usually spoken quietly. The convention will recess for a prayer break. This annoys many DFLers because while they don’t begrudge Muslims taking time to pray at set times, that means non-Muslims and Muslims who don’t want to take a prayer break have to break at these same times. Nobody has to go off to pray, but the point is we already have one theocratic party. We don’t need another one. We don’t need to imply that one religion is privileged over others. If there were prayer breaks for every religion, that would be annoying to a non-prayer like me, but at least it would be neutral. The solution is simple. Schedule recesses, and if they happen to fit times Muslims need them scheduled, no problem. Many delegates will want breaks and having them scheduled means being able to get lunch or make a phone call or see to some personal need without worrying about missing something. A delegate can always make a motion for a recess, but in all likelihood it will fail since most delegates want to get on with things. So scheduled recesses, fine, meeting prayer times, fine. But not scheduled “prayer breaks”. Secular countries should not be favoring one religion over others, or religion over non-religion, even by implication.

Tina Smith got 74% on the first ballot. A supermajority of 60% is required for an endorsement, so we have a winner. I expect Painter to go on to the primary, but I wish he wouldn’t. A whole lot of DFL energy will get sucked into the primary campaign. Probably obvious I don’t buy that contested primaries are a good thing. Better to get on to running against the Republican. That’s not to say Painter shouldn’t run for something. Just something else; a congressional seat (we’re hardly likely to take all eight seats this year) or a state legislative seat, a local office. He hit the right notes on issues and he’s able to handle himself in media. He could be a strong candidate, even if having to explain why he came recently to the DFL. The convention has recessed to 9AM Saturday. Good night for now.
Actually, this got really long and on the shorter day, so I made a fresh post for Day 2.

From Dan:

I’m a little disturbed that you (or anyone) is considering Otto because she is not a viable candidate. She should have quit the race after her frivolous lawsuit was dismissed and should have been no longer been taken seriously as soon as she filed it. It never had any merit and the outcome was never in doubt. So if she is the nominee, she will be attacked for wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars suing rural counties, which had to spend hundreds of thousands defending her frivolous lawsuit. All which stems from the fact she was overcharging them in the first place, resulting in Govenor Dayton signing a bill giving those counties relief from Otto’s practices. She will get eviscerated. She’ll be absolutely destroyed. No chance of winning. Just plain political suicide. The fact that she is even in the mix shows just how out of touch DFL caucus-goers are with the real world. And why the endorsement process needs to be dumped. Otto is poison. She’s political cancer. Pick someone else. I prefer Walz, but at least Murphy isn’t a guaranteed loser like Otto is.

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