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Weird happenings with DFL Convention and Filings

by Eric Ferguson on June 6, 2018

Pelikan pelican from outside DFL state conventionSo by now, you’ve likely had your head spinning from the news from the DFL side regarding who is running for what, and lots of candidates coming out of the woodwork to run for this and switch to that, and run for something when they were running for something else. It’s interesting, at least to a politics junkie, and you’re reading this web site, so…

You were likely looking at the governor race, and this involves that to be sure. You may not have been following closely enough to know the candidate filing period just closed, or you heard but didn’t care what that meant. The weirdness has a whole lot to do with that however. It all starts, however, with the race for state attorney general (AG). Yes, an office a lot of people haven’t even heard of.

Follow me back to last year, when gubernatorial candidates were announcing their candidacies. The incumbent AG, Lori Swanson, was expected to run and expected to be one of the stronger contenders — but she didn’t declare, either for governor or reelection as AG. Several candidates started provisional campaigns for AG, saying they wouldn’t oppose Swanson but were running just in case she didn’t. She still didn’t declare either way.
I recall in September and October, the rumormill was saying she would declare for governor, for sure, by the end of October. October came and went. 2017 ended and no declaration either way. She finally declared just before the caucuses, and the other AG candidates dropped out, except Matt Pelikan. Pelikan had said when he spoke to my SD meeting that he was running regardless of what Swanson did, and he kept going to the convention.

So my perception — my perception, not objective fact — was that Swanson took it for granted that she would be endorsed again. I just didn’t see a campaign, but I also wasn’t a state convention delegate, so entirely possible she was active and I missed it. That said, Pelikan was actively seeking delegate support. At the convention, he had signs and the inflatable pelican in the photo and just generally a serious attempt to win delegate support. When they had their time for presentations before voting began, part of Pelikan’s speech was attacking Swanson’s record. During her time, Swanson had Mike Hatch, former AG, her mentor, and 2006 gubernatorial candidate, speak for her. His speech was partly answering the charges, partly attacking Pelikan.
Now here is where something really went strange. These speeches where someone speaks on a candidate’s behalf are called “seconding speeches”, even though any required seconding according to the rules already happened, thus why the candidate gets the podium. Swanson had several more people give seconding speeches. All if this is normal. However, she didn’t speak for herself. She isn’t required to. Nonetheless, that’s normal, and some delegates took it as disrespect. A chair said something about having to enforce the time rule (each candidate got 15 minutes to use how they wanted). Swanson was present, and she’s a competent speaker, so my take on it is the campaign didn’t make a decision to have her not speak, but underestimated how long it would take to give all those seconding speeches, and there were a lot. You might be able to tell in the live blog that I kept rephrasing my description of the moment, because I was surprised at yet another and another speaker on her behalf.
Whether accident or purpose, she didn’t speak. Then the first ballot had her ahead by something like 51-47. She was ahead, but I’m guessing Pelikan did much better than she expected, and I’m thinking she expected a first ballot endorsement. She withdrew at that point, and I say this as someone who has seen lots of convention, I’ve never seen the leader drop out. Maybe he could have denied her the endorsement on subsequent ballots, but she could have denied him too, and then they would go to the primary with no endorsee. Swanson would have been a prohibitive favorite in that circumstance. That she would give him the endorsement and a hope seemed strange, but there it is. When she withdrew, Pelikan got the endorsement by acclamation, the second place candidate in a two candidate race. That never happens! (oh right, Trump came in second. Never mind). I want to stress that while it wasn’t clear to say the least what Swanson was doing, and Pelikan never led, no rules were broken. He got the endorsement fair and square, and voluntary disclosure, I’m going to support the party endorsee in the primary, even with what happened next.
Monday, Swanson declared for governor. Yes, governor. She had already filed for AG, but switched. She also got US Rep. Rick Nolan to run with her as lieutenant governor (LG). Quite a counter to the inexperienced LGs of the other candidates. Boom. But we’re hardly done.
Keep in mind the filing deadline was 5PM Tuesday. This was Monday and AG was suddenly an open seat. The rumormill, getting it completely right this time, told me US Rep. Keith Ellison, CD5 (my district) was going to get into the AG race. The free-for-all was on. Just before the filing deadline came, some candidates who had run for AG and dropped out apparently ran to the secretary of state’s office (SOS) and filed for AG. Those candidates included Mike Hatch, who said he was running unless an acceptable candidate filed. Obviously that wasn’t Pelikan. My guess is there was a bit of pique on Swanson’s behalf, and he was running to stop Pelikan from winning. Apparently one of the people who dashed to the SOS office was acceptable, because I noticed he has now withdrawn.
So that’s the governor and AG races, but we’re not done yet. Because Keith Ellison went for AG, now a safe blue congressional seat opened up, and it sounded like a big chunk of the district’s state legislators were going to go for it. To be sure, not just legislators, but anyone with any thought of running for that seat if ever it came open had to file NOW NOW NOW. If they want to think about it, they have to file and think about it later. So eight people filed as DFLers. I don’t know who all of them are, but for sure, six look like serious candidates. Since some are legislators, a win by one of them means a special election if they’re a senator, or yet another rush for the clerks at the SOS office as people file for state representative. As it happens, Ilhan Omar is one candidate, so with her seat in 60B open again, and maybe a day to decide, nine people filed as DFLers. If you’re thinking there would be fewer candidates with so little time to act, no, you get more when candidates have to act NOW because they get no time to think about it. They can withdraw their candidacies until I think 5PM Thursday, and I suppose if they change their minds, they can just not campaign.
One domino left unnoted is that an incumbent state representative, Deb Hilstrom in 40B, is one of the AG candidates who got back in when Lori Swanson switched to governor, so now 40B becomes an open seat, though a mere three DFLers filed to run there. That’s “mere” in the sarcastic sense.
So all of this, every falling domino, comes from Lori Swanson taking a very long time to decide what to run for, running a campaign for reelection that, maybe in hindsight, suggests she didn’t really want to be AG anymore, withdrawing from the endorsement contest when she was AHEAD after the first (and only) ballot, and switching to governor. It has been reasonably suggested this has been in the works for a while, because she couldn’t have gotten Rick Nolan to run with her just on the spur of the moment. Possibly. Everything else though points to just indecision or disorganization. She’s obviously a serious candidate for governor, but I’m wondering if she really wants it or how much of a campaign there will be. If she wins the primary, I’ll get behind her because looking at Tim Pawlenty and Jeff Johnson feels like deciding between boiling lead and boiling tar.

In terms of endorsements, the DFL in CD5, 60B, and 40B are suddenly having to decide whether to recall the convention, have the central committee endorse, or skip endorsing. I’m in the don’t-endorse camp because the candidates have filed already and will have been campaigning for the primary already when the endorsement can happen. There’s no point in an endorsement that will seem to many to be too quick to be legitimate, and will thus be disregarded. I say that even though I generally hate primaries, especially when someone might get a small plurality and thereby the seat. In CD5 and 60B, I could see a winner getting just 25%. So essentially two bad choices. Time for RCV in partisan races.

UPDATE June 7:
The Uptake has broken their convention video into individual videos of the speeches.

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