Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Notes from a precinct caucus

Minneapolis, Minnesota

The 34 most faithful of Democrats in Ward 6, Precinct 3, of Minneapolis, convened their biennial caucus tonight in the basement of the Plymouth Congregational Church, located eight blocks south of the downtown business and entertainment districts. Upstairs, the church choir rehearsed "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."

The Republicans may have thought about holding a caucus within the Minneapolis city limits, but we really have not encouraged them to do so for decades. Our liberal, Scandinavian tolerance has its limits and extends only to allowing them to cast ballots in November general elections.

Just like two years ago, when people lined up down the sidewalk and around the church to get in, the weather tonight was cold and snowy, the sidewalks icy. Unlike two years ago, there was no line of shivering people waiting to gain entry.

The proposed agenda for our precinct caucus said we would convene at 7pm. The convenor, however, opted to wait until all the stragglers had signed in, and we finally got underway at seven-past-seven.

After reading aloud the requirements for our eligibility to participate – sort of our nod, in its way, to the new political correctness of the right that seeks to cast out the aliens from our midst – the convenor read aloud the affirmative action statement – sort of our nod, in its way, to the old political correctness that seeks to affirm and embrace every form of diversity and nonnormativity known to man (and woman). He also read aloud something called a Platform Statement – a new thing, I believe, in the time-worn proceedings.

After stating his willingness to serve as the permanent caucus chair, we moved, seconded, and elected the convenor to serve in that position in spite of his unorthodox status as a self-identified Caucasian, heterosexual male. The now-permanent caucus chair then asked for a motion seeking authority for himself to appoint two tellers and a recording secretary for the proceedings. Suspecting that he hungered for this additional, less-than-burdensome and generally less-than-thankful task, I moved that he be allowed to do as he wished. After unanimous passage, he appointed his wife as the secretary, and two men – at least one of whom is known to be gay – as tellers.

We then adopted the rules for the conduct of our caucus business.

Then, after stating his willingness to serve as the precinct chair for the next two years, we moved, seconded, and elected the convenor – now-permanent caucus chair – to serve in that position in spite of his unorthodox status. (We residents of the Stevens Square/Loring Heights neighborhood pride ourselves on our open minded world view – whatever its relation to reality!)

After killing time for two minutes to permit the clock to reach 7:30pm, we elected delegates to the State Senate District 61 convention. Because the caucus turn-out two years ago had snaked down the sidewalk and around the church, our precinct had 55 delegate slots to fill. This meant that the 34 people in attendance – plus the four who had sent letters regretting their absence for more pressing matters – all could be delegates merely by signing their names to the form at the front table. To further our masochistic, if not somewhat sadistic tendencies as a political entity, in a similar fashion we determined who would be the 14 delegates to the Minneapolis City Convention (held in May for the purpose of endorsing up to five candidates for the Minneapolis School Board) and the six candidates to the Hennepin County District 3 Convention (held later in February to endorse a candidate for the county commission).

After killing a bit more time, the two appointed tellers – at least one of whom is known to be gay – were allowed to open the ballot box at 8pm to count the straw poll votes for who should carry the party's standard for the office of governor. When the votes were counted, it was revealed that two people had not voted. As for the rest, their results added up as follows: Tom Bakk - 0; Matt Entenza - 6; Susan Gaertner - 0; Steve Kelley - 2; Margaret Anderson Kelliher - 3; John Marty - 6; Felix Montez - 0; Tom Rukavina - 3; R. T. Rybak - 7; Ole Savior - 0; Paul Thissen - 4; Uncommitted - 1.

With that certification of consensus and unified vision, the excitement continued unabated as business then turned to the consideration of resolutions, meant to infect and inform the universal party platform to be adopted at the State Convention in Duluth. In short and perfunctory order, we voted in favor of single-payer health care at the federal and state levels (we insisted on voting separately about the federal and state status); in favor of marriage equality; in favor of an independent inquiry by Obama into the treatment of terrorist detainees following 9/11; in favor – rousingly so – of repealing the status of corporate personhood; in favor of promoting local and sustainable food sources; and in favor of a presidential primary in Minnesota.

Not to be pushed over by the special interests of our friends, neighbors, and nodding acquaintances, however, we did defeat a single motion following vigorous debate. That motion was to cut the size of our legislature by either 1/8 or 1/9 and to save millions of dollars. It was not clear whether we defeated this because we opposed reducing the number of lawmakers, or because we opposed the saving of millions of dollars. Perhaps both.

There being no further business to come before the body, the precinct caucus was adjourned at 8:08pm.


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