A peek indside a caucus, and inside party politics: Tom Cleland

Tom Cleland

KW: This is a great, hands-on story about the nuances of party politics, and why the strategies, characters, and motivations often turn things topsy turvy. Note that in Minnesota, the local Democratic Party is the “Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party” or DFL.

From the blog Tom Stream (and sent as an e-mail announcement):

Subject: I hereby resign from the DFL

Sent: Wednesday, March 17, 2010 4:35 AM

On Sunday I participated in my SD44 DFL [Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party] convention, seeing for myself once again that the Democratic Party is where progressive politics goes to die.

This year I caucused DFL as explained on my blog Feb. 2. At the time, the Greens did not have a strong candidate for Governor. After hearing all the callers to radio shows, disappointed with Obama, I thought it might be a good time to check back in with the Dems to see how they were coming along.

As an uncommitted delegate to my senate district, I was courted by the gubernatorial campaigns, getting phone calls in the days leading up to the convention, and at the convention I had a chance to speak with four of the candidates in person. I knew that the front-runners for governor were Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and State House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, who at nine syllables, I am shortening to MAK. I already knew Rybak was bad, as documented extensively on this blog, but I wanted to confirm MAK’s position on the Twins stadium tax.

There were plenty of workers for the various campaigns, wearing the T-shirts of their respective candidates. I asked a young woman working for MAK about the stadium tax, and she said MAK was against it. This didn’t sound right, so I called Farheen Hakeem, who told me she personally protested outside MAK’s house in 2006, and that MAK opposed putting the stadium tax to a vote of the people in Hennepin County. Later in the day, I spoke with MAK, and asked her about it. She said it was because she was opposed to referendums in general. Well, I happened to know that a referendum was legally required by statute for this type of expenditure, because the people felt it was that important, and so I found MAK’s answer unacceptable.

When I spoke with John Marty about stadium taxes, he said he was the only candidate who is answering with a definite “No.” The other candidates are saying, “Not this year.”

Inside the auditorium, there were plenty of empty seats in the section assigned to my precinct. I selected a seat along the aisle, and filled out a ballot with 72 platform resolutions as I listened to and watched the proceedings, which at the outset were largely procedural, along with speeches from officials and candidates. After MAK spoke, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, in the aisle to my right, got down to my level and urged me to vote for Matt Entenza. I said I was concerned about Entenza’s wife’s ties to UnitedHealthcare. Ellison said she doesn’t work there anymore. I knew she worked for an environmental company now so I asked about Entenza’s position on cap and trade. Ellison didn’t know but he said Entenza supports green energy.

Later in the day, Rybak also greeted me from the aisle, shaking hands and saying, “I don’t think we’ve met.” I said I was Tom Cleland and had taken issue with him about police brutality on my blog. He said, “Sure,” and stepped back, which is what I would have done. Continuing the discussion could have caused a scene. For the record, while I have a much lower profile and don’t expect him to remember me, we have met in the past. In 2001 when he was first running for mayor, I met him and his wife, I think at a house party or fundraiser, not sure if I introduced myself by name. In 2003, when a coworker and I were canvassing for Greenpeace on Nicollet Mall, I recognized him walking with his bicycle and said hi. And in 2009, in the coat check line for the Blue State Ball, I said I was with the Green Party, and he said we need to do all we can to get Cam Gordon re-elected. (I didn’t have a problem with Rybak endorsing Gordon, just the other way around.)  I also attended his first inaugural ball, though I don’t think I spoke with him that night. So I suppose my opposition to Rybak has built up gradually over the years.

The other candidate I spoke with Sunday was Paul Thissen. While he said that he supported the referendum, he did vote for the stadium tax. Later, during the walking subcaucus process, I told one of his runners that’s all I need to know.

They only allotted four hours for the convention, and ended up running over. I volunteered for the Rules Committee and probably should have pushed for more time, but I got busy and only attended one committee meeting. If I had to do it over again I would have at least asked to modify the agenda.

They allotted a half-hour for debating resolutions, which was fine by me. But some delegates thought that was too much time, so they introduced a floor motion to skip it, which failed. It would have taken less time if they had simply left it as is. So they debated resolutions, and the high point for me was when a woman criticized Obama on nuclear power. I was also pleased they had a resolution on divestment from Israel, though two people spoke against it and I didn’t hear anyone in favor.

Finally, they got to the most interesting order of business, item 16 of 23, the election of state delegates and alternates. These people will choose the next DFL-endorsed candidate for governor. The DFL typically uses the walking subcaucus method, where people form groups based on combinations of candidates or issues to try to get like-minded people to represent them at the state convention. I believe it was something like 231 SD44 delegates electing 21 state delegates, requiring 11 local delegates to send 1 delegate to state.

On the overhead screen they displayed the procedure text, which said that people would step up to the microphones for a first round to simply announce the name of their subcaucus, and then for a second round to take 30 seconds to describe their subcaucus. This is as I had recalled it from years past. So I waited my turn, and announced the name of my subcaucus, “Uncommitted Ten Key Values.” There was no applause, perhaps because they don’t believe in them, but probably because they don’t know what they are. I then flashed a peace sign, which I think got a little more reaction. So everybody took turns announcing the subcaucus names, but they were running out of time so they passed a floor motion to skip the caucus descriptions! (This is not what I’ve been used to. In the Green Party, we have candidate speeches, then the members ask questions of each candidate, and then the members comment.) If I had been allowed to speak for 60 seconds, I would have said from memory what I had rehearsed:

“Hi, I’m Tom Cleland, and this subcaucus is Uncommitted Ten Key Values. The Key Values are Democracy, Ecology, Peace, Justice, Feminism, Diversity, Decentralization, Community-Based Economics, Global Responsibility, and Future Focus. These are borrowed from the Green Party. I was with the Green Party for ten years. As you may know, Greens can sometimes tip the balance. If they had run a candidate for U.S. Senate, Al Franken would not be elected today. I can say that Marty might be acceptable to Greens, but Greens are afraid that Marty might endorse Rybak, who is bad on police brutality, or Anderson Kelliher, who opposed putting the stadium tax to a vote of the people. We can all learn a lot from progressive point person Dave Bicking, I’m wearing his T-shirt. Let’s go, Uncommitted Ten Key Values!”

So we began our first walking process, I held up a sign listing the 10KV, and sadly, no one joined my subcaucus. However, I did have a chance to shout parts of my message to anyone within earshot in the noisy auditorium. A number of runners, both committed and uncommitted to candidates, asked me to join their groups. I said only if I could be the delegate (to state) and of course there was no deal. I also shared some of my talking points with them.

I waited until the second and final walking process, before ceremoniously walking over and joining the Marty subcaucus, led by Lena Katharine Gardner, who recruited me, and who spoke on behalf of Steve Kelley at my precinct caucus, before he dropped out. In the Marty subcaucus, I was pleased to see a couple other familiar faces, Jordan Kushner, also of my precinct, and Diane Steen-Hinderlie’s husband John. Diane is a fellow Green. We were able to get two delegates to state. My understanding is that usually the subcaucuses are supposed to each hold elections within their groups to determine the actual people who will go to state, and allow for some vetting to take place. But to make sure we would get the two delegates, Lena had to cut some deals, giving a delegate to the Tom Rukavina subcaucus, and an alternate to the “No Corporate Personhood” subcaucus. Between that and gender balance, with only two women expressing interest in traveling to state, people scattered and there was no vote. Instead, there was a tense discussion with the Rukavina people over what the deal was. A Rybak worker was standing nearby eavesdropping, so I took the opportunity to tell him about the police brutality videos on this blog. So here’s our delegation, I just hope everybody honors their agreement to vote for Marty by the second ballot at state:

Female delegate: Lena Katharine Gardner
Male delegate: Brian Rice (Rukavina)
Female alternate: Cathy Murphy
Male alternate: Noam Freshman (No Corporate Personhood)

I had some nice visits with members of the delegation. I got to talking with Noam, and said that what I’m looking for in a delegate is a willingness to walk out of the DFL convention. He asked why and I basically said to join the Green Party. He then brought out the old argument about Florida 2000 and I mentioned Lieberman and asked if he was asking us to ignore the issues. He said no and had to go register but I wish we could have kept talking. It may sound arrogant on my part, but I feel he was asking us to ignore the issues and vote a certain way because more people are less informed. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who think like Noam, and so we are stuck, and I’m afraid we will remain stuck until we face a crisis of unprecedented magnitude. I feel like I need to study survivalism or something.

The SD44 delegate count was:

Rybak 8
Anderson Kelliher 5
Marty 2
Thissen 1
Uncommitted 5

Before I left I told DFL superdelegate Eric Margolis that I was going to reactivate my Green Party membership. He asked why and I said I was appalled that Rybak got 8 delegates. He said I inadvertently helped them get another delegate by triggering the second walking phase. As far as I’m concerned, that’s just one more reason to quit the DFL. I know that Lena cut that second deal with the personhood people during the second phase. Not sure how we would have done if we had relied on rounding after Phase One.

On the way out, I saw more Rybak workers and told them about the brutality videos on my blog. I wish someone would make a TV commercial out of them.

DFL rules state that to caucus with them, you cannot be an active member of another political party. So I was an inactive member of the Green Party. I did not caucus Green, and I did not post to the GP listservs. I was very critical of the 5CD Green Party in January when many of the members would not sign a pledge to vote against Obama in 2012. Since then, however, there have been some positive developments, including a 5CDGP press release opposing the reappointment of MPD Chief Dolan, and Green Council Member Cam Gordon voting against Dolan March 3 and March 12. While I now wish to reactivate my membership in the 5CD Green Party, I may identify more closely as a friend of the newly-formed SD61 Green Party, which has a higher proportion who have signed the pledge.

My choice for governor? I want to take a closer look at Richard Klatte. If the Greens don’t endorse him, I might write in Al Flowers or Ken Pentel. Or John Marty, but only if he does not endorse the DFL nominee.

Tom Cleland
Golden Valley


KW: I would invite someone to make charts in the comments with people in this story who were: “totally good on issues” (from the Tom Cleland/Ten Key Values point-of-view); “good on some issues”; and “bad on issues overall” in this story. Also, which characters in the story could have done things differently to most profoundly and effeciently change the outcome. This is real stuff. This is juicy stuff. And, I am convinced that understanding it would catapult someone to a new level of political thinking…

2 Responses

  1. Thanks Kimberly!

  2. Hello, Noam Freshman here. I was wondering if you might consider removing this post. I am not comfortable with your having put my name down on your blog and targeting me in this way. I would really appreciate it. Thanks for your consideration


    Noam Freshman

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