Small, passionate crowds turn out for caucus night in Minnesota

  • Article by: JENNIFER BROOKS and RACHEL E. STASSEN-BERGER , Star Tribune staff writers
  • Updated: February 5, 2014 - 6:50 AM

Party activists turn out on a cold night to shape party policies and make picks for the upcoming campaign.

From Bemidji to New Ulm, Minnesotans turned out on a frigid caucus night Tuesday to shape the political agenda for the 2014 elections and hash out their views on everything from the minimum wage to marijuana to gay marriage to ending the Federal Reserve.

“Caucuses are the only opportunity a citizen has to make a difference in what the political parties will fight for, and to give direction to the people we actually hire as our next legislators,” said Linda Hamilton, president of the Minnesota Nurses Association.

Sometimes, caucus night gets a little too exciting. At Minneapolis’ Bryan Coyle Center, a challenge to longtime DFL state Rep. Phyllis Kahn brought out the crowds — and the police. A rainbow of headscarves peppered the mostly Somali-American crowd of several hundred, many of whom had shown up to support activist Mohamud Noor. A Minneapolis school board member, Noor wants to replace Kahn, who is seeking a 22nd term. But noisy outbursts over who was to lead the meeting quickly turned to chaos. A fight broke out, people rushed the podium and within 45 minutes of the meeting’s start, police shut the ­caucus down, ordering the crowds out. Abdirashid Omar said he was there to show his support for Noor, “the only person talking … my language.”

Afterward, DFL executive director Corey Day appeared baffled by the rare turn of events. “I have no clue exactly why this transpired,” he said. “I’m just as shocked as you guys.

Elsewhere, DFLers and Republicans vied for one-on-one time with candidates for governor and U.S. Senate and proposed resolutions that they hoped might make it into their party’s platforms.

Wayne Peterson, 64, a Republican farmer who went to Farmington, is worried about a tax on farm equipment repair and about the growth in government. But he also frets about a Tea Party tilt that he said is leading his party down a misguided path of ­confrontation and distraction.

“I came to bring a little balance to the party,” Peterson said.

David Schnell showed up to his DFL caucus in St. Paul to push for an increase in the minimum wage.

“I’ve worked for minimum wage, and you can’t get by,” said Schnell, 43. “I lost the last job I had, but it didn’t matter much, because I was paid $7.25 an hour. For those who can’t work, it’s unbelievable how miserable their lives are.”

Schnell said he also was concerned about the possible legalization of medical marijuana. “I don’t think it’s right for Minnesota. I don’t think it’s a part of who we are,” he said.

In Farmington, about 200 Republicans showed up on the outskirts of town at a middle school, where the walls were filled with campaign signs and literature for GOP gubernatorial candidates Scott Honour and state Sen. Dave Thompson, of Lakeville.

Punctuated by cheers and applause, Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, asked the gathering crowd, “Who here is ready to throw out Mark Dayton and install some adult supervision in the governor’s office and the House of Representatives?”

Beaming at the response, Garofalo said, “We are now closer to this end of this Democratic nightmare.”

Seifert, Ortman lead straw poll

With 124 of 127 caucuses reporting, unofficial results posted to the Minnesota Secretary of State’s website early Wednesday showed former House Minority Leader Marty Seifert leading the field in the nonbinding GOP straw poll for governor with 3,788 votes. Thompson was in second place with 3,495 votes, followed by Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson's 2,341 votes. “Undecided” came in fourth. Honour and state Rep. Kurt Zellers of Maple Grove were neck-and-neck for fifth.

On the Senate side, according to state GOP results, Republican state Sen. Julianne Ortman of Chanhassen was in first place, followed by businessman Mike McFadden. “Undecided” was third, followed closely by state Rep. Jim Abeler and Chris Dahlberg.

At Highland Park High School in St. Paul, newly anointed Dayton running mate Tina Smith worked the crowds in her first outing as a campaign surrogate for her boss. Dayton, who is scheduled for hip surgery next week stemming from an earlier fall, was to have showed up with her but canceled because of his hip problems.

“We have made great progress over the last three years but we have a lot of work to do and I want to ask for your support to send us back to get that work done,” said Smith, who until Tuesday had been Dayton’s chief of staff, but who now is his second-term pick for lieutenant governor.

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