Political Notebook: Precinct Caucuses Attract Candidates’ Attention

By Don Davis

Political candidates’ attention never strays far from all-important fundraising, but for the next couple of weeks, any who face challengers within their own party also are eyeing Feb. 4 precinct caucuses.

Tom Emmer, a Republican 6th Congressional District candidate, emphasized caucuses’ importance in an email to his supporters.

“Your local Republican Party will be gathering to begin the process of selecting convention delegates, making changes to the Republican Party platform and voting in straw polls…” Emmer wrote. “For my campaign, this is an important first step in earning the endorsement of the grassroots activists to run for Congress.”

Emmer is one of the relatively few candidates who promises to abide by his party’s endorsement process. In other words, he will go along with who party activists back in the caucus and convention process. Most candidates this year are expected to take their campaigns to a summer primary election regardless of what happens in the traditional endorsement process.

“Remember, I’m the only candidate in this race who has committed to abide by the endorsement process,” Emmer wrote, a reminder that for him getting supporters to caucuses is more important that it is for others.

Caucuses elect delegates that move on to conventions that endorse candidates.

Deb Kaczmarek of Rosemount called caucuses “a mysterious first step in the political process.” But after four decades of her and her husband attending the events, she said, “we believe more fervently than ever that the two hours we spend every other year are vastly more impactful than any vote we cast, any donation we make, any volunteer service we render. … Caucus demonstrates the truth of the old adage that the world is shaped by those who show up.”

Besides politics, Chairman Ken Martin of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party said, caucuses are a good way to meet neighbors. But, frankly, politics is the reason for the evening gatherings.

DFL, Republican and Minnesota Independence Party Websites have caucus information, and the secretary of state provides a way to find local caucuses at http://caucusfinder.sos.state.mn.us.

GOP goes after senators

Minnesota Republicans are aggressively calling out 13 Democratic senators they claim were tied to a 2012 campaign finance violation that produced the second-largest financial penalty in state history.

However, while the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board levied the penalty on a DFL Senate caucus campaign committee, it found no violation by the candidates or their campaigns.

Such distinctions did not stop GOP Chairman Keith Downey from blaming the candidates.

“Kent Eken has been caught up in the biggest campaign cheating scandal in Minnesota history,” Downey said in a news release about the Twin Valley senator. “The voters of Norman and Clay counties will never know what impact this cheating would have had on the results of his very close election.”

The issue was about the caucus campaign committee improperly coordinating mailings with candidate committees. Such coordination is illegal.

The Senate committee was fined $100,000.

Franken wants driver aid

Sen. Al Franken wants volunteers who give low-income elderly rides to medical appointments to be paid for every mile they drive.

Federal Medicaid rules only allow volunteer drivers to be reimbursed when the patient is in the vehicle. That means the volunteers do not get paid for travel to and from patients’ home.

“Taking on the burden of paying for the rest of their gas often forces them to stop volunteering, which means the government often has to pay for a taxi,” Franken, D-Minn., said. “That doesn’t make sense, and my legislation would fix it. By allowing volunteers to be reimbursed for their whole trip, we’re also making government spending more efficient.”

Dayton not last hope

Backers of nearly $2 billion in projects that Gov. Mark Dayton did not include in his state construction funding bill continue to have hope.

The House and Senate will produce so-called bonding bills that look different than the nearly $1 billion bill Dayton offers. So hope remains for those Dayton left out.

Take the state’s libraries, for instance. Their lobbyist told librarians that Dayton did not include a grant for improvements in his proposal.

“While this is disappointing, it is not a complete surprise,” Elaine Keefe wrote to librarians. “Since the inception of the program in 1994, no governor has included funding for it in his capital budget recommendations, and yet we have consistently been able to persuade the Legislature to include funding in the final bonding bill.”

Obama signs adoption bill

President Barack Obama has signed into law a bill U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar wrote to help American couples who adopt children from other countries.

The Minnesota Democrat’s bill allows corrections to be made when a birth certificate issued by a child’s home country is incorrect.

“Adopting internationally can already be a challenging experience for families,” Klobuchar said. “We shouldn’t be adding to that by placing extra burdens on those trying to get accurate personal records for their children.”

Before the law, federal authorities would only recognize the other country’s birth certificate even if it contained wrong information.