Political Chatter: Parties Like Precinct Caucuses

Chairmen of Minnesota's two major political parties share a smile Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016. Ken Martin of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, left, and Republican Keith Downey came together to promote attending Tuesday's precinct caucuses. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)
Chairmen of Minnesota’s two major political parties share a smile Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016. Ken Martin of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, left, and Republican Keith Downey came together to promote attending Tuesday’s precinct caucuses. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Political parties have a vested interest in keeping precinct caucuses.

“It is a great way to grow the party in the long run,” Chairman Ken Martin of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party said as he and Republican Minnesota Chairman Keith Downey encouraged Minnesotans to attend the Tuesday night caucuses.

Downey said that when voters cast ballots in primary elections, they go to the polls and head back home. There is no real party connection like caucuses provide.

While some people leave right after the presidential vote at a caucus, many stay and help pick party leaders and discuss issues they feel are important.

Neither party has backed a presidential primary election for Minnesota and likely will not unless a grassroots movement to do so takes over the party, even though Downey said that a state-run primary would be easier on him than the party-run caucuses.

“Primaries tend to favor big money, establishment candidates,” Martin said.

The late Paul Wellstone never would have become a U.S. senator if Minnesota had a primary, Martin added.

Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon said that in general, a caucus-goer “tends to be someone who has a very close affiliation with the political party, as opposed to someone who has a close affiliation with a political candidate.”

Those who go to a caucus, the secretary of state said, are “people who are really invested in the health of an institution.”

One of the potential issues the parties could face is the candidate who wins the statewide vote may not win the most delegates.

“Highly unlikely,” Downey said, while still admitting it could happen.

The issue would most likely arise because the parties award national convention delegates both by statewide vote and by votes in the state’s eight congressional districts.

Martin said a candidate could get the most votes but not the most delegates if, for instance, one candidate ran up a lot of support in heavily attended caucuses in a congressional district or two but do not draw as well elsewhere.

Each party awards some delegates based on statewide vote, with candidates given delegates on a proportional basis. The same is true for each congressional district.

Democrats throw in a different wrinkle. Sixteen top DFL leaders each get a vote, and their allegiance is not determined by the caucus vote.

On the Republican side, three top GOP officials get to be national convention delegates, but they must adhere to the caucus-goers’ decision.

The idea of awarding delegates in congressional districts came about as a way to force candidates to campaign statewide, not limiting their efforts to one populated area.

Looking for help

Minnesota’s leaders are lobbying federal officials to provide more aid to laid-off Iron Range workers.

Gov. Mark Dayton, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, U.S. Sen. Al Franken and U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan sent a letter to Labor Secretary Thomas Perez asking him to help laid-off miners, vendors and suppliers in the state’s taconite industry.

The leaders said new estimates are that 3,000 workers have been laid off permanently or temporarily because of a steel industry downturn.

Some who lost their jobs benefited from aid provided by the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, which the federal government established for situations like in Minnesota where foreign trade issues lead to layoffs, but they are not available to most workers who are not miners.

“Much like their peers employed directly by the mines, foreign steel dumping has left many of those workers at risk of being unable to pay their bills or put food on the table for their families,” Minnesota’s leaders wrote.

See the fight

Senate Media Services has archived the Forum News Service-sponsored pre-session briefing so everyone can see the battles among the governor and legislative leaders that political reporters saw close up on Thursday.

The briefing, usually held before legislative sessions begin, is designed to help political reporters put together stories that preview the session, which this year begins March 8.

After this year’s forum, many reporters agreed the highlight was when Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt mixed it up, with Dayton wagging his finger at the speaker and Daudt grabbing the governor’s arm. It apparently was the first time the two, who often say they like each other, were involved in such a heated exchange in public.

The video is at tinyurl.com/MNSenateVideo; click on “video” on the “Governor Dayton, Legislative Leaders Preview 2016 Session” line.

Senators honor Cindy McCain

U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Heidi Heitkamp have honored Cindy McCain for her work fighting human trafficking.

McCain, wife of U.S. Sen. John McCain, was presented with the Anne Frank Special Recognition Award by the Anne Frank House Amsterdam for her work to raise awareness and educate the public on human trafficking. Klobuchar and Heitkamp have worked with McCain to combat human trafficking.

“As a former prosecutor, I’ve seen firsthand the horror and violence women and children suffer as victims of human trafficking,” Klobuchar, D-Minn., said. “Trafficking is now the third largest criminal enterprise in the world, and we need to crack down on this crime while providing victims the support they need.”

Heitkamp, D-N.D., added: “Cindy has been a beacon of hope for so many victims of human trafficking. She walks the walk and has been relentless in tackling this issue both globally and nationally.”

Breaking a tie

There is a chance, however remote, that there could be a tie in Tuesday’s caucuses.

Republican state Chairman Keith Downey said his preferred solution would be to give candidates’ the choice of breaking the tie by an ice fishing contest, one-on-one hockey or a coin flip.