Saint Paul STRONG is a non-partisan organization. Our mission is to improve open and representative government by encouraging and supporting open and transparent public processes, engaging and empowering resident participation and building a stronger, more inclusive Saint Paul. Anyone who has been around Saint Paul politics for long recognizes that, for all intents and purposes, this is a one-party town, dominated by the Democratic Farmer Labor (DFL) party. Therefore, we are compelled to shed light on the DFL endorsement process.
This year, all seven City Council seats are on the ballot and four school board seats. St. Paul DFL leadership has manipulated the endorsement schedule to limit public input and pick favorites. This is unhealthy for democracy
The DFL has chosen Sunday, March 10 as the caucus date for all precincts across the entire city. The purpose of the precinct caucus is to conduct party business, to consider policy resolutions to be included in the party platform and to elect delegates to the ward conventions to endorse city council members.
In Wards 2, 3, and 4, DFL leaders have piggybacked the ward conventions immediately following the caucus, and worse yet, at 5:30 p.m. on a Sunday night. (When has any important public meeting ever been scheduled on a Sunday night?) With no challengers taking on incumbents in these wards at this point, incumbents are virtually guaranteed endorsement.
Why is this a problem? In wards 1, 5, 6, and 7, the Saint Paul DFL has set the ward conventions 6 to 8 weeks after the precinct caucus. In these wards, it is conceivable – and it has happened in the past – that new candidates can emerge in the intervening weeks, along with emerging city issues, requiring candidates to work hard and weather debate and discussion. In these wards, candidates work hard to court delegates – and what delegate doesn’t welcome the opportunity to get to know candidates better and make more informed choices?
The DFL has made a decision to protect its Ward 2, 3 and 4 incumbents, seemingly reluctant to expose them to potential new candidates and shifting loyalties of demanding delegates. In fact, a prospective Ward 4 candidate deployed to the Middle East asked the DFL City Chair if that ward’s convention could be scheduled when he was back from active duty. The answer was “No.” Too bad this service member wasn’t trying to run in one of the other four wards where such scheduling was apparently possible.
Coincidentally, residents in Wards 2, 3 and 4 (the highest-voter-turnout areas in the city, including Downtown, the Westside, West Seventh Street, Highland Park, Macalester Groveland, Merriam Park, St. Anthony Park and Snelling and University Avenues) confronted vitally important and controversial issues during these incumbents’ terms which have included the selection of the Riverview Streetcar preferred alternative, the development of the Ford Site, the override of a two-year Marshall Avenue Planning Study, the future of the nine hole Highland golf course, the rezoning of Snelling Avenue and the Snelling Midway redevelopment including the soccer stadium at Allianz Field. These issues are redefining life west of Snelling and in our downtown; and reshaping the city’s future. And these three incumbents are going to be spared a process that steels and toughens them and holds them accountable to the public?
In effect, the DFL is tipping the scales in support of three incumbents, and denying process participants any meaningful discussion of these huge and transformative community decisions.
In a one-party town, the endorsement almost always guarantees winning the election, giving the endorsed candidate DFL voter lists, money, volunteers, events, publicity, mailings and more. A City Council candidate needs to raise $100,000 to be competitive today. Access to DFL resources is a major advantage in the race.
Why is the Saint Paul DFL leadership curtailing its own process and picking winners? Over the years, the DFL has fallen into this trap a number of times, trying to limit access to the process for candidates and newcomers so that incumbents are guaranteed their seats.
Paul Wellstone was the force in 1990 who blew the hinges off the doors of the DFL, organizing and bringing in party newcomers from all over Minnesota to make the DFL “the party of the people who show up.” In 2008, Barack Obama did the same thing, advertising Minnesota DFL caucuses on TV, while state party Clinton backers, in hushed tones, counted on party faithful to endorse their chosen candidate.
Foreclosing the democratic process, or the DFL Party process, is ultimately a prescription for the party’s irrelevance.
We are the Capital City of Minnesota. Let’s lead the way in reminding folks what democracy looks like. The words “inclusion” and “diversity” should mean something and the DFL should walk their talk.