Tag Archives: Jon Tolefson

Minnesota’s Democratic Party (DFL) Convention, 2018

Today, Rebecca Otto, Minnesota Auditor, suspended her campaign for Governor of Minnesota.

Rebecca had run to seek the endorsement from the Minnesota DFL (that’s what we call Democrats in Minnesota). The state convention, at which endorsements are determined by a large collection of dedicated delegates and alternates, was held in Rochester. (Note: candidates can still run in the August primary, but it is often considered bad form to ignore the endorsement process.) I was there as a delegate. I’d never been to a state convention before, though I’ve been to plenty of state Senate District and Congressional District ones. The state convention was similar but ten times bigger, twice as loud, three times as long, and doubly exhausting.

Rebecca lost the endorsement process with a gut-punching and unexpected low number of votes on the first ballot, followed by a long period of chaos, followed by the exuberant endorsement of candidate Erin Murphy. Congratulations to Erin, who has doubled down on this process with her choice of picking a second Erin, Erin Maye Quade, as her running mate. That was a stunningly excellent choice.

But back to the Otto campaign. I was truly expecting the numbers to be different in this endorsement process. I was not personally privy to the detailed data on this campaign, but I had seen the top-line analyses. I expected Murphy, not Otto, to be in distant third. Clearly the numbers were wrong!

I don’t fault the people in the Otto campaign for getting that wrong. Well, yes, they did get it wrong, but this is not uncommon. I myself have had the job of counting delegates. I’ve gotten it at least as wrong. I know others who have as well. Campaigns often, perhaps to some extent, in most races, end up with incorrect delegate counts. (I note that as far as I know, the Murphy campaign had the numbers close to correct.) I have some ideas as to how this happens, and it might be helpful to work out some theory on this. But that is for later. For now, there is this one element of getting surprised by a low delegate count on the first ballot that I’d prefer to dwell on for just one moment:

It feels really, really, bad.

I don’t feel it is my place to relate how things were in the war room after the end of the process. That is private. But I was struck by one thing I’ll leak out. The people in the room, all of whom I have great love and respect for, exhibited the full range of expected emotional states from quietly stunned to liquefied-in-place, except for Rebecca Otto herself. Rebecca was the strength in the room. That was not unexpected, but I think it is something that should be said. I know she felt just as bad. I know her just enough to have sensed that. But she was not the quivering bowl of jelly I would have been.

I helped Rebecca in her campaign for two reasons. One is simply that she and her husband, Shawn, are my friends. But I’ve had a lot of friends run for office for whom I offered only perfunctory help. In the case of Rebecca Otto, there was another reason. I knew that Rebecca was blindingly smart, and a deeply good and honest person, and ever thoughtful. I know that for each area of policy, Rebecca would assemble her best assets and then ask them to assemble their best assets. These teams would then develop details and try ideas, in order to ultimately advance well developed proposals that could be brought to fruition in the State House to change the fundamental nature of economy, society, and culture in Minnesota, all in good ways. I was at the tail end of at least one of those assemblies, and contributed a bit to the policy development. There was a fact Rebecca often repeated in her stump speeches that I had worked on. I was proud to hear it mentioned again and again.

The other candidates are great people, great democrats, any one would be great as a governor, but I was supporting Rebecca Otto because I knew her approach and her results would be uniquely and powerfully transforming. People around the country were going to look at Minnesota, and go, “Wow, what the heck was that??? Why can’t we do that? Who did that? Let’s do that!” And the answer would be Rebecca Otto and the team she leads.

In the end, we are all Democrats. Just as importantly, those other guys? They are all Republicans. So, we have work to do. I like Erin Murphy. I will support her and her campaign, as the endorsed candidate. I’ll support all the endorsed candidates. I’ve been working on the campaign of our local Minnesota House, where my friend Ginny Klevorn hopes to unseat Representative Sarah Anderson, who is is a less religious but just as tea-happy mini-me version of Michel Bachmann, and leader of the evil Republican redistricting ploy in our state.

But I’ll be standing by for future versions of a Rebecca Otto campaign, should that happen, and I hope it does, somehow, sometime, somewhere.

A few notes about the other events at the convention.

The first one is a major piece of news that is still unfolding even as I write this.

Lori Swanson is the Minnesota Attorney General. Swanson has been the perennial heir apparent for that job forever. What I mean by that: everybody always assumed she’d be endorsed, then win. She has a great reputation and everybody likes her, etc. etc.

But this year, Matt Pelikan ran against Swanson for AG. Everybody seemed to like Matt, but everybody also said this about that race: we need Lori, she’s been great, Matt is great, but he has no experience, maybe he can run for something else someday.

Meanwhile, Swanson made a nuisance of herself at the very beginning of the pre-election season, last summer, telling everyone she might or might not run for Governor. This moved several good people into the position of running for the AG seat, but promising to pull out if Lori gives the governor’s race a pass. She pulled that trick (do I sound annoyed? sorry!) for way too long, using the fact that she was a state AG but also, not really an actual candidate, to exploit her moves along with other state AGs against Trump for positive Democratic Party cred.

At the convention, two things happened, then the boat tipped over.

First, Matt Pelikan, who is one very impressive young man, gave a speech that in my view was in the top three given at the convention, maybe the best one. He had the crowd on their feet. He also landed about eight good punches on the Swanson campaign, including noting Swanson’s NRA endorsement over the years, and her stand on various other issues that have become highly questionable even though everybody loves Lori and assumes she’s the automatic candidate.

Then, the Swanson campaign totally messed up their own presentation. Each campaign gets a certain number of minutes, then they have to get off the stage. Most campaigns have a short video, a person or two talk in favor of the candidate, then the candidate gives a rousing speech. Swanson had a mediocre video. Then, some dozen or so people lined up to each speak on her behalf. They were mostly unpracticed and poor speakers (including at least one who is an experienced politician who simply had not woken up that morning, it seemed). Each one spoke for 3-5 minutes. But they were supposed to speak for one minute! SO, half way through that awkward and embarrassing event, the whole lot of them got thrown off the stage, and Swanson never got to speak.

When the delegates voted, Pelekan had denied Swanson the endorsement. A very large number of delegates had probably figured, “OK, Lori is the obvious candidate, but Imma cast this one vote for Pelikan because he is so impressive.” The outcome of that vote was so astonishing, they had to bring in a special sweeper device to remove everyone’s jaws from the floor.

Before the second vote, Swanson dropped out. Ear shattering collective gasp.

My first thought? She’ll run in the primary for the AG slot!

My second thought, seconds later? No, wait! She’s running for governor!

And, low and behold, seconds ago as I write this, the news has leaked out: Swanson is running for Governor with Congressman Nolan as her Lt Gov.

In a less dramatic and less complicated event, former Republican and Bush ethics lawyer Richard Painter ran against Senator Tina Smith for the endorsement. Smith got the endorsement, but Painter got a surprisingly large number of votes.

And, finally, another sad thing. I’ve always supported Jon Tolefson in his political career, and I wanted him to be endorsed for auditor. He had a lot of support, including the endorsement of the Environmental Caucus. In something of a surprise, Julie Blaha took the majority of votes on the first round, and Jon stepped away, allowing Julie to be endorsed by acclamation. That was sad for me, but more sad for Jon’s Mother, who was sitting with me in my unit delegation at the event.

That’s all I have for now, but later, there are some people I want to thank. First, some dust has to settle and and I have to go through some photos and videos I may post.

OK, everybody, get to work!

ADDED: Keith Ellison, US Congressmember and Democratic Party co-head, considering running for Minnesota AG? This makes no sense! The world is spinning in the wrong direction!