Political season kicks off with caucuses
In what has been deemed as the grassroots of the political process, the local political parties held their precinct caucuses and identified support for the upcoming Minnesota governor’s race.
Steele County held its caucuses Feb. 7 with the DFLers meeting at Owatonna Middle School and the GOP camp at Owatonna High School. Residents from across the county came to cast their straw votes and debate the current direction of their associated party.
The DFL reported around 102 votes tallied, topping the same number from the GOP Caucus this year. In off years like this one, representatives from both political parties reported a substantially quieter turnout, but stressed the importance of continued involvement, even between election cycles.
The big winner of the night was Jeff Johnson, Hennepin County commissioner and former state representative, who totaled 33 votes and carried the GOP straw poll. U.S. Representative Tim Walz, whose support included 68 of the 102 votes cast at the DFL Caucus, was the DFL winner. Both parties will be angling to get their chosen ticket in the governor’s seat in November.
Behind Johnson, the final count for the Republican straw poll stood at 10 for Keith Downey, 7 in favor of Phillip Parrish, and 6 for Mary Guiliani, with 10 voters still undecided.
Walz ran away with the DFL straw poll. Other totals included: State Auditor Rebecca Otto with 18, former St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman with four, Erin Murphy, one time leader of the Minnesota House of Representatives also with four, Representative Tina Liebling with one vote, and a write-in. There were 10 undecided votes counted as well.
The local trends continued at the state level. With 17,655 DFL votes cast statewide, Walz was the front runner with 31 percent of the vote, followed by State Auditor Rebecca Otto with 20 percent.
In the Republican contest, Johnson was the clear winner, garnering 45 percent of the vote. The next highest was undecided with 16 percent, beating out Keith Downey who only tallied 15 percent. Overall the GOP cast 11,000 votes statewide.
With the current political climate being as divided as it’s been, Buddy Ricker of the Steele County DFL Caucus and Pam Seaser of the local GOP Caucus understand the importance of events like this one. “These discussions help to determine how we will steer the local party moving forward,” Ricker said.
Seaser said that with all the ubiquitous political discussion, the precinct caucus is the best place to share one’s voice. “It’s a proper platform, with like-minded people, and it allows you to see what your neighbors might be thinking,” she said.
Both events drew residents and showcased the candidates’ surrogates, a straw poll, and some words from county leadership. Ricker explained the process as “really just a gathering of people, your neighbors, your friends, and those of a like mind.”
Ricker said, “We like to get together and talk about the direction of our party.” He described the event as “the grassiest of the roots.” Ricker says that occasions like this one, despite often being overlooked in the political calendar, are “extremely important, not just during these times, but any time.”
“You get a chance to get to know your neighbors and what they think,” Ricker reiterated. “The DFL starts here in learning what they stand for.”
Across town, Seaser described the caucus as “critical,” explaining that “we have two special elections coming up next Monday.”
Seaser believes that having one’s party hold the elective office nationally is a great boost, and makes a difference. In 2016 she reported a showing of roughly 729 Steele County residents. Seaser chalked this up to the “Trump effect,” indicating that during the prior election year the current U.S. President was clearly the driving force.
“In 2016 we tried something new,” Seaser recalls. “We met in the gymnasium and tried to fit as many of the attendants as we could, it didn’t work out as well as we hoped, so this year we went back to the old style of doing things.” The attendance was also lower this year, with only around 70 people coming out and submitting their votes for the GOP Caucus.
Still, it’s the high amount of participation during 2016 that excites Seaser. “We had a lot of people show up who had never been to a caucus.” Seaser feels that, in events like this one, participation is key.
“Anybody who turns 18 by Election Day can and should come here,” she said, clarifying that they should decide which party their views align with before choosing their associated caucus site. “It’s a great place to start if you want to get involved,” she added.
Ricker, at the DFL Caucus, had similar sentiments regarding participation. “I wish I had gotten a little more involved when I was young,” he said. “So I would absolutely recommend young people to attend, and if parents want to bring some of their children who are older, and would be interested in learning about events like this one, that’s great too!
“Young people who are concerned with getting their voice out there should get involved with the process more if they want to be heard,” Ricker said. He added, “If your message isn’t being heard, you’re just not squeaking the wheel loud enough.”
With the governor’s race nearing this fall, the numbers from the state’s precinct caucuses may indicate an early inclination for a DFL victory. Though with roughly nine months to go, the winner is anybody’s guess.