MANKATO — Because Democrats already occupy the top of the ticket in this fall’s statewide elections, Tuesday’s DFL precinct caucuses in the Mankato area will be more about organizing the party.
“This is their chance to get involved and to help assure that our candidates are going to have support,” said Rochelle Major, DFL chair in Blue Earth County. Mankato-area Democrats will meet in Mankato East High School, and other locations include Vernon Center, Mapleton, Lake Crystal and Good Thunder.
Precinct caucuses are also the beginning of the parties' endorsement process. The decision can be momentous, considering that many candidates pledge that they’ll drop out of a race if they don’t get that endorsement.
But it’s the statewide races that draw the most interest, and the only such open race for the DFL is secretary of state. Mark Ritchie has said he’s not running for re-election, and there will not be a straw poll for the Democrats in this race, at least not in Blue Earth County.
Lori Sellner, the DFL’s 1st Congressional District chair, said it’s easier to attract people to precinct caucuses when multiple Democrats are running for the top offices.
“Then those campaigns would encourage their supporters to get to the caucus to go through the process to get to the state endorsing (convention),” she said.
Just as precincts are like the atoms of the electorate, precinct caucuses are the first level of political organization. Before a delegate can endorse a statewide candidate, he or she has to continue through the county and to the state convention.
Likewise, changes to a party’s platform must pass through higher levels, but they start at precinct caucuses.
Sellner said minimum wage increases will clearly be a major issue at the precinct level.
Major said other likely topics include agriculture, health care and voting procedures.
She said part of a caucus is to show residents that “What you think and what you feel is important.”
Still, there’s a chance some candidates could drop by to shake some hands.
Major said Democrats don’t have a candidate to challenge Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, in District 23B.
James Kanne, though, will again challenge Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, who won the 2012 contest with a 24 percent margin. The district, 16B, includes all of Brown County.
Independents try to break in
Mark Meyer, the 1st Congressional District chair for the Independence Party, said the discussion at the party’s Mankato precinct caucus will likely be more about issues than people.
Rather than spread their candidates — and money — thin, the party prefers to be opportunistic, he said, choosing open seats it is more likely to win.
The party’s Mankato-area precinct caucus will be held at Mankato West High School and begin at the same time every other caucus begins, at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
The state party is conducting a straw poll on four issues, which will be chosen on Sunday at a St. Peter meeting, he said.
A likely topic includes bonding projects, such as for the Mankato civic center expansion and for Rochester infrastructure improvement to help the Mayo Clinic.
“It’s an interesting question as to what role and how large of a role government should play in that,” he said.
Minimum wage and medical marijuana may also be up for discussion.
His pitch to get people to sample the Independence Party?
“Our biggest enemy is apathy, not the other two parties. I would tell them, come to the Independence Party caucus and try something new. We’re committed to making a difference.”