Next best thing to Calvin Ball

March 02, 2008 by barbara

barbara writes

I swore I’d never go again. So much for high-minded principle. Yesterday, I went to the DFL’s senate district endorsing convention. For those of you out-state, let it be known that Minnesota Democrats call ourselves DFLers (Democratic Farmer Labor party, and yes, barbara would be rendered mute without parentheses).

We endorsed candidates for the state house of representatives (you go, Mike Obermueller!). We also engaged in a butt-numbing review of more than a hundred resolutions to be forwarded to the state convention for consideration. And then, the pièce d’insanité. (Note to other erudite liberal elitist snobs: Do not be running for your French dictionary. It’s Franglais, okay?)

You thought Texas had bragging rights to the most convoluted delegate selection system? Nuh-uh. Minnesota — land of Humphrey, Freeman, Wellstone and lutefisk—has adopted a peculiar process known as the walking sub-caucus. I have a theory that it was created in the wee small hours by a bunch of grog-sucking pols who were looking for a way to break up the tedium of Minnesota winters. How else to explain it? Here’s how it works.

Yesterday, roughly 400 women and men (a record turnout, I think), assembled at an area middle school as is our habit at this point in an election cycle. After all of the above business was dispatched, it was time to elect delegates to the congressional district and state conventions that take place in the really, truly spring. In order to accomplish said election, the plan of the afore-mentioned geniuses kicked into high gear.

Let the games begin! To that end, a fair number of otherwise sensible women and men voluntarily queued up along the sidelines of the convention floor. They held up hand-lettered signs bearing the name of the sub-caucus they were forming.

Rule number one: The sub-caucus must bear the name of a candidate (local or national) OR it can say “uncommitted.” It must also have a raison d’être. (There she goes with that John Kerryesque French sh*t again.) Okay. A candidate AND an issue. Thus, sub-caucuses were named things like “Franken: Education” or “Obama: More butter, fewer guns” or “Uncommitted: Fed up and rising.” It was not a requirement that the candidate name and issue combo make sense.

Rule number two: It was determined that a sub-caucus could bear the name of one (1) candidate only. So it was that “Franken Obama healthcare” was rejected out of hand. Quick thinking by its creator salvaged the group. He renamed it “Franken Obamaesque issues.” The assembled masses voted its pleasure with that creative recovery.

At a given signal, everyone in the room scattered and chose the sub-caucus that either made most sense to them or, failing that, did not offend their sensibilities. It will not surprise you to know that, on the strength of the naming alone, I gravitated to “Franken Obamaesque issues.”

Time for mathematics. Once we recounted the number of people actually participating, some convention delegates had bailed. So the total convention population was down to, oh, let’s say 375*. In order to be “viable,” i.e., allowed to continue in the game, each sub-caucus therefore had to have 22 members. That was derived by dividing the 375 people present at the moment of reckoning by the 17 delegates the state had allocated to our district. I warned you this was arcane, did I not?

So. The little groups that were far from “viable” (oh, what a shaming game this was!) were courted by larger groups to merge with them, thereby bumping up the larger group's numbers. You see, there’s more at stake than simply being “viable.” A sub-caucus could elect a state convention delegate for every 22 bodies it could claim. Ergo, 44 bodies captured two delegate slots.

As you may well imagine (or perhaps not), much wheeling and dealing commenced. At that point, it’s fair to say that people for whom this was the first time were pretty thoroughly gobsmacked by the whole thing. (I remember my first time. And no one passed out cigarettes afterwards.)

Plucky lads and lasses, the rookies played on anyway. Well, most of them did. Because when the next count was taken, the total number on the convention floor had dropped to 323*. New calculation—323 divided by 17 is 19 – ergo, 19 became the new viability number.

(* Numbers are approximate, lest those far more attentive to detail than I take issue.)

Are you with me? Do you care? Sure you do!

So it went until, at a particular moment in time, we were ordered to freeze the floor. No more moving around. Remember that old playground game, Statue Maker? Kinda like that. By then, owing largely to the frenzied machinations of the candidates’ floor workers, there were no more “non-viable” sub-caucuses. All of them had been absorbed, in whole or piecemeal, elsewhere.

Now it was time to elect the number of delegates each group earned during the mixing and matching. Franken Obamaesque Issues got to elect two—one male, one female, to ensure gender balance. Everyone in the group who wanted to be a delegate raised their hand. So. Many. Hands. Then each one had a minute or so to give a speechlet about why they’d be a good choice. Lots of speechlets.

Then came the voting. Some sub-caucuses voted by secret ballot. Our group chose open voting, i.e., show of hands for each delegate candidate. In retrospect, I think secret ballot is better. We’re arguably grown-ups, but it must be disheartening to newcomers to step up to the plate and get bean-balled.

I ran. I won. What can I say. (((blush)))

Here’s the really cool part. There were first-timers there. Lots of them. Young voting-age folks. Lots of them, too. Some children accompanied their parents, maybe to see democracy in action. Or maybe because of a baby-sitter shortage. Either way, they saw it all. The good, the bad and the silly.

So are you wondering why I did this again? I suppose it’s because I have not yet given up on this country. Even in the depths of my cynical being, I believe in us and in our ability to course-correct. Our process may be flawed, but at least we have process.

Now we have this new generation of idealistic young people. I have a sense they may be more rooted in reality than in my time, though the ugliness of war tends to make realists of us all. The information age has upped the ante, though. Most of these “kids” are whip-smart, well informed, and genuinely jazzed about this election.

There are old farts involved, too, witness yours truly. Chronologically old, but not steeped in thick, good-old-days stew. There are some of those around, too, and bless ‘em. There’s a place under this big ol’ tent for all of us. Even in the midst of sea-change. Balance and perspective, dontcha know?!

I like being a Democrat. Don’t be spinning, Dad. It’s gonna to be okay.

Posted in


barbara says (not verified) | March 3, 2008 - 5:18pm

Note to self: proof read before posting (sigh).


Anonymous (not verified) | March 4, 2008 - 11:53am

Why in the world do people go to these things? The future of the country is at stake and we're about playing party games? Gimme a break.


Pam Carlson (not verified) | March 4, 2008 - 10:25pm

You were selected as a delegate because I'm sure your self-nomination speech was every bit as articulate and smart as your blogs! Good going Barb! As a survivor of Saturday's marathon, I appreciate your willingness to soldier on to the next level.


barbara says (not verified) | March 5, 2008 - 5:57pm


Hey, thanks much for your kind words, Pam Carlson! And wait 'til you hear this. Susan is a delegate, too. Yes, Thelma and Louise do Rochester MN. You heard it here first.


susan | March 5, 2008 - 11:03pm

Yippee yi-yay, yes I am. Caucused for Obama for Pres and Franken for Senate. And all this felt a whole lot better before last night.


Anonymous (not verified) | April 30, 2008 - 9:47am

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