Divided DFL delegates pick new leader
Convention featured old guard vs. new bloodBy Matthew Stolle email@example.com
The presidential candidacy of Howard Dean might be over, but the political energy unleashed during that campaign was clearly in evidence during a raucous, contested Olmsted County DFL Convention on Saturday.
About 600 people attended the convention at Century High School, many of them young party activists turned on to politics by the Dean campaign. The turnout was also five times the number of attendees at the last convention two years ago, said Mark Frederickson, Olmsted County DFL associate chairman.
But the new-found passion that party leaders point to as evidence of a revitalized party turned on itself briefly during an unusual bitter floor fight over the next party chairman, pitting old-guard leaders against the new blood in the party.
The contest featured Lynn Wilson, the county DFL’s current leader and a longtime party stalwart, against Bob Rouillard, a recent party activist and former Dean supporter. With supporters sporting stickers that said, "What about Bob?" Rouillard prevailed in the election by 179 votes to 155 votes.
But in a move that he later admitted risked alienating DFL veterans, Rouillard nominated Amina Arte, a 25-year-old Somali-American, to be associate chairwoman, rather than the longtime party loyalist he had just defeated for the chairmanship.
"It was suggested to me that I just made mad a couple hundred people in this room when I nominated Amina Arte," Rouillard told the convention at one point.
That ignited a new debate about the candidates for associate chair that briefly segued into an angry argument about race. Arte supporters noted that for a party that is supposed to be inclusive, there was almost a complete lack of diversity at the county level. They argued that Arte would be an asset in bringing more diversity to the party.
That prompted a sharp rejoinder from a Wilson supporter, who called the use of the "race card" despicable.
Wilson won the election for associate chairwoman 221-89, but it left people wondering if the bitter feelings generated by the debate would linger.
Rep. Tim Mahoney, a DFLer from St. Paul who served as acting chairman because of the anticipated challenge to Wilson’s position, attempted to bring calm to the convention.
"We have a party that’s on the verge of taking back control not only of the Minnesota House, but the White House. We need to unite, and I mean to tell you right now, there has been some bitter things said on this floor," Mahoney said. He said there will have to be some fence-mending.
Frederickson, a longtime party activist who lost his position as associate chairman during the convention, praised Rouillard for mounting such an effective bid for the chairmanship.
"We knew it would be a strong challenge. Bob Rouillard, to his credit, did some effective organizing," he said.
Frederickson also said he believed that the hard feelings left from the convention would dissipate.
"The challenge before us Democrats, which we have heard time and time again, is this is a year for Democrats to be united, and we’re going to see that in Olmsted County,” he said.