Local DFLers turn out for Tuesday caucus

The event Tuesday, Feb. 25 at Riverside Elementary School featured a healthy turnout for DFLers of 250-300 people — not a shabby number at all considering a presidential primary on the horizon March 3.

Brainerd Ward-2 Precinct-2 DFL caucus attendees Jan Erickson (left) Justine Ness, Michelle Dyrendahl, Matthew Riddle and Anne Nelson-Fisher vote on a resolution Tuesday, Feb. 25, during the Crow Wing County DFL caucus at Riverside Elementary School. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

It wasn’t voters waiting in lines out the door as it has been in years past, but the Crow Wing County DFL caucus Tuesday, Feb. 25, at Riverside Elementary School gathered a substantial throng from around the Brainerd lakes area with a presidential primary looming March 3.

Caucusgoers assembled for a free wheeling, low-key affair that invoked congressmen named Blatnik, Oberstar and Nolan and a distinctly pro-working class, anti-corporatist message reflected in the stump speeches of organizers and candidates alike. In turn, a healthy turnout of 250-300 caucusgoers emphasized the promotion of unions, tackling affordable health care and wage increases for the bottom earners in local communities. Roughly 20 caucusgoers were participating for the first time.

Economic issues took center stage, but precinct representatives said much of the discussions focused on less prominent, if more divided issues in the party such as legalizing recreational marijuana or ecological practices with wolf management.

“We had several resolutions based on environmental issues,” said Patrick Weisman of Timothy Township. “I think some people are very adamant about certain issues. I had two people (in my precinct) who were very adamant about ecology, while I had another on the other end who was just a very general party person, not specific about an issue.”


Wayne Altonen and his wife, Gerry, attended the caucus as two veteran DFLers, having been politically active in the party for decades — whether that’s in their current hometown of Ironton, or years stumping for liberal-leaning policies in south Minneapolis.

Wayne Altonen said the issues are the same in the Twin Cities metro as they are in the Brainerd lakes area, namely that the current political system heavily favors wealthy interests over those of poorer working class people.

“We’ve been fighting for health care, we’ve been fighting for education for our kids, we’ve been fighting for raising the minimum wage — we’ve been doing that for years,” Wayne Altonen said. “Working class people in this area are suffering because they’re all working minimum wage jobs or less, both parents have to work, and there’s so few unions anymore.”

However, with the March 3 primary looming, the caucus focused mainly on organizing grassroots DFL support and convening an issues-based discussion, with little attention directed toward 8th Congressional District candidates and even less for national or statewide offices.

For Crow Wing County DFL Chair Tiffany Stenglein, an emphasis on policy over the politics of campaigns for office made Tuesday’s caucus a valuable event in its own right. Citing complaints in 2016, Stenglein said DFLers were interested in spending more time tackling policy over candidates, which the 2020 caucus sought to create more time for.

“When you have that presidential preference ballot, it just like eats the entire event,” she said.

“I think we're going to have more people who are interested in the mechanics of the party, in how they change the platform and what we can do to make it better.”


Darrell Pedersen (left) Cala and Seth Wymore vote on a a resolution Tuesday, Feb. 25, at the Crow Wing County DFL caucus at Riverside Elementary School. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Vote Blue No Matter Who

There was some chatter over the presidential primary race among Democrats, with local residents haggling over the perceived risks and benefits of candidates as different as Bernie Sanders, Mike Bloomberg, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, and others. While DFLers debated ways to implement platform issues like reducing college tuition costs and health care premiums, they all agreed on one thing — defeating President Donald Trump in November, no matter who the Democratic nominee facing him is.

“I think anybody that we have as a Democratic presidential candidate is going to be better than what we have in the office right now. Right?” Steve Wymore of Nisswa said. “So we're hoping to get rid of him on Nov. 3. No matter who gets in, it's going to be totally better than what we've got in the office right now.”

“There’s no alternative,” said Chris Hanson, a resident of Nisswa, emphatically. “No. You see what’s happening daily with Trump.”

Candidate for the 10A State House of Representatives seat, Dale Menk participates in the Crow Wing County DFL caucus Tuesday, Feb. 26, at Riverside Elementary School. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

To caucus, or not to caucus

With a nationwide push to do away with caucuses in favor of straight-line one person/one vote primaries and complications that often arise with caucuses — exacerbated by the beleaguered Iowa Caucus earlier this month — Crow Wing County DFL heads were asked if caucuses would be a viable format going forward.

Stenglein said that caucuses can be difficult and convoluted — especially if a presidential ballot highlights the event — but that caucuses still have a purpose that differentiates them from primaries. While primaries are more simple and straightforward, she said, caucuses offer residents the opportunity to meet, discuss, and provide input for issues in their lives.


“I think they’re still important for grassroots organization,” Stenglein said. “I will say this, what we have been doing in the past where we do a presidential preference poll at a caucus — it’s the worst of all worlds.”

Stenglein noted the time related to the preference poll took away time for discussion.

Still, for what it’s worth, Crow Wing County DFL heads told the Dispatch, Tuesday’s event left organizers feeling they had achieved what they set out to do.

“I think it went smoothly. There was a decent turnout,” Crow Wing County Vice-Chair Tom Besnett said. “It was encouraging.”

GABRIEL LAGARDE may be reached at or 218-855-5859. Follow at .

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