here for PDF format
Summary of Meeting with Don
Civic Caucus, 8301
Creekside Circle, Bloomington, MN 55437
Thursday, January 24, 2008
Guest Speaker: Don Fraser, former mayor of
Minneapolis, former member of Congress, former member of the Minnesota
Present: Verne C. Johnson, chair; Bill
Frenzel (by phone), Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland, Jim Olson (by phone), and
Wayne Popham (by phone)
A. Context of the meeting—Speakers
before the Civic Caucus have discussed the pros and cons of precinct
caucuses, biennial, grass-roots meetings that political parties hold at
the precinct level, the first step in the process of selecting delegates
to conventions and endorsing candidates for office. Don Fraser was invited
today to discuss his thoughts about precinct caucuses.
B. Welcome and introduction--Verne and
Paul welcomed Fraser, a native of Minneapolis, graduate of the University
of Minnesota and its School of Law, who served in the State Senate from
1954 to 1962, in Congress from 1963-1979, and as mayor Minneapolis from
1980 to 1993.
C. Comments and discussion--During
Fraser's comments and in discussion with the Civic Caucus, the following
points were raised:
1. Precinct caucuses make it possible for
candidates with limited financial resources to get noticed--Fraser
likes precinct caucuses because they provide an opportunity for people
without a lot of money to run for office. Someone can gain support by
making contact with likely attendees in advance of the precinct caucuses.
The precinct caucuses then can provide a springboard for any candidate,
with or without initial financial backing, to become a legitimate
contender. Without precinct caucuses and with only the primary election,
candidates will need to raise a great deal of money up front simply to get
recognized. Fraser also likes the fact that precinct caucuses offer some
way for a pre-examination of candidates and issues. Just throwing
candidates and issues into the public sphere doesn't offer as much in
testing their legitimacy as does the precinct caucus, he said.
2. Concern over how precinct caucuses are
conducted--Fraser doesn't like that many sub-caucuses are held
within the framework of a DFL precinct caucus. People divide into
sub-caucuses based on support for issues or candidates and are able to
pick their own delegates within each sub-caucus, he said. That
process denies any opportunity for all the precinct caucus members to
speak, listen (and maybe learn) from each other. When they separate into
groups they are talking to themselves. He noted that Minnesota borrowed
from the sub-caucus concept that exists in Iowa, but used there only for
selecting a nominee for President. In the Iowa caucuses, supporters must
make a minimum showing of support for a candidate for their votes to be
counted, he noted.
In a DFL precinct caucus in Minnesota, everyone can vote for a
presidential candidate at the beginning, but then, to Fraser's
dissatisfaction, many of them divide into sub-caucuses for the election of
3. Ways to improve precinct caucuses--Fraser
was asked how precinct caucuses could be improved. Members of the Civic
Caucus questioned whether precinct caucuses still are appropriate today,
when people have so many conflicts with other responsibilities and where
it is difficult to attend meetings. It was also noted that many persons
attending precinct caucuses represent special interests, and, therefore,
average voters--who don't have strong views on any one issue or
candidate--don't feel welcome. The result, it was noted, is poor
attendance at many precinct caucuses.
Fraser replied that procedures might be simplified in precinct caucuses.
Leaders might do a better job of getting information out to potential
attendees in advance, to make the meeting more attractive to a broad group
of voters and not be dominated by a few people. It is good, he said, to
get all kinds of resolutions offered. In response to a question Fraser
said that today union members make up about roughly 15 percent of the
labor force in the United States. Years ago unions represented about 35
percent of the workforce. So they are not as dominant as in past years.
He agreed that many people don't show up, but they just don't care that
much, he said.
4. Reaching people who don't attend meetings--A
Civic Caucus member noted that the Civic Caucus itself is using a system
of education and involvement that doesn't require people to attend
meetings. A core group conducts interviews but the larger group is
involved electronically and is able to learn, make suggestions, and be
part of final recommendations without having to come to a meeting. Fraser
replied that there might be ways whereby precinct caucuses could adapt
themselves to the internet. He sees real potential for using the internet
to provide a much broader group with exposure to the issues than is
possible in a precinct caucus.
5. Party pressure not to file against endorsed
candidates--A Civic Caucus member noted that political parties
try to discourage other candidates from running against endorsed
candidates in primary elections, even though endorsed candidates emerge
from the precinct caucus process, with its somewhat questionable
representation of broader segments of the population. Fraser said that
endorsed candidates, at least in the DFL, are usually pretty
representative of the party as a whole.
6. Are precinct caucuses more of a problem for
Democrats?--Fraser said it appears that Republicans are more
saddled with domination by special interest groups in their precinct
caucuses than are Democrats. Perhaps the solution is for moderate
Republicans to start organizing.
7. Should the candidates select the party, rather
than the party select the candidates?--Fraser was asked about a
possible change in which the political parties would adopt their
platforms, after which candidates would file for office, pledging fidelity
to the platform of the party they choose. Then voters in that party's
primary would select the candidate who seems best able to implement the
Fraser said that candidates need more flexibility in taking positions and
shouldn't be locked into all of the positions taken by their political
8. Question of multiple endorsements by political
parties--Fraser isn't excited about the idea of a party
convention endorsing more than one candidate, based on some threshold of
delegate support. Party campaign funds are so limited, he said. They need
to be focused on one endorsee.
9. Change date of primary election--Fraser
supports moving the date of the primary forward. A September primary
leaves so little time for the campaign among nominated candidates.
10. Opposition to a presidential primary in
Minnesota--Fraser doesn't like presidential primaries. He
wouldn't want Minnesota to have one. He is disturbed that the outcome of
presidential primaries in one state has such a large effect on the
outcomes in subsequent states' primaries--just because of the headlines.
Just let the parties in each state elect their own delegates to the
national party conventions to make the endorsement decision, he said. He
thought that having a few primaries in the United States wasn't a problem.
11. Ranking candidates in order of preference at
precinct caucuses--In response to a question, Fraser said he
doesn't know if DFL party rules will allow individual precinct caucuses to
invite attendees to rank candidates in order of preference, or if
attendees will only be allowed to select their first choice. That was an
option once, but he wasn't sure what the rules provided now. He said he
personally likes the idea of ranking candidates along the lines of Instant
Runoff Voting (IRV).
12. Change system for selecting judges--Fraser
favors the recommendations of the Quie commission that judges be appointed
initially but then stand for a "yes-no" retention election at the
conclusion of their terms. He said that rulings by the U. S. Supreme Court
no longer allow any restraint on campaigning by judges, which threatens a
13. Change the system for redistricting--Fraser
likes the idea put forth by the Mondale-Carlson committee at the Humphrey
Institute to set up a commission of retired judges that would draw
boundaries of congressional and legislative districts, while preserving a
potential role for the Legislature in the event of impasse.
Asked about whether creating competitive districts should be a criterion
for drawing district boundaries, Fraser said he hasn't favored the
"sweetheart" arrangements that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have
made--to protect the advantage each side has in certain districts.
However, he thinks it would be difficult to write effective language into
a bill to require competitiveness.
14. Influence of money on elections is
"troubling"--Fraser said he wishes there were a way to reduce
the impact of moneyed interests in campaigns, perhaps via more public
financing. Some Civic Caucus members noted that legislative caucuses (the
organizations of the majority and minority in the State House and State
Senate) are heavily involved in financing campaigns now and are generously
funded by contributions from organizations with special interests in the
outcome of legislation.
15. Too much influence from ideological
positions--Looking at the overall political environment, Fraser
said he is troubled by the extent to which people seem to take positions
on some issues as if the positions were ideological or matters of faith,
rather than being the results of rational discussion. He cited global
warming as an example.
16. Loss of collegiality--The
Tuesday-Thursday congressional schedule, with members of Congress no
longer residing in Washington, D. C., makes it very difficult for
lawmakers of different political views to get to know one another. Fraser
said that when he served in Congress he had very close relationships with
Republicans as well as Democrats.
17. Reducing polarization and paralysis--Fraser
agreed that leadership must be restored so that the state can attack
problems effectively. A modification by Republicans on their positions on
tax matters would help produce consensus, he said.
18. Urgent need for action on transportation--Fraser
said he agrees with a Civic Caucus member's assessment that the
transportation issue in Minnesota suffers because credible leadership by
one state (planning) entity, containing recommendations for both highways
and transit, and covering city, county, and state highways, has not been
forthcoming. The state seems committed to perpetuating a highway-transit
division through existing and proposed structural and financing methods
and, thereby, making it almost impossible to set priorities among all
19. Thanks--On behalf of the Civic
Caucus, Verne thanked Fraser for being with us today.
The Civic Caucus
is a non-partisan,
tax-exempt educational organization. Core participants
include persons of varying political persuasions, reflecting
years of leadership in politics and business.
A working group meets face-to-face to
provide leadership. They are Verne C. Johnson, chair; Lee
Canning, Charles Clay, Bill Frenzel,
Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland,
John Mooty, Jim Olson, Wayne Popham and John Rollwagen.
Click Here to
see a biographical statement of each.