Southwest lawmakers wage battle against marriage amendment

Andrew Virden and Scott Dibble are making their rounds in The Buckingham, a beautiful old apartment building in Loring Park. For the most part, on this early October day, they’re getting warm responses from the left-leaning residents who are fond of Dibble, the state senator from Southwest, and Virden’s boss, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison. 

Dibble introduces himself to a man in the building, and, instead of singing his own praises, he tells the man how important it is to defeat the two constitutional amendments on the ballot. 

“There is this anti-marriage amendment, which we hope you vote against, because it’s going to limit peoples’ ability to marry each other,” Dibble says. 

“Oh, for gays to marry each other?” asks the man at the door. “I’m for that.”

“You’re going to vote no?” Dibble asks.

“I am,” the man says. 

Ellison’s campaign believes that voters like this man could prove to be the difference in what is shaping up to be a close vote on the marriage amendment. He and Southwest legislators Dibble, Jeff Hayden, Frank Hornstein, Susan Allen and Karen Clark have spent much of this election season inside apartment buildings, making sure people know how and where to vote. 

Ellison’s campaign has a goal of getting 20,000 more voters in 2012 than in 2008, when Ellison’s district turned out 322,747 voters. The campaign believes that the prime place to do that is in apartment buildings, where there’s a more transient population that, because the residents move around so much, don’t always know where to vote. They’re also making sure residents know that voting “no” supports gay marriage. 

That’s where Virden comes in. He’s the apartment man, an organizer who Ellison has committed to door knocking in apartment buildings because, as Virden points out, only 53 percent of apartment residents are registered to vote. 

“In 2008, (Al) Franken won by 312 votes. Heck I’ve got 312 people in an individual building,” Virden says, looking over a list of potential voters. “One of the buildings could be the difference. Everybody counts and everybody matters.”

Ellison said his campaign has called or door-knocked 370,000 people this year, out of about 530,000 adults in his district. This, despite the fact that in Ellison’s last three elections, none of his opponents have ever gotten 25 percent of the vote. 

“We believe the 5th Congressional District is the key to defeating both the anti-marriage amendment and the anti-voting amendment,” Ellison said. “In other parts of the state, they don’t have as high a concentration of Democrats as we do, so it’s our responsibility to turn the vote out.”

Southwest residents have a long list of candidates to vote for on Nov. 6, but those candidates are largely safe in their seats. They’ve become focused on the marriage amendment, as evidence by the sea of orange “Vote No” signs in Southwest that outnumber all other campaign signs combined.  

Polling shows that President Barack Obama and Sen. Amy Klobuchar should win Minnesota in November. Ditto for state senators Dibble (District 61) and Hayden (District 62) and representatives Frank Hornstein (61A), Karen Clark (62A) and Susan Allen (62B). 

Those candidates are very important to Virden, because only candidates for election are guaranteed access into apartment buildings to campaign. 

In other words, Virden needs Dibble or Hornstein to get into an Uptown apartment building, or Clark or Hayden to get into a building in the Whittier neighborhood. He’s also using local candidates in the suburbs to visit those apartment buildings. 

Virden’s been at it since April, and by now he knows many of the city’s apartment building managers and has a sixth sense about how to navigate floor plans. 

If Virden is successful, there’s no telling how many people he could get to vote against the amendments in November. Over 80 percent of Dibble’s district went to Obama in 2008. Hayden’s district went 88 percent for Obama. 

The key may be in Hayden’s district, where in 2008 about 10,000 fewer people voted than in Dibble’s district. 

Susan Allen is aware of this low voter turnout. She’s running for re-election in House District 62B, which includes neighborhoods on both sides of I-35W between Lake Street and 54th Street. 

Allen, like the rest of the Minneapolis DFL delegation, considers her seat a safe one, so she said she is spending about 70 percent of her time campaigning against the marriage and voter ID amendments and only 30 percent on her own campaign. 

She’s focused on knocking on every door in her district in hopes of increasing voter turnout in South Minneapolis. He district has one of the lowest turnouts in the state. 

“We have the most room to increase voter turnout, so we thought if we could even increase it by 5 percent, that could determine the ballot initiatives,” Allen said. 

Allen, Clark and Hayden have combined their resources to make one piece of campaign literature that includes their own information, plus encourages residents to vote against the voter ID and marriage amendments. Dibble and Hornstein have done the same. 

“We’ve incorporated it into our campaigns. All three of us are running virtually with not a lot of opposition,” Hayden said. “We’re really stressing voting no for both amendments.”

To get an idea of how wide candidates are casting the net, Hornstein and Dibble have spoke at a forum for Russian residents at Booth Manor in Loring Park and are planning to get a Russian interpreter to help them door-knock in Russian-speaking apartment buildings. 

“For many of these renters or condo owners, this is the first time they’ve seen a candidate face-to-face,” Hornstein said. 

Not just a DFL issue

Even the Republicans in Southwest Minneapolis oppose the marriage amendment. Four Republicans are running for Legislature in the area, and all four, to varying degrees, oppose the amendment. 

Republican Kurtis Hanna, who is challenging Clark in District 62A, has marched in the past two Twin Cities Pride parades and worked the Log Cabin Republicans booth at the event. 

“Minneapolis Republicans are Libertarians, although some neo-con[servative] Republicans pop their heads up every once in a while,” Hanna said. 

When asked about his stance on the amendment, Nate Atkins, who is running against Paul Thissen in District 61B, didn’t just say he opposed it, he also snapped off an email with five reasons why Republicans should vote against the amendment. 

“Will defining marriage as being between one man and one woman really preserve the sanctity of the institution?” Atkins wrote in his email. “News flash, people, the institution of marriage has been under assault for a very long time, and it hasn’t been from homosexuals. It was from heterosexuals such as myself. I am, regrettably, divorced but I would never for a second tell someone else what they can and can’t do when it comes to who they marry.”

For Dibble, the issue of gay marriage came nearly full circle. It was in The Buckingham — the place where he now door-knocks — that he watched footage of himself on KARE 11 in 1989, marching in the gay pride parade. For some of his friends and family, it was how they found out he was gay. 

Dibble expects the amendment to fail, but even if it succeeds, he said it’s just a matter of time. 

“There will be progress, no matter what happens, towards full marriage for everyone,” he said. “It’s just a question of whether it will come sooner or later. Of that, I am absolutely rock-solid certain.”