Left out in liberal-land

Conservatives say living in Southwest can be an isolating experience

The decades-old frustrations of Chicago Cubs fans and Minneapolis political conservatives mingle in the corner of an Uptown bar. Next to a poster of the Cubs' famed double-play combo, Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance, about 20 conservatives gathered at Old Chicago, 2841 Hennepin Ave. S., to joke about what it's like to be a righty in a lefty town, to hoist a cold glass or two of beer and to talk politics.

"I know one other conservative in Uptown," said a woman sitting at one of the small, round wooden tables. "That's my husband."

Everyone laughed.

"Does anyone else here feel that Job is their favorite book in the Bible?" asked yet another to more laughter, referring to a recent preference of Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean.

A man from New Hope struck a more serious tone. "I think there's definitely a cultural war in this country that might be a greater danger than terrorism."

"It feels like you're on an island sometimes," said another.

People smiled and nodded in agreement. They know what that feels like. The last Republican mayor of Minneapolis was Richard Erdall, who served for exactly one day in 1973 after Mayor Charles Stenvig resigned to become acting police chief. The last elected Republican mayor was P. Kenneth Peterson in 1957. Still, you have to go all the way back to Tinker, Evers and Chance in 1908 to find the last world championship for the Cubs.

Islands in the liberal stream

Tracy Eberly is a leader of this loosely organized group put together by townhall.com, a conservative Web site. Ironically, these conservative "meetups" are patterned after those made popular by Democrat Dean. Just over 200 people are signed up to receive information about conservative meetups in Minneapolis, while 3,091 are signed up at the meetup.com Web site for Dean.

Eberly, a medical device consultant, lives in Kingfield with his wife, Julie. "In my neighborhood, it's obvious we're a minority because there's a lot of those 'Happy to pay for a better Minnesota' signs," he said. "And then a lot of Dean signs are out. I walk the dog around the neighborhood. You see a whole lot of antiwar signs and a whole lot of Wellstone signs are still up."

He said he doesn't really mind those signs but it did bother him that his Norm Coleman sign was torn down twice and spraypainted once in 2002.

"I kind of expected it, to be perfectly honest. When they spraypainted it, it kind of made me angry because I liked the sign," he said with a laugh. "Part of it is, I knew it was going to happen, but part of it was, 'Well, these are the people who support diversity but they really don't want that kind of diversity in the neighborhood.'"

Lyndale resident Barbara Bergstrom is a partner in Koscielski's Guns and Ammo, 2926 Chicago Ave. She attended the meeting with her husband, Peter. She said that being a conservative in Minneapolis puts distance between her and others.

"In many ways, it's very isolating," she said. "At least in my neighborhood, almost everyone is very liberal. You have the feeling that you're being put down in one way or another, as if you're not Christian enough or moral enough or intelligent enough to see the light. I'm not one who's particularly argumentative or combative, so rather than get into pointless discussions -- and they're always pointless because people are dealing more from emotion than reason -- I just go my way and try not to pay attention.

"I don't associate with many people, very frankly," she added, "And if I do, I just keep my mouth shut when they talk about politics and just grind my teeth."

Jeff Perry is a jazz musician by night and an advertising consultant by day. The Uptown resident said he feels somewhat isolated in his chic neighborhood but more so at his day gig.

"At work, I have to be very cautious," Perry said. "Politics can divide people, obviously."

Backing Bush

Even Perry might be divided from his fellow conservatives when it comes to whether to vote for President Bush. "I don't see much difference between him and Lyndon Johnson," Perry said. "They're using the military for good, and for our protection, which I would support, but big social programs, big government spending -- that's not a Republican, that's not a conservative. He's outspending Democrats; it's just crazy. I've never heard the words 'limited government' from his mouth, ever. A real conservative does not have a choice right now in a candidate."

Echoing Perry's concerns, Eberly said, "When the Republicans get in power, they act like Democrats -- and we didn't put you in Congress to spend like Democrats. We put you in there to spend like what we thought would be Republicans. I'm not at all happy that the budget is expanded."

Still, Eberly said that he'll definitely vote for Bush and that his disagreement with the president over spending "is not a make-or-break kind of thing."

Bergstrom will also vote for Bush, come November, but Perry said he will not.

Making Minneapolis better

Although Eberly, Bergstrom and Perry agree that Minneapolis is a liberal town, they think that it could be improved with a push in the right direction. When asked to propose an idea that could make Minneapolis better, Eberly said, "One of the things I would do is to more actively get people to understand where all the money is going, so that people can evaluate for themselves 'Is this something I feel that we should be spending money on?'

"One of the things that bothered us last year was that Minneapolis cut police officers, which we didn't want, and kept the park service fully funded. If your dog poops in the park, that's a nuisance; if somebody rips you off, that's a problem," he said.

"The one other program I think Minneapolis should quit spending money on is affordable housing. Statistically speaking, we have the highest homeownership of any state in the nation. We're number one, but do we need to be number one with a plus? I don't know that Minneapolis needs to invest in affordable housing right now, but they are," Eberly said.

Bergstrom says taxes are out of control in the city.

"We see people driven out by increases in taxes," she said. "We see small businesses driven out by taxes. I'd like to see people more able to oversee or comment on or watch what goes on in City Council meetings because I don't think there's transparency there. There's too much concealed in City Hall…They give to certain businesses and take from other businesses."

Perry's plan to improve Minneapolis is simple. He'd rework education by having an "elective course in public schools that teaches Judeo-Christian history and values. So much of our country comes from that," he said.

Why here?

Some people might wonder why conservatives choose to make this urban bastion of liberalism a home.

Perry says he's thinking of moving to somewhat-more-Republican St. Paul, but that he likes Minneapolis, especially his stylish Uptown neighborhood. "Of course, I'm a musician, so I have an affinity for the whole scene," he said.

For Bergstrom, it's a matter of practicality. "It's just where we are," she said with a laugh. "Personally, if I had the wherewithal, I would move outside, but this is where my husband works, this is where I work.

"If I had my choice, I would live outstate. I would live out in the country but one can't make a living out there," she said.

Living in the country might be Eberly's worst nightmare. "We're pretty urban," he said of he and his wife. "I think I could probably do OK in different areas; maybe the first-ring suburbs. There's a whole lot of reasons other than politics and taxes to live in Minneapolis. The social scene, the nightlife and the restaurants are probably the biggest draws for us. We would never, ever, ever move to Woodbury."

To join the Minneapolis conservatives' meetup group, go to www.meetup.com, put a Minneapolis zip code in the "Find your city" box, and you'll see the townhall.com group on the resulting list.