A dozen Southwest delegates headed for national conventions

At 21, Alex Cutler is already a veteran of multiple political campaigns. But the closest he’s ever gotten to a national convention was watching one on TV.

“I feel like I have the vaguest memories of 2000, before I was engaged [in politics],” Cutler said. “I think I remember Bill Clinton talking at the 2000 convention and the crowd going wild.”

Cutler will have an opportunity to be a part of that crowd as one of a dozen Southwest residents attending national conventions this summer.

While it has perennially cast more left-leaning votes than any other region in the state, Southwest will send 10 residents to the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Denver in late August, and two to the Republican National Convention (RNC) in St. Paul in September.

For a number of the Southwest delegates, 2008 will mark the first time they attended a national convention. But not for Josie Johnson.

Johnson, 77, has a pretty good idea of what to expect.

“By the time you are there, you have an understanding of the process, such as issues presented through the platform process,” Johnson said. “You’ll also attend breakfasts, lunches and special gathering sessions to talk about the issues before the convention.”

It’s been 24 years since Johnson supported Carter-Mondale at the 1984 DNC in San Francisco. While she hasn’t attended a national convention since then, she’s been involved in Southwest, where a number of new delegates and party members on both sides have come to the forefront.

Despite being the second youngest DFL delegate in the state, Cutler has been heavily involved in his party, campaigning locally for Mayor R.T. Rybak and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, and nationally for Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich and North Carolina Sen. John Edwards. In January 2008, he took a month off from studying political science at St. Olaf in Northfield to trek across country  to volunteer for Barack Obama’s youth campaigns in New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Cutler became a Minnesota delegate, he said, because he saw the upcoming election as historic and 2008 as a watershed year.

“For me, this year in particular, it was Senator Obama and that I really want to be there for a transformative moment in this country when we nominate the first African-American candidate,” he said.

Republican delegate Juliette Jordal, 31, said she is honored and elated at the opportunity to represent her party for the first time. But what will happen once she is at the RNC?

“I wish I knew,” Jordal said with a laugh. “My experience with how business is conducted on the floor is constricted to the state and senate district conventions. I will be looking and listening and trying to get as actively involved as possible,” she said.

Johnson said that is the best a delegate can do.

“Remain alert, and involved; stay on the floor and really be there,” Johnson said. “Expect to work hard number one, and know the issues so we’re informed voters.”

Other Southwest delegates include a number of city officials. Mayor R.T. Rybak — who encouraged Obama to run after hearing him speak at the 2004 Boston DNC — and City Council Members Robert Lilligren (6th Ward) and Ralph Remington (10th Ward) will make the mile-high trip Aug. 25–28.

Chaos outside, business inside

While the actual Democratic nomination process may produce some fireworks, the Republican nomination is arguably a foregone conclusion.

Linden Hills Republican delegate Kris Broberg doesn’t exactly know what to expect when he takes to the floor of the Xcel Energy Center Sept. 1 during the RNC. But he does have a plan.

“I’m going to try to work against John McCain, the [presumptive] Republican candidate,” said Broberg, a supporter of Texas Republican Ron Paul. “It’s an extremely tall task, and probably a fruitless one.”

While his candidate’s chance at a presidential nomination are quite long, Broberg, 37, said his goal was to extend proceedings at least to a second vote. Broberg has already found success when he and fellow dark horse delegate Jordal managed to garner some 60 percent of the vote — after rousing stump speeches — at the Congressional District 5 Republican convention April 5 in Robbinsdale.

An estimated 45,000 delegates, protesters and police, will be on hand in and around the Xcel Energy Center and Hilton Garden Inn, headquarters for GOP delegates, in St. Paul.  

“From what I’ve heard it’s going to be a lot of chaos [outside], and a lot of parties and stuff,” Broberg said.

Jordal said she probably won’t fully realize the importance of the RNC experience until she’s on the delegation floor.

“I suspect it will be wonderfully engaging and a real sight to behold,” said Jordal. “Particularly for me, the publicity and enthusiasm will be perhaps the most interesting thing to see.”