At the Minneapolis Hilton ballroom last Friday night, more than a thousand of the faithful gathered to pay tribute to the year’s progressive heroes. It was the TakeAction Minnesota Annual Awards Dinner (and dancing!) 2013.
Branded the Progressive Prom™, the event drew A-list headliners Governor Mark Dayton, U.S. Senator Al Franken, and Minneapolis Mayor-Elect Betsy Hodges. Hodges had just been declared the winner of last week’s election and both Dayton and Franken face 2014 re-election battles in what’s turning out to be an increasingly tough environment for incumbent Democrats.
A spokesperson for TakeAction confirmed that the awards dinner was open press. However, she was not aware that any members of the press attended. Indeed, I have been unable to locate any media report on the event. Some of the most prominent politicians and political players were assembled to talk policy and strategy and the state’s media were nowhere to be found.
For its part, TakeAction says there was no recording made of the four-hour event. Telephone requests to obtain copies of the remarks made at the event by Gov. Dayton and Sen. Franken were turned down by their respective offices.
In any case, the media missed some big stories. According to accounts in social media, Gov. Dayton doubled down on his support of single-payer healthcare, just days before he called for changes to allow Americans to keep their private health insurance policies. A politician telling one audience one thing and a different audience another—during an election campaign—should be worth at least a column-inch or two.
Al Franken was the recipient of an award from TakeAction on Friday night. Apparently, Sen. Franken has little interest in pivoting to the political center for his 2014 re-election effort, even as he faces fallout from the disastrous Obamacare rollout.
No, the really big news was the Mayor-Elect’s appearance just hours after the vote counting ended in the mayor’s race. Her unlikely triumph signals the ascendency of TakeAction as a political force. In many ways, the tax-exempt charity now functions more like a political party than an advocacy group.
Back in June of this year, Minneapolis’ Democrats failed to endorse a candidate for mayor. Mark Andrew, the eventual runner-up to Hodges in the November election, led on every ballot of the endorsement contest, but did not get to 60 percent, the threshold for party endorsement. Hodges finished second at the convention.
State Democrat party chair Ken Martin was not happy with the lack of a result at the city convention. The Minneapolis Star Tribune quotes Martin at the time as saying,
The state DFL chair made clear early Saturday that he wanted an endorsement. “It really weakens our party if we don’t have an endorsement in this mayoral race,” DFL chair Ken Martin said. “So I’m very hopeful that by the end of the day we’ll have an endorsed candidate for mayor.”
Martin was exactly correct. With Ranked-Choice Voting eliminating the party primary, 35 candidates went to the general election ballot without the benefit of a party endorsement. Hodges had the next best thing: the endorsement of TakeAction. Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. Where the traditional political party was not able to exercise its customary influence over a high-profile election, another institution stepped up to fill that role.
Fresh off of its triumph in defeating the 2012 voter ID amendment ballot initiative—and involved, to a lesser extent, in defeating the marriage amendment—TakeAction and its member groups brought their voter lists, volunteers, phone banks, technology, and money to bear in helping Hodges and a handful of city council candidates triumph over better-connected, better-financed Democrat party insiders.
As mayor, Hodges will owe no allegiance to the Democrat party. Instead, she is beholden to TakeAction and its unique brand of Alinskyite progressive politics. After witnessing the results of five years of having a community organizer as President of the United States, I’m not looking forward to the next four years in Minneapolis.
With TakeAction, the Minnesota Democrat party (styled Democrat-Farmer-Labor, DFL) will also have its hands full. The party has to win elections, statewide. The party must appeal beyond the urban core to attract suburbanites and voters in rural Greater Minnesota to win offices like Governor and U.S. Senator.
That task is made more difficult if the core of the party is as far to the left as TakeAction. In 2014, suburban, “pro-business” moderate Democrats will have to run on the radical leftist record of the state legislature and the city councils of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
So what’s next for TakeAction? Will it complete a progressive takeover of the Democrat party? If so, its far-left take on the issues will make winning statewide offices more difficult and will complicate the Democrats’ efforts to keep control of the state legislature in elections to come.
Or in another scenario, will TakeAction function more like a party-within-a-party, competing against more moderate, pro-business Democrats for power and influence?
As I’ve noted before, the state’s legacy media and local political scientists—obsessed with the Tea Party and the Republican Party’s every Facebook post—are missing the biggest political story of the year.
Cross-posted and comments welcome at Bill Glahn.