I’ve been going to GOP precinct cauci and district conventions in Saint Paul for nigh on 20 years now. The ritual is always the same. There are only small variations.
In good years for Republicans – say, 1994, 1998 or 2002 – the GOP “Basic Political Organizational Unit” (BPOU – the lowest level of GOP organization) and City party conventions will whip up some enthusiasm for candidates for the House, Senate and City Council; money will be raised; impassioned speeches will be given; “this could be the year!”. Delegates will be elected that will go to the Congressional District (MN4, in this case) convention, who will in turn endorse a candidate for US House.
And on the first Tuesday in November, the candidates will all lose by 20 points.
On the other hand, during bad years for Republicans – 1996, 2006 – the City, BPOU and CD conventions will start with somber speeches about how the inner-city districts have to try to at least make a showing, to draw away some spending from the safer GOP districts out in the ‘burbs; to fight the good, futile fight, in other words. And the candidates – usually long-time party functionaries – will be endorsed, to put a warm body in a place on the ballot. And they’ll campaign, either with great enthusiasm (Obi Sium, the CD4 US House candidate last year, or Alan Fine over in CD5), or they’ll put in a dilatory showing of the flag.
They’ll lose by 30 or 40 points.
And yet, as I’ve said over and over again, the inner city is positively clogged with people who should be conservatives:
- African-American parents, for whom the failure of the inner-city schools to help make their kids competitive is a finger in the eye, an insult added to the injury of 400 years of slavery and racism in this nation, and who should know that the DFL stands foursquare behind the foetid status quo.
- Asian residents, whose commitment to free enterprise did what two generations of government programs couldn’t; saved inner-city Saint Paul.
- Legal immigrants, who are – according to polls – increasingly opposed to coddling illegal immigration.
- Hispanic residents who see that the DFL piddles on their Catholic/Evangelical social conservatism.
- Anyone who can see that three generations of “city as DFL social laboratory” have made parts of Minneapolis among the poorest, most dangerous inner-city enclaves in America.
- Oh, yeah – and all of us Republicans. And you might never know it, but we’re one of the biggest minorities in Saint Paul; 28% of the city registers GOP – and if the party could ever field a serious candidate, a fair chunk of the DFLers who are growing tired of the Tax ‘n Spend claque that has City Hall under its boot might be convinceable, too.
This, indeed, has worked for Republicans; Brett Shundler spent years as mayor of Jersey City, New Jersey, running on a platform of security, fiscal discipline, low taxes and common sense – in a city that’s even more hamstrung with Democrat tradition than the Twin Cities (6% registered GOP), and with a state Republican party that’s worth even less than Minnesota’s for supporting conservatives anywhere, much less in the inner city.
So why not here?
Why, indeed, is “inner city Minnesota GOP” almost as big a synonym for frustration as “Vikings in the Super Bowl?”
Chalk it up to infrastructure.
No, not bridges and roads…well, actually, yes – the political equivalent of bridges and roads and fixing potholes.
Bear with me, here.
The DFL has spent three generations or more in complete, unquestioned power in inner Minneapolis and Saint Paul. Over those decades, the DFL has insinuated itself into every aspect of life; it runs the schools; it controls the city councils (shut up about the Greens, already – they are indistinguishable on the streeet); they control the planning, zoning and spending apparatuses; they control the public employees unions that run the schools, the administrations, the civil service, the public works departments, even the police and fire deparments and libraries. DFL is a de facto synonym for civic life and, in many ways, day to day non-political life as well. You can literally not not make contact with the DFL or a DFL-controlled organization in some part of your day to day life in the inner city.
You can literally count the elected Republicans in Saint Paul on one hand – School Board member Tom Conlon – and get four fingers’ change.
This complete control of all political and civic life in the city has several effects which stunt the city as well as the opposition:
- The city’s residents are disproportionately employed by DFL-linked unions; AFSCME, MAPE, Education Minnesota and the various Teamsters and AFL/CIO bodies are very disproportionately represented among residenets and voters – and those unions are all but subsidiaries of the DFL.
- Even non-political residents are in constant contact with the apparatus of DFL power and control. This is important both for showing people what “the norm” is, as well as giving the DFL an audience that doesn’t know better than to question the DFL’s claims as to what’ll happen to government “services” if they ever lose power.
- The DFL controls the entire revenue stream; the government that levies the taxes, the administration that collects them, the council that budgets the money, the district councils and schools and departments that do the spending, all are controlled by DFL sinecures.
Every aspect of life in Minneapolis and Saint Paul – family and personal as well as civic and political life – has contact with the DFL.
And so, every couple of years when the GOP throws “warm bodies” and “sacrificial lambs” at the entrenched DFL bureaucracies, it’s not unlike the British and French marching across No Man’s land into the teeth of machine guns entrenched in bomb-and-bullet-proof concrete pillboxes; it’s a slaughter, and everyone knows it will be even before they climb out of the trench or leave the BPOU/CD meeting.
So how is that going to change?