WALKER -- Two incumbents and a second-time candidate were endorsed here Saturday morning by Senate District 4 Democrats.
Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji, and Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, were both overwhelming endorsed for second terms, despite being challenged on American Indian issues.
Meg Bye of rural Pequot Lakes was unopposed for endorsement for a second run against Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, who will be seeking his seventh term for House 4B.
Olson was challenged by Greg Paquin of Bemidji, a Red Lake Band member, who said both Olson and Persell aren't doing enough to ensure that American Indian tradesmen get jobs. Olson, however, won the endorsement with a 68-3 vote of Senate 4 delegates.
Nicole Beaulieu of Bemidji, a Leech Lake Band member, sought to wrest the House 4A endorsement from Persell, saying it's time for American Indians to become politically active and take legislative seats to represent native communities. Persell won the endorsement for a second term with a 42-4 vote of 4A delegates.
"I think we saw democracy in action, as we do at the Capitol when people come down with strong views, wanting to make sure their voices are heard," Olson said after the endorsements.
"That's something we encourage in the DFL, and we encourage in democracy," she said. "And I think we heard some concerns raised that are valid concerns, and I think that's always a good thing for the process."
Neither Paquin nor Beaulieu said if they would challenge the endorsements in the Aug. 10 DFL primary.
Bye was unopposed for endorsement, and was unanimously endorsed by 25 House 4B delegates at the convention held in the Walker-Akeley-Hackensack High School.
"This is going to be a very, very important election," said Olson, who will be seeking a two-year term because of pending reapportionment. "This is really going to make a difference and an opportunity for Minnesota to decide whether we affirm our traditional values, whether we affirm three separate branches of government acting as three separate branches of government, whether we affirm the importance that we place on having equal opportunity for all of our citizens, whether they're native American citizens, whether they're rural Minnesota citizens, or whomever they may be."
Olson also includes having equal access to a quality education across the state, not just in property-wealthy areas of the suburban metro area; equality in funding for health care so all Minnesotans have access to quality and affordable health care; and whether to deregulate everything and let consumers fend for themselves.
"All of these issues are going to be on the ballot in Minnesota this year," Olson said. "Which direction we go on those issues is going to depend on how involved we get in this process."
Persell, seeking his second term, said the rest of this session will be tough and one where not much is expected to get done with a Republican governor who won't raise taxes. The office is open on the November ballot, as Gov. Tim Pawlenty isn't seeking a third term.
"Things are very trying down there," Persell said of the session in St. Paul. "The anger ... is on the surface. If you read the papers, it probably came out of me a couple of times. I try very hard not to show my anger."
The Bemidji Democrat was referring to remarks he made at a town hall meeting that he had looked into how to impeach Pawlenty, and also for those who think the business climate is better in South Dakota, he'd pay them $10 toward a ticket to that state.
"But these are really tough times," he said. "God, I wish we had a veto-proof majority. I'm not going to say some of the things that are on the tip of my tongue about that, but I did talk to some of my colleagues the other day and said in all seriousness I was going to get a peach tree and plant it outside the governor's office.
"I welcome this endorsement, and I trust that you will find it in your hearts to send me back," he added. "I'm excited to go back again; I hope I'm fortunate to go back in 2011 and sit in the House of Representatives with a Democrat governor, a majority in each of the houses ... so we can start to rebuild Minnesota."
The rest of the session won't be pretty, Persell said. "Those who really need help out here are hurting, and we know that, but we can't come up with any new revenue with the governor, the way it is right now. We're just going to have to commit ourselves ... to rebuilding Minnesota, getting education back to the 15 to 20 pupils range (in the classroom) instead of 30-plus."
Beaulieu said she sees certain needs of American Indians that aren't being addressed by current politicians or tribal leaders. Coming from a "struggling family" of seven, she said she took a part-time job to help pay the bills.
"There are many needs that need to be met, and that is one reason I want to be your representative," she said. "I want to commend John Persell for his dedication ... I see some of the things he does for my people, although being a native American myself and growing up with these struggles and things that are not met in this community."
A main reason to campaign, Beaulieu said, is to break the influence of gangs in Cass Lake and Bemidji. "The gang culture in our communities is so strong, and is one of the many struggles we deal with on the reservation."
Beaulieu says she wants change for her people. "I think it's about time that a native American gets involved in this political process -- it's long overdue."
Olson and Persell have done wonderful things for the native people, Beaulieu said, "but they are not native. I don't know what it's like to be a non-native, but I'm sure it's much easier than being a native American."
Beaulieu said it was not her goal to just represent American Indians but to represent Democrats.
The political process is open to everybody, said Paquin, who sought the Senate 4 endorsement. But not much has changed for American Indian communities, he added.
Last year, he formed a native American labor union to try to increase job opportunities, but said he found a brick wall with the Bemidji Regional Event Center and U.S. Pipeline working the Enbridge pipeline as contractors wouldn't hire his referrals. In another case, there was a refusal to recognize Paquin's union.
"Our people are ... left out of it," he said, adding that there is no interest in enforcing affirmative action laws. "We have tribal leaders today, but I never see them get out there and say, 'Hey, Minnesota. Hey, Mr. Persell, Ms. Olson -- we want jobs for our people, and not just behind the fence. When a legislator gets a vote from an Indian behind the fence, he thinks it's a sovereign nation and it's the tribal government's responsibility to provide economic development.
"No," he continued. "When they take a vote from an Indian on a reservation, they owe us all to be treated equally and that's what this is about - equality."
He said that despite a billion-dollar American Indian casino industry in Minnesota, taxpayers still have to pay huge sums for welfare programs to American Indians. "Something's wrong," Paquin said.
One of Olson's seconders was Eugene "Ribs" Whitebird, a Leech Lake Tribal Council member, who laid out numerous bills that Olson carried for Indian people, and that she is a member of the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council.
Harold "Skip" Finn, a former state senator and a Leech Lake Band member, seconded Persell's nomination. Finn said Persell "has demonstrated an unwavered commitment to those less powerful, to those who have no other voice in the process -- the children, the elderly and the poor."
Working his career with American Indian tribes in environmental consulting, Persell has "also demonstrated an unwavering allegiance to the goal of one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all," Finn said.
Bye, unopposed for endorsement for 4B, said more people than ever have no access to health care. More and more of Minnesota's lakes and streams have been listed as impaired. And the state's budget continues to spiral.
"Anger and disappointment is widespread among us," said the former Duluth City Council member who retired to rural Pequot Lakes. 'It has brought out the worst in many of us., as we throw verbal fire bombs at one another."
It's time for Minnesotans to get back into the game and do better, she said. "We still care; you still care. We still care about the state of our state and our nation. We still care about the future of our children and their children."
Minnesotans still care to provide an education system with access to all and health dare system with affordable access o all, she said.
"Democrats do not believe that transferring more wealth to the already wealthy is the way toward a healthy economy," Bye said. "The experiences of the last two years has proven us right."