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No 'fire and brimstone' at Beltrami County DFL convention

Steve Nelson was elected chairman of the Beltrami County DFL Party during its off-year convention Monday night at the Bemidji Eagles Club. At left is Lisa Boulay, who was re-elected as the party's secretary. Thirty delegates elected party officers, but unlike most Democratic conventions, no speeches were made. Pioneer Photo/Brad Swenson

Coming off a successful 2008 election cycle, Beltrami County Democrats didn't feel the need to crow or lambaste at their off-year convention Monday night.

They elected new officers and went home, a convention that lasted 51 minutes.

"I'm not much for fire and brimstone, I'm more of a worker," newly elected Beltrami DFL Chairman Steve Nelson said in an interview.

He won the post by acclamation, after then-Chairman Roy Nelson said he would not seek a second, two-year term. In fact, all five officer positions and eight board positions that were open were elected by acclamation, with no contests and no speeches.

Roy Nelson, in stepping down, said he will always remember the 2008 precinct caucuses -- Feb, 5 -- when 1,106 Democrats turned out.

After Steve Nelson was elected, Mike Simpkins rose to say that "Steve was always there (last fall), door knocking or putting up signs. He led by example. He always showed up."

Nelson, in the interview, said his biggest chore will be firing up the party for the 2010 elections, but that his role is to set the stage for the campaigns, not to insert himself into them.

"I want to maintain our lead," he said. "The last election was almost a clean, clear sweep. It will be, once the Senate race is settled. We've got to get the governor's office, and there's more people working on it than just me."

With the Legislature in session, no lawmakers were able to come to the convention before 30 delegates at the Bemidji Eagles Club. Last fall saw John Persell of Bemidji win a first term to House 4A and the re-election of Brita Sailer of Park Rapids to House 2B.

The 2010 election will see the re-election bids of two more Democrats -- Mary Olson of Bemidji in Senate 4 and Rod Skoe of Clearbrook in Senate 2.

"We have to keep our people in office," Nelson said. Noting the high precinct caucus attendance last year, "I hope we can get those people back again. I hope they stay fired up. They got fired up for the presidential race, and we want them back."

Nelson served as Beltrami DFL chairman before, but when his job at the Bemidji Ainsworth plant was cut, he took a job at a wood products plant in Wisconsin. He came back to Bemidji, however, and now works at the Potlatch Corp. sawmill.

He taps health care as the biggest local issue, followed by keeping jobs.

"The economy, it's not good out there," Nelson said. "A lot of people are really hurting for jobs." Potlatch has also had layoffs, he added. "I'm still there myself, but we've got people on layoffs. For a few weeks, we were only working 30-hour weeks.

"It's shaky conditions right now," he said.

The Minnesota DFL Party practices gender balance, so party positions must be given equally to men and women. As Nelson was elected chairman, Sally Fineday won election as associate chairwoman, succeeding Lisa Scott.

Gary Fuller was elected affirmative action officer, while re-elected were Treasurer Alan Brew and Secretary Lisa Boulay.

Elected to two-year terms on the Beltrami DFL Board of Directors were Jackie Ryder, Sarah Einerson, Pam McCrory, Steve Newby and Mike Stillday. Elected to one-year terms to fill vacancies were Marion Reil, John Killian and Paul Kief.

Brew reported the local party had $254.66 cash on hand at the end of the year, but that it netted $562 with its annual Presidents Day fundraiser.

"We managed pretty well to spend all our money," Brew said, adding that it covered a lot of functions in 2008, including $3,000 for a band at a Persell rally that included Democrat Senate candidate Al Franken.