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Organizers say Republicans invited to forum

Despite the fact that nearly all Democratic and no Republican candidates for governor plan to attend tonight's forum in Bemidji, organizers say GOP candidates were invited.

"All the candidates -- both Democratic and Republican - were invited on Dec. 17 by phone," Greta Bergstrom, communications director for TakeAction Minnesota, one of the forum organizers, said Wednesday.

The forum, billed as non-partisan, is the first-ever, cross-tribal pre-precinct caucus governor candidate forum expressly on American Indian issues. It is 5:30-8:30 tonight at the American Indian Resource Center on the Bemidji State campus.

On Monday, John Carlson, local campaign coordinator for Republican candidate Rep. Marty Seifert, questioned the non-partisan status of the event with all 10 DFL candidates confirmed to attend and no Republicans.

He had exchanged e-mails with Audrey Thayer, director of the American Civil Liberties Union-Minnesota's Greater Minnesota Racial Justice Project, an event sponsor. Thayer expressed concern that no Republicans were on the venue, and noted that she thought a letter had been sent to the state Republican Party to have it contact the GOP candidates.

Carlson retorted that contact information is readily available and that to claim it isn't "is either lazy or ignorant and really didn't want broad representation ..."

Bergstrom disputes that, however, saying that organizers did secure campaign information from the state Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board and called all DFL and GOP gubernatorial candidates on Dec. 17.

"We heard back from Tom Emmer, who said he had a previous engagement but would let us know if his calendar freed up," Bergstrom said of the GOP state representative from Delano. "We never heard back from any of the other (Republican) candidates."

She added that since Tuesday, one DFL candidate, Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner, will now not attend tonight's forum.

Slated to attend are Minnesota House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Sen. Tom Bakk, former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton, former House Minority Leader Matt Entenza, former Sen. Steve Kelley, Sen. John Marty, Rep. Tom Rukavina, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and Rep. Paul Thissen.

Bergstrom called Carlson's comments "stinging criticism," and added that "the forum is and has always been non-partisan."

It is a non-partisan event even though no Republicans will attend, she said. "They were invited, and it is their choice not to attend."

Bergstrom, however, mused that perhaps a follow-up call or letter could have been sent.

There will be a Republican-candidate-only forum in Bemidji on Jan. 26, also at BSU.