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Congressional delegation fires up Democrats

Minnesota gubernatorial candidate R.T. Rybak waves to the crowd during the Democrat convention on Saturday at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center. Duluth News Tribune Photo/Clint Austin

DULUTH -- Minnesota's Democratic congressional delegation fed red meat to state party convention delegates Saturday, saying just what any good Democrat wants to hear.

Especially popular at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center was the recently passed health care law.

"It should be a basic right of everyone in the country to have basic health care," an unusually impassioned U.S. Rep. Tim Walz told delegates.

He also took a shot at GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty for what he called eight years of "short-term political gain."

One Republican drew more jeers than anyone else throughout the convention, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann.

U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar tied her to controversial former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

"Send Michele Palin back to where she belongs," Oberstar encouraged Democrats.

U.S. Sen. Al Franken received more applause than others from the delegation.

He, too, joined in the governor's race, telling Democrats they should "elect the first Democratic governor since Rudy Perpich."

After going through a list of good things in the federal new health law, Franken proclaimed: "I like my job."

As with most DFL state conventions, U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, who serves western Minnesota, did not attend.

Bakk picks Thissen

Former governor candidate state Sen. Tom Bakk became a Paul Thissen supporter.

Bakk nominated Thissen Saturday, and later said he picked the state representative because of his deep understanding of the health care system, which will continue to be a major drain on the state budget.

Entenza out

A half-dozen serious candidates and a couple of also-rans were nominated Saturday, then former state Rep. Matt Entenza withdrew his name.

He already planned to run in the Aug. 10 primary, so he asked delegates not to vote for him in convention balloting.

Because of his primary plans, which meant he would ignore the delegates' pick, he received a lukewarm reception. And one of his supporters, wearing green Entenza stickers, said it had been a rough day for her.

"I removed my name from consideration so as not to be a distraction," Entenza said.

Food runs out

Democrats assembled at the convention floor Saturday were unified among what they wanted: universal health care, equal rights for gay couples and food.

Holiday Inn, which supplied boxed lunches for the delegates, ran out of food several times, leading to the day's loudest grumbles during a convention that stretched on for hours.

The problem, said Holiday Inn General Manager Lisa Augustine, was that they didn't anticipate the demand. During the last convention in Duluth four years ago the Holiday Inn sold just under 840 boxed lunches. But 816 lunches sold on Friday alone, with another 980 sold on Saturday before they were gone.

"We just didn't expect this," she said.

While the Holiday Inn did start bringing in pizza, Augustine said once supplies were gone Saturday night, they would not bring in more, Some convention goers were bothered that the DECC concession stands weren't open.

But Augustine said the DFL Party requested only food providers that were union organized, that meant the DECC, which is non-union, couldn't provide food.

"Our property is union," she said.

No Dayton vote

Former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton was nominated for governor Saturday, but a few minutes later he notified the convention that he did not want to be part of the endorsement contest.

Like Entenza and Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner, Dayton decided to compete in the primary election. He said that he did not feel it was respectful to be on the ballot since he always planned to run in the primary.

Short subject

Rep. Tom Rukavina of Virginia likes to make fun of his lack of height, but long-shot candidate Ole Savior did him one better.

"He could be the best governor we have ever had if he had a stool," Savior quipped.

A train wreck

Perhaps Moorhead City Councilman Mark Olaf Altenburg best summarized DFL feelings about the current Republican-controlled governor's office:

"The next governor of Minnesota will inherit a terrible train wreck."

Chairmen vote

Minnesota's tribal chairmen, who are Democrats, received permission to vote at this weekend's convention.

State Rep. Kent Eken of Twin Valley offered a motion to change the party constitution to allow them to vote. He said super delegates, such as state officials, are allowed to vote, so tribal leaders also should.

White Earth Chairwoman Erma Vizenor offered support to Eken: "When we are treated like other elected officials, then the DFL Party will be fair and equitable."

Rick Stafford, a long-time DFL leader, disagreed. He said tribal leaders knew the party rules in advance and could have become delegates, and it is not fair to give them votes over others.

The measure passed on a split voice vote.

Monday fly-around

The DFL Party plans to fly its endorsed candidates around the state Monday, led by the governor endorsee.

Also, Entenza plans to travel the state today and Monday to push his primary election race.

Unity urged

DFL Chairman Brian Melendez told delegates that what happens in the next few weeks is critical.

"We won't win the election today, but we could lose it today," he said, urging supporters of the half-dozen candidates to work together.

"If it is them against us, we win; if it is them against six little groups of us, we lose," the chairman said. "Don't blow it today by being a jerk to anybody."

Brandon Stahl of the Duluth News Tribune contributed to this report. Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.