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DFL gubernatorial candidates set for American Indian forum

All 10 announced Democratic candidates for governor this year plan to be in Bemidji on Thursday to discuss American Indian issues.

The purportedly non-partisan forum at Bemidji State University has no Republican candidates, with one GOP operative charging that the forum was intended that way.

Billed as the first-ever, cross-tribal, pre-precinct caucus governor candidate forum on American Indian issues, the forum is sponsored by Native Vote Alliance of Minnesota, American Civil Liberties Union-Minnesota Greater Minnesota Racial Justice Project, Wellstone Action Fund's Native American Leadership Program and Take Action Minnesota.

Confirmed candidates are Minnesota House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Sen. Tom Bakk, former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton, former House Minority Leader Matt Entenza, Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner, former Sen. Steve Kelley, Sen. John Marty, Rep. Tom Rukavina, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and Rep. Paul Thissen.

All are Democrats.

"It seems a bit disingenuous to claim that a program is non-partisan when only feeble (if any) attempts were made to get representation from all gubernatorial candidates," John Carlson, Bemidji campaign coordinator for GOP candidate Rep. Marty Seifert.

Carlson was responding Monday to an e-mail from Audrey Thayer, director of the Greater Minnesota Racial Justice Project, a sponsor.

"My concern is we have also four candidates (that I am aware of) who are Republican that may or may not (have) been sent letters. I do not have their contacts," Thayer wrote Carlson. "Apparently, the Republican Party was sent a letter. and was to contact their potential candidates."

She notes that some of the organizers of the event "are very young as community organizers and may (have) not known the process of community organizing for an event such as this." Her organization "has pushed the issue of being non-partisan with all those organizations who are working on planning this event."

Candidate information is posted with the state Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, Carlson says.

"One doesn't have to know much or look far to find the information if there is a true desire to be non-partisan," he wrote. "Whomever claimed they didn't have contact information is either lazy or ignorant and really didn't want broad representation from the entire political spectrum."

Candidates' calendars fill up quickly, Carlson, a former Republican House 4A candidate, wrote. "To get this information 76 hours before the event all but assures that candidates, whose information 'could not be found,', would be no-shows (which appears to be the desired outcome)."

Formal notices to the media didn't go out until Monday, although the event began showing up on the DFL candidates' publicly available event calendars late last week.

Local Republicans will have their own, partisan event on Jan. 26 in BSU's Beaux Arts Ballroom. Confirmed to that GOP-only governor candidate forum are the six remaining announced candidates (former State Auditor Pat Anderson dropped out of the race Tuesday and instead will run for her old job).

That event is sponsored by the Beltrami County Republicans, and is believed to be the first time where all GOP candidates for a statewide race were in Bemidji. The same can probably be said for the DFL gathering Thursday.

Also in the works is a Beltrami/Cass County DFL gubernatorial forum Jan. 23 at Northern Lights Casino south of Walker, and a Jan. 30 governor candidates' forum at the new Red Lake Casino which hopes to draw from both parties.

Thursday's event begins at 5:30 p.m. with an Indian taco supper, followed at 6:30 p.m.. with the candidate forum. Originally slated for the Beaux Arts Ballroom, it was moved Tuesday to the American Indian Resource Center, also on the BSU campus.

"Over the past decade, native Americans have increased their political involvement in Minnesota, impacting state House elections from Red Lake to Mille Lacs and even the 2008 U.S. Senate elections," according to a statement on the event. "At the same time, native Americans are getting engaged in the 2010 elections earlier than ever. At this forum native Americans from Prairie Island to Fond du Lac to Red Lake will be raising their concerns and hopes for Minnesota and getting responses from gubernatorial candidates."

Attendees will include Marge Anderson, chief executive of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe; Kathryn Beaulieu, secretary of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa; Elizabeth Towle, chairwoman of the Native Vote Alliance of Minnesota (member of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe); and Peggy Flanagan, director of Wellstone Action's Native American Leadership Project (member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe).

Some of the candidates also plan events while in Bemidji. Author and retired BSU Professor Will Weaver is hosting Kelliher at his home prior to Thursday's forum, and Rukavina is holding a meet and greet session 10:30-noon Friday at BSU's Lower Hobson Union.