UPDATED: Both parties see more than 100 participate at county caucus events

Joel Ward leads a caucus group at the DFL site on Tuesday evening at Bemidji Middle School. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- Grassroots democracy was in action Tuesday night, with hundreds of local residents attending party caucuses ahead of the presidential primary next week.

For the first time, Minnesota residents are selecting a presidential nominee by way of a formal primary, rather than through the caucus system. However, both the Democratic-Farmer-Labor and Republican parties still held events to take care of several business items.

On both sides of the political aisle, people turned out to GOP and DFL caucus sites in Beltrami County to learn about 2020 candidates, debate resolutions for the party's platform, elect precinct chairs and determine delegates for conventions. In total, there were 10 caucus sites in the county, with the GOP holding four and the DFL holding six.

Beltrami County DFL Chair Curtiss Hunt goes through caucus instructions with Linda Gross on Tuesday night at Bemidji Middle School. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)


According to Beltrami County DFL Party Chair Curtiss Hunt, the largest caucus event was held at Bemidji Middle School, where 130 people participated.

"We had registration open at 6:30 and in the first 10 minutes we already had quite a few people enter," Hunt said. "Our expectation here was to see what the body politic was interested in at the county level. It's important, because the resolutions we collect will be included at the county convention."

Across town, at Bemidji High School, Beltrami County GOP Party Chair Rich Siegert said between 150 and 200 participated.

"It's the people who're most concerned about politics and those most loyal to their parties," Siegert said. "It's great. This is how the government operates. If people don't show up, what have you got? It's chaos."

"It binds our party together at the county level," Hunt said. "The grassroots effort here is a very important concept for the DFL. We've tried to enhance that this year, too, by having less caucus sites."

Beltrami County GOP Chair Rich Siegert speaks at the GOP caucus on Tuesday night at Bemidji High School. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

Beltrami County Republicans Secretary Heidi Johnson, who's been active with the party since 2006, called caucus events crucial for communication in politics.


"It's important for people to be able to talk to each other, and resolve the issues we have," Johnson said. "These are also an opportunity for individuals to have more of a say in what happens in their community, county and state."

In his remarks Tuesday, Hunt said the county DFL was welcoming a healthy debate of the issues.

"We have all wings of the party here," Hunt said. "We have environmentalists and we have a strong labor representation. It makes us a big tent, and I see no problem with that."

Caucus night was the first of three political events in the next few weeks for Minnesota. The next is the primary on Tuesday, March 3, where voters will use separate ballots for either the DFL or GOP side. Then, on March 10, the Township Tuesday elections will be held.

These events will be followed by the Beltrami County GOP convention on March 21 and the DFL county convention on April 4. Several weeks later, the GOP will hold its state convention May 15-16 and the DFL will have its state convention May 30-31.

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