Candidates call out ‘flawed’ caucus process
Two Black female Minneapolis DFL candidates will seek elected office without party endorsement in the November municipal election.
Nekima Levy-Pounds is among nine candidates, including incumbent Betsy Hodges, running for Minneapolis mayor. Raeisha Williams is among two other challengers running against incumbent Blong Yang in the city’s Ninth Ward for city council. Last week, both women jointly announced on April 4, the day of the city-wide caucus meetings, that they will not seek DFL endorsements.
Levy-Pounds and Williams, in separate phone interviews April 5, explained their decision to the MSR.
“Raeisha and I got together and talked about the way the current process and structure [is run],” explained Levy-Pounds. “It doesn’t favor newcomers. It doesn’t favor women. It doesn’t favor people of color. That process is based on the good ole boys network.”
Williams recalled after participating in last year’s presidential precinct caucus, “What I learned from that process is that in Ward 5, the majority of the delegates [for the DFL convention] are older, liberal White DFLers who don’t necessarily see the views and the concerns of the people of color, specifically African Americans,” she pointed out. “I realized that my peers — African American voices — were not at that table. My concern was that was going to happen again [in last week’s caucus].”
The caucus process has mainly discouraged many Blacks and other people of color from participating. “I believe a lot of that is intentional,” said Levy-Pounds. “The process can be confusing. I believe that the caucus and convention process…is really built for insiders. It is also unwelcoming to political newcomers, young people and those speaking [English] as a second language.
“I’ve heard horror stories from [last week’s] caucus where they had a translator. Some who were not translating things accurately, because they were in support of one candidate over another,” she pointed out. “You had people who left early because they didn’t understand what was going on. The process dragged out too long or the instructions were not clear.”
A candidate not seeking DFL endorsement is not unprecedented — Hodges, without the party endorsement — was elected Minneapolis mayor in 2013, the same is true of Governor Mark Dayton when he first ran for office.
“There are a small number of people who control what happens in electoral politics,” bemoaned Levy-Pounds of the caucus process, where supporters of candidates lobby for delegates who vote for the candidate at the convention. But some conventions end with no candidate getting the necessary 60 percent vote for endorsement.
“The last convention lasted 12 hours, and no one got an endorsement,” said Levy-Pounds. “It feels like a waste of time and money.”
Williams added that more advance community training on the caucus process is needed, and such sessions should be held well in advance of the scheduled caucus.
The mayoral hopeful further argued that the DFL doesn’t push hard enough for women candidates of color. “[There have been] a lot of women of color who have run for political office in the state of Minnesota seeking DFL support and sadly they have come up short,” reiterated Levy-Pounds.
“A lot of the people are older, White, middle class people who are helping to decide this process,” noted Williams.
DFL Chair Dan McConnell told the MSR that neither he nor anyone else in a leadership role would comment on the Levy-Pounds and Williams assertions.
Both women also seriously questioned if the entire DFL endorsement process is still needed considering Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) in Minneapolis, where voters can select their three top choices.
“When I learned more about Ranked Choice Voting, it definitely reinforced the notion that the process of caucusing, convention and endorsement by the DFL is antiquated and probably unnecessary,” said Levy-Pounds. “This raises the question why we need to caucus. Why do we need an endorsement process for the DFL? This essentially is a one-party town. It makes little sense at this stage to have people go through that process.” Williams said RCV is the best process.
As a result, both Levy-Pounds and Williams said instead of political and other endorsements, they will seek endorsements from the voting public. “Those are the people we are going to rely upon to come out on November 7 and vote,” said Levy-Pounds. “Those are the people whose voices we want to hear when we are to set policy for the city, and push for some of the transformative changes we talk about.
“The people’s endorsement is much more important than the traditional endorsement process,” stressed Levy-Pounds.
“I’m a very unapologetic, outspoken Black woman who is very unapologetic about working for the equity of African Americans and people of color,” said Williams. She added, “I am a Democrat through and through. I didn’t leave the Democratic Party.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Hallman is the senior staff writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at email@example.com