Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson won a commanding victory in Tuesday night’s gubernatorial straw poll at Minnesota’s GOP caucuses, taking just under 50 percent of votes cast across the state.
Following Johnson’s lead were undecided voters at 16 percent, former Minnesota Republican Party Chair Keith Downey at 15 percent and former Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens – who tied at 12 percent with school teacher Philip Parrish.
If elected, Johnson, who was also the GOP nominee in 2014, hopes to reduce government spending, programs and regulations. According to his website, he plans to cut taxes by “capping property tax increases, ending big corporate tax subsidies and instituting an Automatic Taxpayer Refund”.
Johnson has also signaled support for increasing parental autonomy in regards to decisions concerning K-12 education, job creation, replacing MNsure – Minnesota’s health insurance marketplace – and eliminating the Metropolitan Council.
Meanwhile, at Minnesota’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) caucuses, former U.S. Representative for Minnesota’s 1st district Tim Walz walked away with 31% of the vote.
The straw poll is an informal vote cast by caucus attendees to inform the party and candidates of the majority opinion of their constituents. As the straw poll is unofficial, voters are not bound to support the same candidate throughout the election cycle.
While Johnson won the straw poll overall, Minnesota’s Senate District 64, home to Macalester, showed impressive support for candidate Mary Giuliani Stephens.
“I like Mary Giuliani Stephens, because I think she’s the type of person who will not let petty squabbles distract,” voter Helen G. said, “She’s like, ‘let’s just get the job done.’” Caucus voters gathered at Highland Park Senior High School, where volunteers welcomed and guided them to the gymnasium to receive direction – passing a Stephens support booth on the way.
Basic Political Organizing Unit (BPOU) Chair Ted Nelson greeted voters and gave them the opportunity to speak in support of candidates. Former mayor of Lakeland, Minnesota Amy Williams offered a brief endorsement of Stephens.”
Voters were then divided by precinct to participate in the straw poll, deliver resolutions and appoint precinct officers. Macalester’s precinct, Ward 3 District 7, was empty.
Precinct Chair Miriam Baer expressed her disappointment at the nonexistent turnout. “I would’ve expected six people,” Baer said. “In the presidential election we had almost 30, so that’s the difference when it’s a national election. But we just thought, since there’s the governor’s spot, there would be more.”
“We’re a big government state. Because ‘Big Daddy’ knows best how to spend your money.” – Miriam Baer, Ward 3 District 7 Precinct Chair
Macalester GOP Vice Chair Jed Buchholz offered a similar explanation . “We haven’t started meeting this semester yet,” Buchholz said. “We haven’t really talked about it yet….[and] a lot of our members are from out of state.”
Low turnout was a theme across Minnesota’s GOP caucuses this year, with approximately 3,000 fewer Republicans in attendance than in 2014.
“Twenty years of party experience has taught me that non-presidential election caucuses, often called mid-term caucuses, are very poorly attended. So I wasn’t surprised by the lower turn out. There were about 100 people in attendance,” Williams said. “I was pleased by the number of first-time attendees.” While attendance was scarce, passion for the issues at hand was plentiful.
“Land use is always a top concern of mine,” Williams said. “I work mostly with second generation Americans and first time home buyers so affordable housing is especially important to me.”
Caucus-goers also identified fiscal responsibility as a top priority. “I’m all for being fiscally conservative,” G. said. “The government has certain roles to play, and everyone wants a certain part of it, so you have to be careful.”
Baer agreed. “Balancing [the] budget, cutting down spending and a smaller government for Minnesota,” she said. “We’re a big government state. Because ‘Big Daddy’ knows best how to spend your money.”
Another pressing consideration was the recruitment of voters from suburbs of the Twin Cities, which traditionally vote democratic.
“I’m supporting Mary Giuliani Stephens… because I think she could get suburban voters, and if the Republicans are going to have any chance of winning the governorship they will have to get some Ramsey and Hennepin County voters,” Baer said. To advocate for these issues and more, Buchholz stressed the importance of getting involved.
“One of our goals is that whenever something like this happens we put out information that comes from, say, the Civic Engagement Center, which has programs like TurboVote,” Buchholz said. “So we try to educate on that. We haven’t organized [booths] where people sign up to vote yet… but that’s one of our goals in the future.”
As for why voters should participate in their local caucuses, Baer was quick to respond.
“Because instead of sitting around bitching, you get to do something about it,” she said. “Otherwise, you don’t get to complain.”