GOP caucus discusses voter data, parental rights
A Park Rapids resident raises concerns about data privacy, and two Hubbard County moms introduce a resolution for the Republican Party platform to safeguard parental control.
The Republican Party caucus Tuesday in the Century School cafeteria in Park Rapids brought in approximately 33 delegates from 10 precincts, including the city of Park Rapids and seven townships in Hubbard County.
Other Hubbard County precincts had caucuses Tuesday night in Laporte and Akeley.
The precinct caucuses were local GOP membership’s first steps to prepare for the 2020 election. Participants chose precinct officers, delegates and alternates for the Hubbard County Republican basic political operating unit (BPOU) Convention, at 9 a.m. March 21 at the C'mon Inn in Park Rapids.
They also heard letters from the state Republican Party Chair Jennifer Carnahan and from several GOP candidates, including two – Jason Lewis and Rob Barrett Jr. – who are challenging DFL incumbent U.S. Sen. Tina Smith.
State Sen. Paul Utke and BPOU Chairman David De La Hunt responded to Park Rapids resident Anne Huhtala’s concern about how all four of the state’s “major political parties” – also including Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis, Legal Marijuana Now and Democratic-Farmer-Labor – will use primary voters’ registration data.
“All they will know is if you aligned and voted with the Republican party,” Utke said, while De La Hunt said the parties will also receive your name and address for the purpose of distributing campaign literature.
Utke said this kind of information is given to party canvassers in a “walk book” so they know whom to visit. If more detailed voter information is collected, he said, “It only goes to the parties. They can’t give it out to us. We get the generic version through the campaign side. It’s pretty limited on what they can do, but for the party, it’s very important to know the lay of the land.”
Huhtala said these answers did not give her comfort. “I’m concerned that the other parties will have my information and will run with it,” she said.
Homeschool mom Christa Munson of Arago Twp. co-introduced a resolution for the statewide Republican Party platform to safeguard parents’ “fundamental right to direct the upbringing, education, and physical and mental health” of their children.
“All parental rights are reserved without obstruction or interference unless they have been legally waived or terminated by a court of law,” the resolution concluded.
Munson, who has a son with brain cancer, said the issue is a concern for parents who are told that “they have to medicate their children in order to keep them in school, which the parents don’t feel is necessary. … Some of these parents don’t have the opportunity to homeschool.”
Richard Lorenz from Lake Emma Township voiced sympathy for Munson’s situation, but called the resolution “rather broad” and said he had expected it to go into the vaccination issue.
“There are no perfect answers to almost anything in this world, and certainly in politics,” said Lorenz, adding that he leaned toward opposing the resolution.
Regarding the classroom scenario Munson visualized, he said, “You have to also look at the good of the rest of the students in that room, and so it becomes a complicated issue.”
After further discussion, caucus delegates approved it to move forward to the county BPOU convention.
Munson was attending her first caucus with her husband, construction worker Matt. The couple has three children and one on the way. They said they plan to vote in the presidential primary, supporting President Donald Trump.
“I’m kind of worried that we're a little comfortable with Trump winning this next election, and that we're not going to be as involved as we should be,” Christa said. “We want to be involved, get more people out to vote and not get too comfortable."
"The world seems to be turning upside down," Matt added. "We need to get more involved (in) how can we really make changes."
Co-sponsoring the parental rights resolution was mother of five Jas Keysor of Todd Township, who was attending her first caucus with husband Seth.
“I’m getting more involved because I’m really interested in parental rights,” said Jas, adding that she’s learning about the political process.
Seth said he finds the state’s party caucus system “convoluted enough that very people understand what’s actually going on, myself included,” and he thinks the presidential primary is a simpler way to choose a candidate.
“I just think it needs to be taught more,” said Jas. “There’s a little group of us trying to learn, and it’s kind of difficult to get the information.”
“The barrier to entry, to understanding what the process is, is actually relatively high,” said Seth. “As people go through their everyday lives, they don’t get access to that kind of information, which is unfortunate, because people care about the decisions.”
First-time participant Jason Johnson, an ambulance driver from Clover Township, brought his 11-year-old son Jeremiah to the caucus.
“Getting more involved in the politics and how things play out” was his reason for coming, Jason said. As for what prompted his son to come, he said, “We listen to a lot of news on the radio and on TV, and he gets involved in a little bit of politics at a young age.”
Though only Barack Obama and Donald Trump have been president during his lifetime, Jeremiah memorized the names of all the U.S. Presidents when he was 8 years old, Jason said. “He’s (interested in) how the world turns. … We talk a lot about everything.”
Voice of experience
Russ Keller of Lake Emma Township was attending his second GOP caucus after a much more highly attended one in 2016.
“The world is run by those who show up,” he said. “If you don’t show up, you have no reason to complain.”
Four years ago, he noted, “lines were out the door. I asked other people, and said, ‘I’ve never been to one of these before. Have you?’ I think I only found one person who said, ‘Yeah, I’ve been to these.’ It was full of people who had never been to one.”
Fellow Lake Emma delegate Steve Hanke said he was disappointed by the lack of youth participation at the caucus, while Lorenz thought the inevitability of Trump’s re-nomination might have led to an attitude that “it’s a foregone conclusion, so why go?”
“There isn’t the variety that you have in the DFL,” Lorenz added.
Jerry Grudem, an Arago Township delegate and BPOU board member who has attended four GOP caucuses, said caucuses can be “a little bit self-defeating at times.”
Grudem explained that caucuses “always bring out the farthest end of liberals at the Democrat and the farthest end of the conservatives on the Republican side, and very often, in Minnesota, we take those and we throw them out and we go for a moderate.”
Optimism for 2020
De La Hunt called caucuses “an opportunity for like-minded individuals to get together, talk about party issues.”
He urged attendees to vote for Trump in the presidential primary, at least to show support and provide data to the state Republican party.
“We know how the media beats him up,” said De La Hunt. “It’s kind of reassuring, if you watch any of these early states that have had their caucuses, when you see Trump’s turnout numbers, uncontested, just about as high as a contested (race). I get a warm feeling out of that.”
“In Minnesota, we are all on the ballot this fall – the full House, the full Senate,” Utke said, “in addition to the President and one national Senate seat. Locally, within our state, I would say the mood is optimistic.”
He noted that Minnesota Republicans won and lost several 2016 races by narrow margins. This year, he said, “we’re seeing some good candidates step up for our party. There’s some specialty polling going on by various groups, and we’re seeing some encouraging numbers there.”
Adding that having Trump at the top of the GOP’s ticket “will carry a lot of the down-ticket,” Utke added, “I think we’re going to do well, and we’re hoping to see the house gain a bunch of (seats). They need nine to flip it back, and I think they’re in good shape.”