Minnesota sends diverse group to Denver conventionby Curtis Gilbert, Minnesota Public Radio
Among the cheering masses when Barack Obama accepts his party's nomination this week will be the 109 members of Minnesota's Democratic National Convention delegation.
St. Paul, Minn. — Julia Massman has never done this before. She's been active in DFL politics for something close to 40 years, but until this spring, she'd never thought about running for national delegate. But when she got to her local convention in southern Minnesota, on a whim, she put her name on the list of candidates.
Even as she did that, she wasn't sure she really wanted to go.
"The day went on and I got thinking about it a little bit more," Massman said. "My file was in there, and when it came time to stand up and speak, I did."
What did she say to convince her fellow Democrats to send her to Denver?
"This was back on the 26th of April, and there was a lot of talk being made that elderly women did not support Barack Obama," she explained. "It was also said that Catholics didn't support Barack Obama. And so I greeted the crowd, and then I said that 'I am a 75-year-old Irish Catholic white woman and I support Barack Obama!'"
Massman is one of the oldest Democrats in Minnesota's delegation. The youngest is 17-year-old David Gilbert-Pederson. Actually, he's the youngest delegate in the country. He turns 18 on October 8, just making the age cutoff.
"I think that my age played to my advantage in a way, to be able to say I'm new," Gilbert-Pederson said. "I'm kind of another one of the agents of change Obama has talked about."
Gilbert-Pederson isn't a typical teenager. He's a seasoned political veteran. The Obama campaign is the fifth one he's volunteered for, and he spends just about every day knocking on doors and pounding the phones for his candidate.
"I shoot hoops every now and then with a friend," he said. "We play video games -- not much time for much else."
Gilbert-Pederson was born in the Philippines and was adopted by two Minnesotans.
All told there are 48 non-white members of the Minnesota delegation, making it the most diverse in history.
"Many Latinos in California and New York and Texas say, 'Really? Are you sending 50 people of color to Denver? Are you sure? Are you serious? Minnesota? White Minnesota?'" delegate and state Sen. Patricia Torres Ray said at a press conference last week in St. Paul.
Not only are they sure and serious, but the diverse delegation sends a powerful message to the rest of the country "that Minnesota is really prepared to respond to the changing demographics of this country," Torres Ray said, "and that we are prepared to send the voices that will speak on behalf of those individuals that now need to be in office, that really need to have a voice in the White House."
Torres Ray is one of 19 current elected officials in the delegation. Others include Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner and State Auditor Rebecca Otto. All of Minnesota's Democratic members of Congress are so-called "super delegates" to the convention. So is former Vice President Walter Mondale.
There are also representatives from various unions -- a key part of the Democratic Party's base -- and the leaders of two of Minnesota's Indian tribes. The DFL says 9 members of the delegation are part of the gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgerder community.
One of those is Rick Stafford. He was at the press conference with Torres Ray last week. And as a former chair of the state DFL, he couldn't resist getting in a little dig at the Republicans.
"When we talk about diversity, we talk about the fabric and the kaleidoscope of what Minnesota really represents, and that will stand in stark contrast to what you will see here a week later in this city on the other side of the aisle," Stafford said.
Asked to clarify what he expected the delegates to the Republican National Convention to look like, Stafford answered succinctly: "white."
The Minnesota delegation to the Republican National Convention is indeed whiter the Democratic delegation. A Republican party spokeswoman said 72 out of Minnesota's 78 Republican delegates and alternates are white. That's 92 percent. compared to 56 percent of the Democratic delegation.
And Rick Stafford, who supported Hillary Clinton during the primary season, says this diverse group is unified on one thing: They want Barack Obama to win Minnesota in November.
- Morning Edition, 08/25/2008, 7:25 a.m.