Perske emerges at convention
May 3 became a day of mooburning for many Minnesotans when they learned of the death of long-time U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, of Chisholm, who had served for families in the state’s Iron Range and elsewhere in the 8th District from 1975 to 2010.
Though members of Oberstar’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party took a moment of silence that day to honor his memory and passing, DFL delegates from the central 6th District meeting at Monticello Middle School had political reasons to be upbeat.
U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann from the opposing Republican Party had announced in 2013 that she would not seek re-election for a fifth term, and the race for an open seat in the 2015-2016 sessions drew interest from three Democrats who vied for DFL endorsement in Monticello.
The delegates left their convention after seven hours of rallying and debating, and they gave their endorsement to candidate Joe Perske, a career coach and educator who is in his fourth year as the mayor of Sartell.
Minnesota’s junior U.S. Sen. Al Franken hopes to represent another win for the DFL in November, when he will be up for a second term.
He was present to meet and address 6th District delegates, and Franken spoke first of his respect for Rep. Oberstar with whom the senator had served two years in Congress. Oberstar had been chairing the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee since 2007.
“I feel privileged to have known Jim, to have worked with Jim,” said Sen. Franken. “We lost a giant (today).
“He knew more about transportation than anyone in the country, than anyone in Congress. … He wanted knowledge.”
Franken said public service should be about knowledge and problem solving. Before adding farewell to the delegates in Monticello, the senator encouraged them to leave that day with support for a single DFL candidate. He said they needed unity to win the 6th District seat back from Republican control.
Perske was joined in the DFL race for endorsement by Jim Read, a political science professor at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University, and Judy Evelyn Adams, an entrepreneur and environmental activist who has lived and worked in Minneapolis but currently resides in Lino Lakes.
After Franken’s departure, the three candidates sat and gathered at one table on stage to field and answer questions that delegates had submitted earlier for approval.
The candidates took turns in responding first, second or last to 10 questions that mostly addressed policy issues. Before they could speak on abortion, health care, climate change, gun rights or veteran services, however, they were asked to comment on whether they would abide by the delegates’ endorsement.
Perske, Read and Adams each said that they would, and thus Read and Adams were giving their blessing to Perske’s candidacy when he won eventual endorsement.
A total of 129 delegates were present that day, having merged in Monticello from areas of greater St. Cloud and over from Washington County at the border with Wisconsin.
The crowd was receptive to Adams’ candidate speech and responses, but she received no votes after one ballot and she conceded in the race before those totals were announced.
Perske received support from 53.5 percent of delegates with the first ballot, but endorsement requires a minimum of 60 percent.
The Sartell mayor gained a little bit with the second ballot, rising to 55 percent with 71 delegate votes.
Perske passed 57 percent on a third ballot, and Read responded not with concession but with a plea that the delegates make one choice on the fourth scheduled ballot.
Eighty delegates then voted for Perske, giving him 62 percent for endorsement.
Read replied that he was suspending his campaign, and he advised the delegates to work on bringing younger voters to their party.
“We have to campaign this year to build for the future,” Read said. “We need to put our forces together. I ask all of us to support Joe Perske. He has worked hard.”
Those in agreement for supporting Perske’s run included Jim Graves, who was the party’s candidate for battling Rep. Bachmann in 2012, and former U.S. Rep. Bill Luther, who noted he had been the last Democrat to win the 6th District in 2000.
Perske thanked his supporters and vowed to keep working hard in the race. He said that he owed success in his life to DFL principles.
“We can go and win the 6th District, with your help,” Perske said. “I will run until I drop, because it’s the right thing to do.”