Gaza, mining top issues during second day of DFL convention in Duluth

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DULUTH, Minn. — Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party leaders and endorsed candidates largely voiced the same script at their state convention Saturday, promoting DFL legislative action in Minnesota, singing the praises of President Joe Biden and condemning former President Donald Trump.

However, a vocal minority of progressive delegates have taken issue with the DFL and Democrats in general over the party’s support of Israel in the war in Gaza.

“We want to know why we have any money for bombs when there’s Minnesotans going hungry, sleeping out on the streets and lacking adequate health care,” said Jerod Martinson, a DFL delegate.

Martinson was seen outside the DFL convention holding a sign that read “Guilty of Gendemocide,” — the word mixes genocide and Democrat. Martinson and other protesters believe Democrats are aiding in the deaths of Palestinians.

“The war in Gaza is just the latest and one of the worst examples of our over-militarism and it’s just destroying us,” he said, adding that he is an Army veteran who served in Iraq during the war’s early years.

Protest over Gaza

Several dozen protesters joined party delegates outside of the Duluth Convention Center on Saturday.

They called for a cease-fire and the U.S. divestment from Israel due to the country’s failure to adhere to international norms in warfare.

One of the resolutions, which would make it party policy to call the denial of Israel’s right to exist as a country antisemitic, was met with resistance from seven Jewish delegates.

The delegates, in a statement, said the resolution ignores Jewish disagreement with Zionism, which calls to sustain a “Jewish state” within the historical lands of Palestine.

“On a personal note, as Jewish dissenters of Zionism we would find it quite distressing to have our own political party declare us to be anti-Semitic,” the delegates wrote.

Other resolutions Saturday related to Israel and Palestine included calls for a cease-fire and humanitarian aid, making civilian safety a priority, releasing political prisoners and funding U.N. efforts to aid Palestinian refugees.

Divide may hurt Democrats

This divide could prove challenging for Biden and Democrats as progressive members take on the party establishment.

A national movement to vote uncommitted during Democratic state primaries for president had a decently strong showing in Minnesota with about 19% of voters choosing “uncommitted.” The latest polls show both Trump and Biden in a dead heat.

“We need to be more assertive on our viewpoints on Gaza and what is happening there,” said DFL delegate Wayne Pulford, citing the destruction of Palestinian hospitals and schools and the number of lives lost.

“I think we just need to keep up pressure on the Democratic Party to push back on what’s happening,” Pulford said. “(Israel) can fight a just war. They’re just not doing it right now.”

Delegates were slated to debate 113 resolutions and their amendments on Saturday but as of 8 p.m., they had yet to start debate on most of them. Delegates will continue the debates into Saturday night or may pick up the issues on Sunday, the last day of the convention.

Campaign continues

Also Saturday, DFL leaders and politicians continued to boast about the party’s successes in Minnesota while condemning the MAGA movement.

House Speaker Melissa Hortman (Courtesty photo)

Minnesota Speaker of the House Melissa Hortman touted the party’s legislative victories. The DFL currently has a trifecta in state government, controlling the governor’s office and both legislative chambers. The party has passed several large bills, including paid family leave and a program to provide free food to schoolchildren.

Other legislative wins for the party include measures on abortion rights, guns control, increased education funding and health care reform.

“We did not come to play,” Hortman said Saturday.

Trump’s recent conviction has also given Democrats a talking point for this election season. The former president was recently convicted of 34 felony counts of falsifying business records related to hush money payments to a woman before the 2016 election.

Most of the speakers Saturday morning, which included Gov. Tim Walz, either called Trump a felon or brought up his legal woes. Walz, serving as a hypeman for the party, told delegates that he was proud to be part of a party with diverse beliefs.

Gov. Tim Walz. (Ben Hovland / MPR News)

Jen Schultz, the DFL-endorsed candidate for Congressional District 8 covering northeastern Minnesota, also targeted her opponent, Republican Rep. Pete Stauber, on Saturday.

Schultz, who served in the Minnesota House of Representatives from 2015 to 2022, drew contrasts between her and Stauber.

“Stauber is part of the extremists, chaos caucus,“ she said.

Mining issues

As expected, the issue of copper-sulfide mining drew both advocates for the practice and those who oppose it, which often pitted DFL union members and the party’s environmental wing at odds.

The debate revolved around the “Prove it First” legislation, which has failed to be heard in the state’s Legislature for about a decade. The bill would require mining companies to prove their mining plans are safe and in line with state and federal environmental protections.

“It pains me to see the issue of mining in Minnesota continue to divide the party,” delegate Jeremy Johnson said to convention goers, adding mining brings thousands of jobs to Minnesota.

Several of those opposed to the legislation told their fellow delegates that mining has already proven to be safe and the law would outsource jobs to foreign countries that rely on child labor.

The issue could split off votes from the DFL, especially with the St. Louis County GOP attempting to make inroads with union members in the Iron Range. Historically, union members have tended to vote for Democrats, though northeastern Minnesota voting trends show a change of wind in decades-old party loyalties.

“Now is a time for the DFL to take common-sense action to protect our clean water from foreign mining conglomerates that threaten to poison our clean water with copper-nickel sulfide mines,” delegate Chris Knopf said.

Knopf is also the executive director of Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, an environmental group that seeks stronger protections for Minnesota’s ecosystem.

Delegate Jean Baldwin, a union journeyman, had some of the harshest words Saturday for “Prove It First” supporters.

“If you vote for ‘Prove It First,’ you’re selfish,” she said. “You’re selfish because your vote means all mining that Minnesota needs and will do with the highest level of safe mining practices with skilled labor will be done in another country using child labor with little to no safe mining practices.”

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