By Brian Bakst
May 5, 2002
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - With seven words, Becky Lourey thrust gender politics into the spotlight Saturday at the DFL state convention.
As Lourey, a state senator from Kerrick, bowed out of the race, she left delegates with this: "I believe it's time for a woman."
She repeated the phrase before throwing her support to state Auditor Judi Dutcher. On the next ballot, Dutcher picked up twice as many delegates as Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe. In the end, however, Dutcher conceded and Moe won the endorsement after six ballots.
"Right now we need a DFL governor, and that's going to be Governor Moe," Dutcher said.
But for a while, gender politics took on a big role after lurking below the radar for most of the campaign. The turn of events perplexed Moe's supporters because Lourey, who had run as the most ideologically pure candidate, was getting behind the person newest to the DFL Party. Dutcher became a Democrat two years ago after being elected twice as a Republican.
Minnesota has never elected a woman governor, and many at the DFL convention believe it's long overdue.
"Minnesota is so far behind so many other states. Isn't it about time?" asked Joan Growe, the longtime secretary of state. "There are a lot of us here who want to bring our granddaughters to the governor's residence and let them see us in that role."
Growe, a Dutcher supporter, knows more about the political struggles of women than most. In 1974, she was the first woman elected to statewide office in her own right. That is, she didn't fill an office vacated by her husband. Dutcher was the second when she became auditor in 1990.
Craig Laughlin, a delegate from Plymouth, replaced his Lourey button with a Dutcher tag when it became a two-person race. Gender was a key factor, he said.
"It's time to elect a woman," he said after getting a personal visit from Dutcher.
Said Jo Matson, president of the DFL Feminist Caucus: "What I've heard out on the floor is we have a glass ceiling and it's time to break that ceiling." Matson herself has remained neutral.
The caucus was divided. Some wanted to give Dutcher the official backing, but others wanted to wait it out. Several noted that Moe has been an advocate for women's issues in his 30-year political career.
Nancy Larson, a Moe supporter from Dassel, said she was looking for a candidate who would make Minnesota stronger for everyone - not just women.
"It should be based on their record, how they perform and what their agenda is," Larson said. "It shouldn't be based on whether they wear a skirt or not."
Gender wasn't the only fault line. Candidates were also courting ethnic blocs, labor groups and gay and lesbian delegates.
With Lourey out, some also turned their attention to geography.
Moe headed straight for delegates in 8th Congressional District, a faction heavy with union members and where much of Lourey's support had been. His backers, like Rep. Irv Anderson of International Falls, cast Moe as the strongest voice for greater Minnesota.
"You've got to vote for northern Minnesota. Don't let the Twin Cities dominate your politics," Anderson told Mikael Sundin of Esko.
Moe is from the northwestern Minnesota town of Erskine while Dutcher lives in Minnetonka.More from MPR