A citizen's journey into the political world: first time at a state convention

May 20, 2022
By Dale Kovar

You can skip the fishing opener, not watch the Super Bowl, or avoid the State Fair – activities that thousands enjoy – and it doesn’t matter.

Politics are different. It is in that intimate relationship of political processes where elected officials are conceived.  We can ignore politics, as distasteful and boring as it might be, but there is a consequence.

Those elected officials born from political activities are the ones who make the rules we live by. They determine what we pay in taxes. They make decisions that affect our lives daily, from where light rail lines are built, to funding of police departments, to whether you are supposed to wear a mask when leaving home.

Ignore politics if you choose, but it will come back to affect you.

Even when it comes to voting every couple years, many of us fall short of the intended responsibility. Too often we vote blindly on party loyalty, based on an acquired perception (accurate or not), or just subconsciously picking a name we recognize in order to feel like we know what we are doing.

Of the approximate 2,200 delegates to the state Republican convention this year, about 56% were there for their first time.  For the first time in my life, a week before applying for Medicare, I attended the event as an alternate from Carver County.

But first, let’s back up a bit.


Like many people across Minnesota, I was so dissatisfied with how our government was performing that I went from couch to participant faster than a couch-to-5k program.

My hot-button issue was the COVID vaccine mandates that threatened the livelihood of those who declined the jab, and risked serious side effects for those who consented.

A voice of reason in all the madness right from the start was local doctor Scott Jensen who questioned how the data was being compiled and communicated. He even dared to say so publicly.

And as we know, those who contradict the official narrative get censored, ridiculed, investigated, smeared, attacked, or even labeled as domestic terrorist.

Dr. Jensen seemed like my kind of guy.

He announced his campaign to become governor some 20 months before the election. Once I started paying attention, it didn’t take long to jump on his bandwagon. Thus began a venture into politics that is good for any citizen to experience.

Our country was formed on the principle that government is to serve its citizens, not control them. But it’s also our responsibility to be involved, to monitor what our government does, and give our feedback to those chosen to represent us.

Over the years, we citizens have gotten too complacent and distracted by activities that are more fun. While we were trying to catch fish, cheering for our favorite teams, or eating corn dogs, look what our government has become! At many levels.

If we are to get involved and there is a particular person we would prefer to be our governor, there is a lengthy detailed process that many of us aren’t up to speed on.

It starts with precinct caucuses at which each party chooses delegates to represent them at the county/district level, at which there is another selection process for those who are sent to the state convention where candidates are formally endorsed.

Those who receive delegate status become the targets of every candidate, because it is that group of people that makes the all-important endorsement decisions while the rest of the population watches Netflix.

I was bestowed delegate status in my precinct, and elected an alternate at the county level which provided me the opportunity to go on to the state convention.

The endorsing process is particularly important because it then provides a candidate access to the party’s resources and lets him/her focus on the general election instead of competing in a primary.

Other candidates still have the legal option to run in a primary, but ethically, the endorsement is meant to end the internal competition and go full speed to November.


This is not an objective “how to become involved in politics” piece. My favoritism will show, which is part of the point. No one gets involved in politics to be neutral. You are for or against something or someone, most likely on multiple issues. 

This is not a news report. It is an account of my experience as a first-time attendee at a state political convention.

MN GOP convention 2022

Convention diary, day one

I arrived at the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester Friday morning. Despite some rumblings about how difficult the registration process was, I didn’t see it. The line into the registration room was long and awkwardly formed, but once in, I was directed to the table for alternates. Without a word, I presented my photo ID and quickly received my credentials.

From there, first stop was at the Jensen booth to get a copy of Scott’s new book “We’ve Been Played . . . Exposing the Triad of Tyranny.”

Next was a wandering tour to get familiar with the venue. From above, I tried to locate where our delegation was placed, should I have the opportunity to be seated on the convention floor. My eyes aren’t what they used to be and from several angles, I still hadn’t been certain. Back at the information table, I found a seating map that made it clear. Carver County was in the front middle rows.

Conventions are like going to a Tanya Tucker concert. No matter what the stated starting time is, it won’t begin until the main act is ready to go. I knew from the previous county and senate district conventions that a prompt start was unlikely. This was scheduled to start at 10 a.m.; the gavel came down at 11:35.

Organizers were trying to herd 2,200 cats into their proper seats, determining who showed up and going through the list of alternates in order to fill all the chairs. At one point, I got called to meet a lady in a pink Trump hat to be seated, but when I arrived, she informed me other delegates had been located and I should return to wait in the alternate section. That was as close as I got.

During the wait, I reunited with some people I had not seen for a few years since our kids were in the same activities. 

I also had an interesting discussion with another alternate who posed me the question “Why Scott?” The answer, in addition to the above, was that Jensen and running mate Matt Birk have the name recognition that is such a critical asset in an election.

One of the first orders of convention business was the determination of whether to use paper ballots or an electronic voting system.  Due to contracts, the convention was to be over by 6 p.m. Saturday as well as not going overnight Friday. Using paper ballots would take at least two hours or more for each voting round, it was estimated. The math was against paper. With multiple rounds of voting expected, there simply wouldn’t be enough time.

The argument against electronic voting was a distrust of any electronic system after the 2020 elections. (On the drive in, a radio commentator speculated the real motivation for paper ballots could be those who wanted to make it take so long that no endorsement resulted.)

But convention leaders explained the process and system well enough that electronic voting was approved on a rising vote by what appeared to be a two-thirds to three-quarters majority.

There was a little more jockeying on rules and approving a final agenda, so by a little after 2:30 we were ready to roll.

First up was an uncontested endorsement for Ryan Wilson for state auditor.

Next, Kim Crockett won the secretary of state endorsement in two ballots.

The attorney general was a four-way contest between Tad Jude, Jim Schultz, Doug Wardlow, and Lynne Torgerson. This one took four ballots with Schultz prevailing.

Each of the candidates had their walk-out music that blared as they entered and exited the stage. Crockett used the repetitious lyrics “Sending out an SOS” which corresponded nicely to the office she is seeking. Schultz positioned himself with “I Won’t Back Down.” And Jude had the most obvious choice: “Hey Jude.”

When then there was no activity on stage, the big screens would occasionally fill with a “kiss cam” and “dance cam.” The Republicans aren’t so stuffy after all.

Later, some of the delegates realized that by dancing with their favored candidate’s signage, it increased their odds of being seen throughout the arena.

In the evening, delegates were offered a choice to keep going or call it a day. Then word came that all the governor candidates preferred a fresh start in the morning, and so that was it.

I made a brief visit to Jensen’s block party, then opted for some sleep knowing the job was only half done. In the parking ramp, I stopped to help an elderly couple load a mobility scooter into their vehicle. Noting my t-shirt, the wife beamed: “You’re just as nice as Dr. Jensen!"

Convention diary, day two

Saturday morning: I had along some fliers I had made personally to hand out if the opportunity arose, and decided to give it a try. Arriving early, I took up a position in the corridor, offering them to passing delegates: “Good morning, here’s why I’m supporting Scott.”

After a couple polite “No thanks” responses, I quickly realized this wasn’t the right time. Probably 2,198 of the 2,200 coming in already had their minds set, and a piece of paper from me wasn’t going to change it. Had it been the other way around, I would have declined in the same manner.

Instead, I milled around a bit and noticed Matt Birk near the arena. I made my way over, introduced myself, offered a message of support, and had a quick photo taken. My wife later commented I looked “really happy” in the picture. She knows me best.Birk

From there, I made my way back to the upper deck and settled in to what would be my home base for the next nine hours.

It was a pleasant surprise when the convention was called to order only a few minutes past the stated starting time. But there was a different set of cats to herd, some who came just for this day. Then came distribution of the voting devices and repeated demos of how to use them, followed by several speeches from top party members who are currently in office or running for significant positions.

We got to the endorsement process for governor at 10:30. Each candidate was allowed 15 minutes, which generally involved a mix of videos, perhaps some testimonials, and a carefully rehearsed presentation by the candidate himself.

After the first round, there would be 20 minutes for working the floor followed by another vote.

For further ballots, the process would be three-minutes speeches from each remaining candidate followed by voting. Results would be shown privately to the campaigns first to allow for any decision-making, then revealed to the convention. In between would be 10-minute pauses to work the floor. Rinse and repeat until there’s a winner or time expires.

At home, I had jotted down a prediction of first-round voting, trying to be realistic. Shortly before the first vote, I became concerned from the vibe of the arena. The intensity of the cheers for Kendall Qualls, likely to be Jensen’s greatest challenger, was formidable.

As it turned out, I had predicted the order perfectly, and also was right about Qualls’ support. First round went to Jensen at 26.5% with Qualls right behind at 23.1%, followed by Mike Murphy 18.7%, Neil Shah 15.9%, and Paul Gazelka 15.1%.

Murphy is the mayor of Lexington, a smaller city in Anoka County. Earlier this year, he got Lexington declared a “health freedom sanctuary city,” going as far as a city could to enable personal choice over vaccine and mask mandates.

I heard him speak at a health freedom rally last fall and again at our county convention. If not for my allegiance to the Jensen campaign, Murphy would be my pick. He reminds me of a Jesse Ventura without the fame.

Clearly not entrenched with the political brotherhood, Murphy lets you know where he’s at with a boldness and sincerity that puts the plastic politicians to shame.

Qualls closed in further on the second ballot, almost within a point, while Shah and Gazelka slipped further back. Before the third round, Shah conceded and threw his support to Murphy, while also taking direct shots at both the front-runners.

That vaulted Murphy into first place on the third ballot which, truth be told, was something no one would have predicted beforehand.

In the next round, Gazelka dropped out and lobbied for Qualls, joined by Sen. Michelle Benson who had recently left the governor’s race. That resulted in a fourth round ballot of Murphy 31.79%, Jensen 31.45%, and Qualls 30.45%.

At this point, I was convinced there would be a three-way primary. I knew Jensen supporters would hold firm, and assumed the other campaigns were just as dug in.

But over the fifth and sixth ballots, those who had gone to Murphy drifted away, and he was in danger of falling below the 20% level at which a candidate is by rule eliminated.

The magic number always focused on was the 60% mark, but at this point I went back and charted the raw vote numbers. I had found four reporters who were live-tweeting the event so I was able to use screen shots of their work to refer back to. I was pleased to find that Jensen was gaining votes in each round, but also saw that Qualls was gaining at an even faster pace.

Murphy was forced out on the sixth ballot with 18.59%, essentially right where he started.

Up in the cheap seats, I was thinking “Scott, you need to deal with the gun issue. I’ve heard you explain it elsewhere, but these delegates need to understand it.”

As if on cue, he did, addressing the convention:  “Apologies are never easy, but when I was in my first term as a senator, I put myself on the wrong side of the gun issue by thinking I could compel a conversation by putting my name on a bill and removing it six weeks later. That was a mistake, and I’m sorry.”

Birk immediately backed him up: “I think what you just saw was character!"

But that significant moment was far overshadowed in the same three-minute segment when Murphy, who had joined them on stage, provided the defining moment of the convention. In his blustery manner, he thundered: “Kendall Qualls offered me the lieutenant governor position, then he took it back . . . Kendall is a sell-out!” And he threw his support to Jensen.

Amidst wild cheers, a Jensen campaign staffer in the next section of seats and I exchanged smiles and fist pumps, knowing this would be a huge swing. But would it be enough?

It wasn’t. Not quite. Jensen received 59.02% of the votes on the seventh ballot. It takes 60% to win an endorsement, not 59.02%.

Then the gloves came off. 

In the early presentations, Qualls was composed, speaking calmly and with less fanfare than the others. The vote totals indicated his approach was working.

But now Qualls was visibly rattled. He vehemently defended what he called an attack on his integrity. However, what everyone in the arena knew was that the delegate vote count was what mattered more.

Depending on your point of view, it would be equally plausible to see Qualls as someone who was blatantly back-stabbed or a sore crybaby.

The veteran reporters were thoroughly enjoying the fireworks as a welcome departure from conventions that are a two-day coronation ceremony for a pre-determined candidate.

Birk brilliantly tried to soothe the situation, drawing on his pro football experience. “There is no harmony in a NFL lockerroom,” he said, explaining there are more fist-fights than the public realizes. But it happens between teammates because “we are passionate, we care, and we want to win!”

The Jensen campaign has heavily used a football theme in recognition of Birk’s time as a Minnesota Viking and Baltimore Raven. Murphy’s move was like an 80-yard interception return for a touchdown, just when the other team was reaching the red zone and threatening to put the game out of comeback reach.

During the next pause for politicking, there was a lot of steam to release. Music blasted the “YMCA” song while the dance cam captured the entire convention floor and even those on stage forming letters with their bodies. Yeah, these are Republicans. And the encore was the Macarena.

I was aware that after the initial bump from Shah’s delegates, Murphy’s support had receded, and feared the same would happen to Jensen. I was right again. On ballot eight, Jensen got only 56.7%, the only time he went backwards in raw votes.

It was now after 5 p.m. and obvious there would be time for only one more round before the imposed six o’clock cutoff.

The last round of speeches included Qualls angrily denying an offer was made, Murphy displaying his phone with a text message backing up his claim, and Jensen reminding everyone of the overall goal to make an endorsement.

What actually had transpired between Murphy and Qualls, only those men truly know, and they may not agree.

It was announced the ninth ballot results were being delayed while the candidates conferred. A lady in front of me surmised the results were the same but a concession was being negotiated. A reporter tweeted that Qualls had left the building.

Finally, it was revealed: Scott Jensen received 65.12% and is the party’s endorsed candidate.


It wouldn’t be complete without checking how the state’s Big Media spins its coverage. First up was KMSP at 9 p.m., which did a respectable job except for showing a clip of Shah’s shot at Jensen without following up with the obvious response.

At 10:00, KSTP had its experienced political reporter Tom Hauser on site and again was credible. WCCO seemed to send a young reporter who got the short straw of weekend duty, and also ran its convention story so far down in the newscast, I was able to see all of it after the other station had completed its coverage.

The night was over, and I adjourned.

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