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DFL sees smaller caucus turnout, proposes big legislative agenda

Park High School in Cottage Grove last week was the site of one of the lowest caucus turnouts in recent history of south Washington County’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party.

Roughly 20 people showed up to participate in the District 54 DFL caucus which included a brief appearance by Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Cottage Grove, former state Rep. Karla Bigham, who recently announced her candidacy for the upcoming Washington County commissioner’s race, and representatives for other DFL congressional candidates. There were many more local activists at the DFL caucus two years ago.

“We are doing what we are doing here in Minnesota because of hard work,” Sieben said. “We have regained control of the House, and like (Gov. Mark) Dayton said, it’s going to be all about progress.”

Caucus-goers brought forth resolutions supporting the continuation of the state’s home foreclosure recovery mediation program and bringing call center jobs back from overseas.

According to the DFL’s numbers, roughly 4 million people work in call centers in other countries. Caucus participants supported creating legislation to allow customers to be transferred to a representative in the United States if they choose.

“Off-shoring jobs represents a bigger issue that doesn’t affect just one venue or type of work,” said Rep. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park, who is up for re-election this year. “If you look at the jobs that have been added over the past few years we’ve chipped away at our (state) unemployment rate. I mean we’re doing great but we need to start bringing more jobs to Minnesota.”

Raising the minimum wage was also a consensus among caucus attendees. Schoen said it’s on his agenda for the upcoming Legislative session. Sieben also has called for raising the minimum wage.

“This is certainly an issue of huge importance in Minnesota and I absolutely support it,” Schoen said.

The resolution passed at the caucus urged lawmakers to raise the state’s minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2015, allow it to increase with inflation and ensure that employees who work for tips are not paid less than the minimum.

Resolutions supporting spending on aging infrastructure, specifically roads and bridges, and strengthening the future of Social Security were also approved. Providing more opportunities to help low-income families pay for child care and funding all-day kindergarten also were supported.

By including roughly $110 million in the state budget in 2013, Minnesota families will have access to early childhood education at no cost, Sieben said.

“This is the first time in Minnesota’s history that we are providing the necessary funding for all-day kindergarten,” she said. “Next year, South Washington County Schools will get reimbursed and they won’t have to charge families to send their children to kindergarten.”

Both Sieben and Schoen said they are confident in Dayton’s campaign for a second four-year term as governor.

“I feel pretty good about the chances of Dayton being re-elected,” Schoen said. “I mean, if you look at the results in Minnesota, ask yourself, ‘Are you better off today than you were four years ago?’ You’d be hard pressed to say you aren’t.

“The economy is coming back, and we went from a billion-dollar deficit to a billion-dollar surplus,” he added. “It just comes down to progress.”

Sieben echoed Schoen, but added that the caucus is just the first step in the process.

“There is no doubt that we will be up against a lot during this election,” Sieben said. “But Minnesota is back on the right track thanks to Dayton and the Legislature. And we couldn’t have done this without you guys.”