DFL Party leaders in state Senate District 50 have voted to pull the party endorsement for DFL Sen. Satveer Chaudhary and instead back a former state representative.
The central committee took the rare action Monday night after meeting behind closed doors for more than two hours. Chaudhary and his supporters say they'll fight on to win the DFL primary.
The decision to pull Chaudhary's party endorsement has been brewing since the end of the legislative session. In the waning hours of the session, Chaudhary made a last minute push to include a special walleye rule for a lake where he owns a cabin.
The bill was vetoed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty in part because of Chaudhary's action. Chaudhary repeatedly apologized for what he called a "honest mistake." But DFL party loyalists were in no mood to forgive.
"To me it came down to an issue of honesty," said Rachel Nelson of Columbia Heights. She was one of the 32 members of the Senate District 50 committee who voted to pull the party endorsement. Twelve members voted in support of Chaudhary. Nelson said she's disappointed with Chaudhary's action at the end of session.
"He did betray voter trust. It did come down to that," she said. "We are his constituents not where his cabin is, and he's completely honest about. Although he apologized and I appreciate the apology, it was not good enough."
The decision to yank the DFL party endorsement after it's been awarded is unprecedented in the modern era of DFL politics. The only other time party leaders can remember it happening is in a 1952 secretary of state's race.
Chaudhary had worked hard to keep the vote below the two-thirds needed to pull the endorsement. He wrote letters to the members of the committee. He sent a letter of support and a $100 check to Margaret Anderson Kelliher, the DFL endorsed candidate for governor even though he initially supported Mark Dayton's bid for governor. Chaudhary's support of Dayton was also an issue for party leaders. Chaudhary also made a personal plea to the activists before they made their decision.
In the end, it didn't matter. Chaudhary says the DFL endorsement "means a lot" to him but he now vows to continue campaigning to win in the primary.
"We already lit dropped the district once. We door knocked most of Columbia Heights. I have a 5,000-piece mailing going out this week. Our showing at the parades was really strong and none of my opponents were even in the parades," he said. "In six weeks, I think our campaign is only going to gain steam."
And while Chaudhary is working hard to convince likely primary voters that he should keep his job, his attorney, Brian Rice, said he intends to appeal the decision to the DFL Party's State Central Committee on technical grounds.
"The rules say that it had to be two-thirds of those eligible to vote. At the beginning, they established the record that there were 51 people eligible to vote and they just based it on those people who showed up," Rice said. "I think legally it's an issue we'll raise with the party that it took 34 votes. They didn't reach that number tonight so we'll contest it."
Chaudhary and his attorney may have a difficult time convincing state party leaders to reverse a local party unit's decision especially after they endorsed someone else just minutes after they took the action against Chaudhary.
Former State Rep. Barb Goodwin told the room she was pleased to have their endorsement.
"What you showed by doing this is that activism in party politics is a very good thing because you had the power tonight to make a change that you thought needed to be made based on what is good for the district, what is good for you and what is good for all of the cities in this district," she said.
Both Goodwin and Chaudhary are expected to campaign heavily in a district that includes first ring northern Twin Cities suburbs.
Chaudhary is the third member of the Minnesota Senate to lose the party endorsement this year.
Republican Sen. Debbie Johnson retired after she lost the party endorsement in March. Republican Sen. Paul Koering is running in the Aug. 10 primary against former State Rep. Paul Gazelka.