Ron Paul delegates try to cut expenses at Republican National Convention

Republican State Convention 2012
Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul addresses delegates at the state convention Friday, May 18, 2012 in St. Cloud.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

Most Minnesota Republicans who are headed to this year's national convention in Florida are first-time delegates, and they're finding out that the trip will cost them thousands of dollars.

A solid majority of the state's national delegates support Ron Paul, and some of them are looking for unconventional ways to cut their convention expenses.

When Kevin Erickson sought election as a delegate to the Republican National Convention, he knew representing Minnesota Republicans in Tampa, Fla., would be expensive. When the pastor from the Iron Range found out that convention organizers assigned Minnesota delegates to a hotel that would cost more than $250 a night, he looked for options.

"Many of us, in particular some of us Ron Paul delegates, are folks who are coming without a whole lot of extra means, so we're trying to figure out way to save money," Erickson said.

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Rather than stay at the fancy Hilton with the other delegates, Erickson will be roughing it at a far less expensive nearby hotel. "I'm actually a pretty avid outdoorsman, so I figure if I have to hunt cockroaches, it will give me something to do to kill time," he said.

Erickson will share his relatively cheap room with perfect stranger who is also a RNC delegate from Minnesota. Both delegates need to be at the convention early for credential and platform committee work so they'll be sharing their budget accommodations for two weeks.

"It's going to cost me about as much for the entire two weeks as it would cost me for one night in the assigned hotel," Erickson said.

Ron Paul
Republican Presidential candidate Ron Paul spoke to an enthusiastic crowd of several hundred gathered on Tuesday, March 6, 2012 in a hotel ballroom in in Fargo, N.D.
MPR Photo/Dan Gunderson

Erickson said he is still looking for a "relatively inexpensive" airline ticket to Tampa or somewhere nearby. If he can't find one, he said he might drive.

Republican National Committeewoman for Minnesota Pat Anderson has been helping Erickson and other delegates with money-saving travel arrangements.

"There was a lot of rumbling, of course, when we found out what our hotel was going to cost. People just felt like they needed options, and I felt like I should give folks options," Anderson said. "It was sort of a combined thing that just evolved and it's working."

To be clear, in the wake of the aforementioned cockroach reference, Anderson says the alternate hotels she has found are just fine, if not just as fancy as the official hotel.

Anderson has been to three Republican National Conventions and says she has never seen such demand for alternate accommodations. She thinks there's more than just saving money behind the new batch of delegates' desire to chart their own course.

"There's a little bit of independence, more independence in this group where, you know, they aren't going to do exactly as they're told, you know by the original layout," Anderson said. "And they want some options."

The alternatives to the Hilton Anderson has been able to find for her fellow Minnesotans are within walking distance of the official hotel. She said it doesn't matter where delegates sleep as long as they can make it to the Hilton for their daily credentials, breakfast meetings and charter bus rides to the convention.

In his effort to save money, delegate Mark Zasadny of Roseville is not flying to Tampa and instead will drive to the convention with a stop in South Carolina to visit relatives.

Like Erickson, Zasadny won't be paying big bucks for a room at the Hilton. Zasadny and his wife are bunking with another delegate couple in a two-room suite elsewhere, and he said they're going save a lot of money.

"I think the room we got was $189 a night, so between the two of us, we'll save about $150 a night," Zasadny said.

Anderson said the Ron Paul group isn't pursuing just alternative travel and lodging. Some say they want to use their time in Tampa to dig in to big issues, and not just hear from celebrity politicians at pre-staged delegate meetings.

"In the past, you know, the requests are for national politicians or political figures to come in," Anderson said. "This time it's for people that can talk about economics and can talk about the debt, much more academic than what we've seen in the past."

Focusing on issues will give the Paul delegates from Minnesota something to do in Tampa when Mitt Romney takes center stage at the Republican National Convention.