Gubernatorial hopefuls to boycott DFL dinner over budget clause

Updated at 8:15 p.m. with Erin Murphy statement.

No announced DFL candidates for governor will attend the state party's major fundraiser Saturday, with most saying they are  joining a boycott over legislation DFL Gov. Mark Dayton signed into law this week. The bill includes a strict ban on issuing driver's licenses to immigrants who are living in the country illegally.

U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, state Reps. Tina Liebling of Rochester and Erin Murphy of St. Paul, and State Auditor Rebecca Otto said they would skip the Humphrey-Mondale Dinner at the Minneapolis Convention Center on Saturday. It is one of the party's most significant events of the year, with tickets ranging from $75 to a $50,000 sponsorship that buys a table for 10, a "governor's reception" and other perks.

There are plans for a protest by people who felt let down by Dayton's decision to sign a public safety budget bill containing the measure despite expressing reservations over it. The group organizing the protest wrote in a Facebook message that Dayton's sternly worded letter accompanying the bill signing wasn't enough.

"While I recognize Governor Dayton's efforts to remove this divisive language from the bill, I share the anger and deep frustration of Minnesota's immigrant communities and immigration advocates about this bill," Walz wrote on Twitter. "I'm standing in solidarity with our communities, and I will not be attending this Saturday's DFL dinner."

Liebling said in a telephone interview that she is changing her plans to join the protest instead of the dinner.

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"My campaign had bought a table to be at the dinner. I’m going to be outside with the protesters," Liebling said Thursday. She said of the bill that put into law the current practice regarding driver's licenses, "I voted against it, I spoke against it. It’s time for us DFLers to have the courage of our convictions. I’m disappointed the bill was signed.”

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman is also skipping the dinner because of a family obligation, but a campaign spokesperson said the mayor stands in solidarity with the immigrant community, and his public record reflects that.

Otto issued a statement Thursday announcing her boycott plans, quoting one of the dinner's namesakes.

"Hubert Humphrey said the moral test of a government is how it treats those who are in the shadows of life, and as your Governor, that will always be my guide," Otto wrote.

Erin Murphy announced her boycott of the dinner on Facebook.

"While it is hard for me to miss the Humphrey dinner, it is impossible for me to think about continuing to fail Minnesotans who need our elected leaders to do better. I want to do better," she wrote.

DFL Party Chair Ken Martin had urged Dayton to veto the bill. He posted on Facebook on Monday that the driver's license issue was an "important moral issue." He shared a letter from the Latino Caucus of the DFL that said signing the bill would hurt the relationship between the party and voters of Latino descent.

"Signing this bill in its current form could damage the bond between immigrant communities and the DFL, and could depress Latino voter turnout in future elections," caucus members wrote to the governor.

Martin said in an interview Thursday that the party was working with the protest planners to make sure their voice is heard inside the fundraiser. He said he doesn't begrudge the candidates for governor choosing to stay away.

"We respect all of our elected officials who make decisions like this. It's their prerogative. We're not going to twist anyone's arm," Martin said. "At the end of the day we're trying to make sure the event reflects all the people in our community."