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No free ride for national delegates

When Joel Hanson began telling friends he was elected to be a delegate at the Republican National Convention, few of them realized the honor came with a hefty price tag.

Keith McLain of Byron, Minn. was elected to be a national delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. He has set up a Go Fund Me page to try to raise $2,000 to help offset the cost of the trip as delegates must pay their own way.

When Joel Hanson began telling friends he was elected to be a delegate at the Republican National Convention, few of them realized the honor came with a hefty price tag.

"Most people that I talked to when I got elected said, 'Oh boy, you get a free trip to Cleveland!' And I was like, 'No. Not even close,'" the Winona Republican said.

Delegates to national conventions must pay their own way. In the case of Hanson, he's expecting to shell out between $3,000 to $5,000 for the trip. It's a price the self-described "political junkie" is happy to pay for the chance to help shape the national Republican Party's future.

"Candidates come and go in the Republican party, and so for me what is most important is trying to get the Republican Party on the ideological track with conservatism, rather than an alternative ideology," he said.

Republican and Democratic delegates from southeast Minnesota are busy preparing for next month's conventions where each party will formally select its nominee for president of the United States. Republicans will gather in Cleveland on July 18 and and Democrats will meet July 25 in Philadelphia. The presumptive nominees are Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton.


Minnesota Democrats will be sending 77 elected delegates, along with 16 "superdelegates" made up of party leaders to the national convention. The state's Republicans elected 38 delegates. Minnesota Democrats voted overwhelmingly in favor of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who won the state's Feb. 1 DFL caucuses by a vote of 62 percent. Republicans picked Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who has since dropped out of the presidential race.

Delegates turn to online fundraising

Local delegates are getting creative when it comes to paying for the trips. Byron Democrat Keith McLain set up an online GoFundMe account to pick up part of the estimated $4,500 tab. So far, he's raised $1,784 of his $2,300 goal.

McLain turned to fundraising so that he could afford to make the trip. The 36-year-old has cystic fibrosis — an inherited disease that causes severe damage to the lungs and digestive system. The average life expectancy for people with cystic fibrosis is 37, according to the National Institutes of Health. McLain has been unable to work full time the past 10 years and relies on Social Security Disability benefits.

"One of the founding principles (of the DFL party) is that they are inclusive. They want their delegation to represent all people — not just people who can afford a $4,500 trip out there," he said.

Thanks to some new medication, McLain said his health has improved substantially this year. It enabled him to work as a field organizer for Sanders' campaign in Rochester. As a Sanders supporter, McLain said he is slowly coming to terms with the idea that Clinton will likely be the party's nominee this fall. But he said he is eager to go to the convention and thank the politicians and party leaders who stood up for Sanders. He also wants to provide a voice for people with disabilities.

"It's an opportunity for someone like me to be able to talk with national leaders and at the constituency caucuses to let them know what the concerns are of disabled people in America and what we're out here fighting for and the help that they need," McLain said.

A family road trip


Democratic delegate Zachary Peterson is also looking for fundraising help online. He set up a GoFundMe account and has so far raised $355 of his $2,000 goal. He's also hoping to do an open house before his trip to collect more donations. The 2015 Kasson-Mantorville High School graduate is looking for ways to trim costs. The trip has turned into a family vacation, with Peterson and his parents planning to drive the 1,127 miles to Philadelphia. He also plans to split the cost of a hotel room with a fellow delegate.

Peterson was elected as a delegate for Clinton. This is the first presidential election he will have a chance to cast a ballot in. The McNally Smith College student said as a young, Hispanic voter, he wanted to make sure his voice was being heard.

"I wanted to really get involved in this, know the system as much as I can as soon as possible," he said.

So what is he most excited about when it comes to the national convention?

"Getting to meet a lot of other very passionate people like myself, talk to them and see where they go from this, too," he said.

'Trying to save a nickel '

Similar to Peterson, Hanson is also trying to be frugal. The 26-year-old Winona Republican said he has been working hard to save as much money as possible for the trip. He also plans to carpool with two alternate delegates to Cleveland. The group plans to split the hotel costs three ways.

Hanson was elected to be a delegate for former Republican President candidate Ted Cruz. He faces added costs because he was elected to serve on the convention's credentialing committee, meaning he'll need to arrive up to four days early.


"I guess it's just the old fashion way of trying to save a nickel and a dime where you can," said Hanson, who works as a legislative assistant for GOP Sen. Torrey Westrom.

'One of the most important elections'

Also heading to Cleveland next month is First District Republican Party Chairman Aaron Miller. The Byron Republican was elected to be a delegate for Trump at the First District Republican convention. Miller said simply getting elected a delegate wasn't cheap. He spent $800 on fliers encouraging delegates to back his bid for the national slot.

"Normally, it's not this competitive. Normally, you've got to find somebody that wants to go (to the convention)," Miller said.

But this election has proven to be anything but normal with Trump defying expectations to become the party's presumptive nominee. The former congressional candidate said he's excited for the trip.

"This could arguable be one of the most important elections that we've had in my lifetime, and I think there is a risk that it could be a very divisive and contentious convention," Miller said. "As a party and as a country, we benefit from having logical minded folks on the floor, and I wanted to be part of the process."

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