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The Independence Party — the party of what might have been

Jesse decided not to run for U.S. Senate. Good or bad, I don’t know. But the flurry of activity that surrounded filings at the secretary of state’s office for the Independence Party’s Senate nominee prompts a question.

Is there a reason for the Independence Party to exist?

Under the liberal tenets of the State of Minnesota, the Independence Party still has “major” party status. But does it deserve it? Boy, that’s questionable.

The party (under the Reform Party moniker at the time) rocketed to fame on the coattails of Jesse Ventura’s surprise win for governor in 1998. The euphoria for the party was unquenchable. But what has happened since is a classic study in wasted and trashed political capital.

The Independence Party (as it was called later) had an opportunity afforded to few other third-party structures. It had a newsworthy standard-bearer, it had national attention, and it had the opportunity for party building. All the things that a political party dreams of getting, and they had acquired it in a short span of time. Maybe that’s why it all fell apart.

The standard-bearer

As a standard-bearer, Jesse Ventura could simply walk into a room and make news. He was a lightning rod. And even though he was controversial, the Independence Party had someone who could, at the very least, command attention. But, Jesse didn’t transfer his fame to his party. He enjoyed the limelight a little too much and was probably a bit too conceited to allow others in the third-party movement to share in his success.

It became clear that Jesse’s focus was Jesse alone. He didn’t help the party raise money. He didn’t help recruit candidates, nor did he support the ones who ran under the IP label.

And, the party lacked strong leadership to build on that sudden success. Most of the people responsible for Jesse’s successful campaign (Dean Barkley, et al.), joined the government and left the party to fend for itself. They preferred the short-term view of government influence rather than any long term view of building a viable party.

National attention

The nation was stunned in 1998. Jesse really did shock the world. He basked in the limelight, getting national interviews and an infinite number of requests for meetings with reporters. But Ventura kept the focus on what he did. The party received none of the recognition. Nobody looked beneath the surface to see if there was a viable party mechanism under the bluster.

In reality, there wasn’t. But the opportunity to build something was certainly there, and it was lost in Jesse’s aura. Ventura is certainly mostly to blame for that, but there were no party builders willing to shoulder the load and construct a state wide apparatus either. The success was too sudden and swift, and, as it turned out, very fleeting.

Opportunities squandered

With the success of Jesse Ventura, there should have been efforts to build party units at the local levels. There were token structures, but they were left isolated and unsupported. Enthusiastic candidates received no help and were left on their own, financially and structurally.

The biggest opportunity would have been 2000. Ventura needed to be engaged to help his party pick up legislative seats. It not only was needed to strengthen the party, but Ventura needed the help legislatively. He had no caucus to guide legislation — not even one person. But Ventura remained disengaged from the party and preferred the combative approach, dealing with the Legislature directly from the executive office, rather than any negotiation within the chambers. It was a fatal political tactic — for Jesse and for the party itself.

Other opportunities were presented during the critical tenure of Ventura’s governorship. Bob Lessard became an independent legislator in 2000, but he never seemed to develop any relationship with Ventura or the party, and retired shortly thereafter. Sheila Kiscaden turned to the Independence Party toward the end of Ventura’s term in 2002. She won her election with little help from the party and ended up caucusing with the Republicans. Later, she turned Democrat before her retirement. Her flirtation with the Independence Party was a blip on the radar.

Seeking out sitting members of the Legislature like Lessard or Kiscaden would have given the party some leadership — something to build on. But the party never cultivated those opportunities, and their attempts to groom candidates were feeble at best.

Still in a state of disarray

That brings us to today. The Independence Party is still in a state of disarray, looking for another personality to fill the Jesse void. There are now seven candidates for the U.S. Senate nomination. Seven! That is not an indication of party popularity. No, that is more an indication of a party with no plan — or a pathway to one. Dean Barkley is running because Jesse Ventura is not. Jack Uldrich (a party founder) wants to somehow get the 5 percent needed in the Senate election to maintain major party status. Stephen Williams is their endorsed candidate (if that has any meaning). Doug Williams ran as a congressional candidate in the Second District but must want a higher profile (such as it is). And as for Doug Stanton, Kurt Anderson, and Bill Dahn — who knows?

Is everything simply ego in this party? Probably. Does anybody want to put a structure together? It is doubtful.

This party had an opportunity. It had a brief moment in time when it could have started a viable movement. Minnesota is a state that is known to support the unusual, to help candidates that fit outside the box.

But that isn’t going to happen with the Independence Party. It has lost the spark and is now just blowing smoke.

Dave Mindeman is a community activist from Apple Valley and is the lead blogger for mnpACT!.


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If you’re interested in joining the discussion by writing a Community Voices article, email Susan Albright at salbright [at] minnpost [dot] com.

Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Jonathan Carter on 07/24/2008 - 08:53 am.

    It really is a shame. The Democrats and Republicans offer nothing new and the Independence party only offers a choice that is not one of the others. They haven’t chosen to step out and really identify themselves with better platform. Tim Penny where are you?

  2. Submitted by Steve Elkins on 07/24/2008 - 11:47 am.

    The Independence Party is alive and well and patiently awaiting the enactment of Instant Runoff Voting, which will change everything for us. In the meantime, we will bide our time by continuing to elect folks like me to non-partisan local offices. We’re not going anywhere!

    Everyone is invited to join us as we welcome New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to our event at the Nicollet Island Pavillion Friday morning, July 5th. For more information, visit the Independence Party website.

    Steve Elkins
    Bloomington City Council

  3. Submitted by myles spicer on 07/24/2008 - 11:31 am.

    Ugly as the two party system often is, it is still the most relevant reason our Democracy has survived over 200 years. The history of countries with multiple parties is less desirable in several ways: first, it invites odd coalitions which can frequently deadlock; and secondly, it can create situations where governments fall and change constantly (witness Italy).

    Guess we are best to just suck it up…and lend our best efforts to one of the two major parties of our choice.

  4. Submitted by Joe Gardner on 07/24/2008 - 12:49 pm.

    The problem that I have with people regarding the Independence Party is that people think that if they vote for someone from our party they are throwing away their vote.
    1. A vote is never wasted because it is your vote and you are voting your belief. That is what voting is. If you are voting for the lesser of 2 evils then why are you voting?
    2. If those that say the above would actually vote for an IP candidate then that candidate would actually win. Just like Jesse did.
    People, The 2 other parties are really the same. One is just a little more liberal or conservative than the other.
    I wanted to be part of party that is looking out for our future generations and not the next elections. I am tired of politicians that look for the next year or 2 and that is all. The Independence Party is looking out for my children and their children. That is what we need to do.
    IP not viable? It is. We just have to believe again. It is not Jesse’s party. It is your party.
    Look at our website and get a hold of your district chairs or better yet join a campaign. Start to make a real difference.
    My personal mantra: The time has come, the time is now. Lead, Follow or get the Heck out of the way!

  5. Submitted by Dion Goldman on 07/26/2008 - 07:12 pm.

    The real party with real people supporting the IP
    Check out this link…

    http://www.independenceminnesota.org/get-involved

  6. Submitted by Robert Rossi on 07/31/2008 - 11:08 am.

    This is a bit like saying that because it hasn’t taken over the media landscape, MinnPost has had no real impact and is doomed to failure. The Independence Minnesota movement improves politics in our state by merely existing – political “success” (as the short-sighted would define it) is gravy. I’ll grant that our biggest success story didn’t become a party activist…but that’s almost inherent to the movement. It’s the party for people that hate political parties, but are smart enough to realize that when playing chess, you have to stay on the board. We’re still playing, and hardly down to our last pawn. Most of those claiming otherwise are speaking wistfully.

  7. Submitted by Mark Jenkins on 07/26/2008 - 10:50 pm.

    Dave, you are mostly right. Jesse was more concerned about himself than the party. Some leaders of the IP at the time tied the party’s future to Jesse, and that future appeared to disappear when Jesse left office, the state, and the party behind. Jesse’s governorship was a squandered opportunity on the part of Jesse and the party leadership.

    But here is where you are wrong. The IP has had several strong viable candidates since Jesse left. Tim Penny kept the governor’s race a definite three way battle in 2002. Peter Hutchinson was a qualified candidate who just didn’t capture the state’s attention. Tim and Peter were not Jesse. No one else is Jesse. If the state is waiting for another feather boa wearing wrestler/XFL commentator/action movie “star” to emerge from the IP, I can assure you that won’t happen.

    If Minnesota want’s a viable third party candidate to keep the other major parties from polarizing and paralizing politics in Saint Paul, then vote for the best candidate regardless of their party. While Minnesotans continue to believe that a third party vote is wasted, the other two parties can rely on their extreme base to win elections. When a third party candidate threatens to capture the sensible center, the other parties work hard for that vote too. Believe it or not, the lack of a viable third party will continue to fuel the widening gap between Republican and Democratic candidates. That only leads to the abandonment of the majority of Minnesotans who are less extreme.

    The IP faltered in 2002. But the lack of Jesse does not mean we are dead. The IP is a small, dedicated, and involved party. We don’t have the numbers or the money of the other two major parties, but we have the heart, the drive, and the momentum to continue shaping a third political perspective for Minnesotans. To quote Mark Twain, “The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated”.

    See you at the polls in November.

    P.S. Check out http://www.DoTheImpossible08.com for a real choice in November.

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