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.
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.
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.
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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