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The Independence Party: a closing window of opportunity

The following are the words of MN Independence Party Director Kyle Lewis in a Facebook resignation of his position:

To this day, the IP cannot tell who it is or what it stands for…..the IP (is) in worse shape than when I joined……. I cannot keep my name as a leader of a party that I do not believe is the best option for the voters of this state.

Yes, the Independence Party of Minnesota is in worse shape now than it has been in the past. And there are a myriad of reasons for this:

1) They never built a core organizational structure. They were, essentially, victims of an early success when Jesse Ventura won a stunning upset as governor in 1998. That success too often led them to seek a similar shortcut to winning — namely the celebrity candidate.

2) They forgot that all politics is local. And by local, I don’t mean statewide politics. I mean real local — commissioner, school board, legislative politics. That type of local politicking can be time consuming and a long term project. However, the IP never really started it.

3) Swinging with an issue du jour. Although the IP has a reasonably good party platform, they tend to swing with the politics of the moment. Term limits, balancing the budget, marijuana; the publicity issues stick but a consistent message is lost. The average person can’t point to a party position that is up front year after year.

The Independence Party still has major party status and its candidates can still qualify for public financing. But the money is too small to be really competitive and their status is tempting for single issue instigators to take over one office run or another. 

The current governor candidate Hannah Nicollet comes out of the Ron Paul movement — and although she denies that her background will dominate her message — it is hard to take seriously given the fervor with which Paul supporters cling to their core ideals.

Too often the IP is forced to take “anybody” willing to file for office. The messages get mixed up and sometimes are uncertain. 

In the end, they are a protest vote. A frustration vote against the two party system — and although that can be relevant, it is not a method for winning elections.

I have always believed that the IP has to first and foremost concentrate on a few key, local legislative races and have a presence in the legislature. They need to think in terms of a very specific strategy. Find weak spots and a particular message that will appeal to that place and time.

Even if they could find another celebrity type lightning in a bottle, it would still not solve their long term problem. Mr. Lewis was spot on with his statement. That is the IP in its current state.

But with the right strategy going forward, they might still have the opportunity to make something happen. They still have a window, but it is closing fast.

This post was written by Dave Mindeman and originally published on mnpACT! Progressive Political Blog. Follow Dave on Twitter: @newtbuster.

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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 06/09/2014 - 03:49 pm.

    No message control

    Part of their problem is anyone at all can and does file for office on the IP line, even though their politics are all over the ideological board. All they have in common is they couldn’t win a nomination elsewhere.

  2. Submitted by Robert Helland on 06/09/2014 - 05:55 pm.

    I challenge you to look closer.

    I welcome Mr. Mindeman’s insightful commentary into the state of the Independence Party of Minnesota (IP). I also challenge him, and all Minnesota voters and media representatives, to look closer and see what is really going on in the IP… I think many people will be surprised because they have not been exposed to the broader movement of who our candidates are and what we represent. There are three players in “two-party politics”: democrats, republicans and news media.

    I am Bob Helland, IP endorsed candidate for secretary of state. I am a two-year party veteran, a longer voter; I am a five-year state employee who has specialized in business registration, technology systems (ex: electronic filing) and sales and use tax compliance among others. These are principal qualifications in the race for the Office of Secretary of State (OSS), and they are what make me the “technology” candidate in the race. Technology is the foundation of two main functions of the OSS: business and election administration, and I can guarantee I can use technology better than my DFL and GOP counterparts (both former legislators) as an executive officer of the state of Minnesota. I worked to fix and ameliorate the problems of errant legilsation in the state of Minnesota.

    During my five years at the Minnesota Department of Revenue, which is downstream from the OSS in the Minnesota “business life cycle”, I helped tens of thousands of business – many of which had stumbled through the system – to register, comply and operate within state law. I was a problem-solver and an educator.

    So, why the IP, what does “Independence” represent? To me: the party and the principle represents a willingness to think and act independently of party leadership and party platforms: glorified taglines. In fact, I independently made this choice to confront critics of the IP publicly because I think it serves the interest of bringing new leadership to Minnesota. This article is an example of a party that says, “If you are not doing the job, get out of the way.” That is exactly what you are seeing regarding our former director, who by his own testament, left the party in worse shape than he found it. He is out of the way and leaders, including young leaders like me*, are taking control of the direction of this party and for those who are in our way, including the DFL, GOP and any biased elements of the press… well, they better be prepared for the challenge that we are bringing to the 2014 elections. Game on.

    *I am 29, which would make me the youngest elected statewide official in the nation.

    All are welcome to contact me directly at to find out what I and the IP are all about.

    ~Bob Helland, endorsed IP candidate
    Bob Helland for Secretary of State
    @sosbobmn on Twitter
    Campaign Finance & Public Disclosure Board registration #17742

  3. Submitted by THOMAS REYNOLDS on 06/09/2014 - 06:29 pm.


    During the past year I have been working with IP leaders to work on grassroots organizing and with individuals looking to run as Independence Party candidates. As is true with the DFL & GOP anyone can run on the party ticket, some are great candidates and some are not. Endorsement is a different issue and requires some Party Affiliation and a 75% agreement with the Party Platform. We have been looking at and have had some success in grassroots organizing helping Independence candidates become elected to City Council races this year and we currently have a great candidate for the Mayor of Wilmar. Currently we are working with individuals that are very passionate about certain issues and are very credible. However, many of these individuals have little knowledge of the political process. Being elected is different than governing and while many of our candidates lack experience in being politicians they are quite capable of governing. In the election process it is about money, organization, and volunteers. It is difficult not to lose faith as Kyle has, when a great candidate like Tom Horner loses and winning state offices seem out of reach. But nothing comes without a lot of hard work. The Independence Party is now working with future candidates to help them through this process. Our future looks bright and I think we will surprise a lot of folks as we field our 2016 candidates. In 2014 we have some very good candidates but even so it is hard to buck the established norm.

  4. Submitted by peter tharaldson on 06/09/2014 - 10:38 pm.


    I am a demographic market researcher who has volunteered, including in officer positions in the past. I thought I better offer some observations.

    1) regarding anyone can file on the IP line. That is true, the same as it is for any other party. There are several candidates that travel between all parties in fact. Parties in Minnesota are actually institutions that belong to the electorate at their core, not party leadership.

    2) regarding the party always seeking “celebrity candidates”. Jim Gibson, Jim Moore, Tammy Lee, Peter Hutchinson, Tim Penny, Tom Horner, Dean Barkley, Jack Uldrich, Carol Grishen, Laura Knudsen, John Binkowski and many others would probably suggest otherwise.

    3) regarding an implication of declining support. Actually for endorsed candidates the level of support within that office has increased over time. The notable exception is Ventura. In the old days the party relied more on it. Now it doesn’t. Regarding party ID, that has never been higher. It is now around 10%, that is a first for the party and is a definition different from small i independents (who the IP will capture half the votes of with a strong candidate.

    4) regarding candidates coming from other parties. As a party base on reform, I would expect and hope for this.

    5) regarding the party being all over the ideological board. It actually is more consistent in policy than the other two. It is more over the board regarding rhetoric. The party has always been rooted in Federalism, an ideology that favors government at the most local level possible.Liberals and Conservatives often get confused by federalism these days. The IP generally leans libertarian at the federal level and more government activist as you become more local. It also is very much rooted in the economic ideas of Ross Perot.

    6) Regarding Kyle. Kyle is a an excellent and smart guy. Like with other parties we have different POVs. Kyle has believed in strong party organization, and consolidation efforts into select targeted races. He may be right (political answers are not easy). My group within the IP strongly support a concept called open party. A populist reform movement where the doors are completely thrown open an we run candidates in every race.

    7) Regarding focusing on legislative races…I agree a little, but there is a problem. You will hear it from Republican and Democratic strategists. They presidentialize nearly every election they can…even down to the dog catcher. This has the effect of making most of local elections centered around identity. This can be broken but its not easy.

    8) Third Party- There technically is not third party functionally. There are third candidates. Evidence from strong i and I elections have shown that when the third party candidate reaches 21%, the weaker of the two big candidates tends to collapse. the evidence for this can be found in multiple elections in Maine, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont, and Minnesota. This is also a strategy which the Liberal Democrat party in the UK uses. They selectively find places where they can be the second party. The IP has used this strategy a little, and it has worked but not gotten us over the top. The IP can be the second party to the DFL in Minneapolis, St. Paul, a couple first rings, Duluth and the Range. It can be the second party the GOP in some of the outer suburbs and in SW Minnesota.

    9) That last comment will likely have someone correcting me that the UK is a parliamentary system not like ours. I would correct them back that its not about the government system, but rather the electoral system. The U.S. electoral system is based on the Anglo winner take all plurality system used in the UK, Canada, the U.S., Australia and New Zealand. Third parties in those countries struggle with strategic voting (wasted vote). Their only advantage over the IP is that they don’t have ridiculous campaign season and ridiculous, even corrupt campaign finance systems. In the winner take all plurality systems generally a third party candidate can win 8-10% of the time.

    10) There are many problems the party faces. I would suggest that the governance of the party needs to map to the electorate. I would suggest a welcoming caucus that publicizes itself as an alternative (several in fact throughout the year). A non-endorsement system that relies on the primary (and primary races help the IP as the debate drives thought and attention), and finally a governance of town hall by delegates, meeting twice a year and providing a charge to leadership.

    11) The IP has been on its last legs for twenty years now.

  5. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 06/10/2014 - 04:36 pm.

    IP Platform

    Just out of curiosity, what is the IP’s platform? Someone mentioned that candidates have to match 75%, but I have to confess that I have no idea what it is. Hopefully it’s not something silly and vague like “less government” and “freedom!”

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