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In Minnesota’s nationally watched Eighth District, a third candidate struggles to be heard

Left out of polls and excluded from some debates, Independence Party candidate Ray “Skip” Sandman insists his campaign is not just a symbolic protest.

Ray “Skip” Sandman
MinnPost photo by Brian Halliday
Independence Party candidate Ray “Skip” Sandman: "I am definitely opposed to nickel copper sulfide mining because it is unsafe in a water-rich environment."
Independence Party candidate Ray “Skip” Sandman is a serious man running a serious campaign in the 8th Congressional District, despite resources that are so minimal that he is not even acknowledged in the polls.

And, yes, that bothers him. “My campaign — we really had to work our butts off to come up with the signatures to get on the ballot,” he said. “They need to start looking at all viable candidates. I do care because I believe the voters should have the right to information of all candidates.”

Sandman was not allowed to participate in the League of Women Voters debate in Brainerd October 8 and not invited to the KSTP televised debate on October 21, both featuring DFLer Joe Radinovich and Republican Pete Stauber. “When you’re excluded, it’s unfair to the voters because now it’s a skewed debate,” he said.

It’s also one fewer, free opportunity for Sandman to introduce himself. He is an elder in the Fond du Lac Band of Ojibwe. He worked 16 years as a Minnesota prison corrections officer. He was naval chief petty officer in Vietnam — a major influence in his life he said in an interview in his home in west Duluth. “It showed me the value of life and responsibility,” he said. “How to listen to people and how to lead.”

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That leadership shows, Sandman says, on his priority issue of the environment. “One of my opponents is definitely for opening up the Iron Range. The other is wishy-washy, sitting on the fence,” he said.

“I am definitely opposed to nickel copper sulfide mining because it is unsafe in a water-rich environment and we do not have the science, or they’re not using the best science to protect the environment and everybody downstream of that proposed mine.

“And northern Minnesota has a very huge tourism industry. People come here for the water, for the fishing, for the hunting. And if it is polluted, there goes our tourism industry here in northern Minnesota.”

He is equally unequivocal in his support of single-payer health insurance, which Radinovich supports as well. But Sandman is convinced that neither major party can produce meaningful change.

“The DFL-GOP — those are the wings of the same bird. Right now both parties are sick,” he said. “Both parties are bought and paid for. I can vote Democrat, nothing changes. I can vote Republican, nothing changes. The working class person and the people that actually vote, in my opinion, are getting screwed because they’re not listening to them.”

Learning from previous campaign

His campaign is not a symbolic protest, Sandman says. He plotted his course. He ran for the Eighth District seat in 2014 as a Green Party candidate and got 4.3 percent of the vote. After sitting out the 2016 race because of heart surgery, he researched the parties again, considered them all — even the GOP — and determined the Independence Party was the best fit.

He studied the issues and the nuances. On mining for example, he says, “[Because] it’s boom or bust, we’ve got to start looking now for something that will be sustainable.”

But taconite mining is unique, he contends. “I’m in support of those guys 100 percent because we do need steel in this country. I even hate to say this but the president’s tariff on steel was … great for the miners up here,” he said, while acknowledging the tariffs hurt American farming. “You might have to spend 200 dollars more for an American-made car with American-made steel. Everybody can afford that.”

On raising the national minimum wage, Sandman says he understands the barriers. “A 15 dollar an hour wage is not unreasonable but it will not happen overnight. I know that.”

He also knows the extreme limitations of his campaign operation in a race that has attracted more than $7 million in advertising from outside groups on behalf of his opponents. “Right now, we’re probably sitting at 500 dollars,” he said of his cash on hand. “We raised altogether about 18 to 20 thousand dollars since January and we’ve been using it up just on advertising on social media. But, it’s not really an effective way to get the message out. Joe has 1.2 million, Pete has over 500 thousand. So it’s a struggle.”

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Sandman will have at least one more debate opportunity. He’ll take part in the October 30 debate in Chisholm.

Election day a week later, he admits, could be a “sad” one for him. But it may not be Sandman’s last day in politics. “I’m going to watch who did they elect and ask, is it working.” he said. And if it’s not, Sandman clearly implies, he may try it again.