Is the Independence Party ready to move beyond Ventura and Barkley?

The stars of the Independence Party have been Jesse Ventura, left, and Dean Barkley. Who's next?
REUTERS/Eric Miller
The stars of the Independence Party have been Jesse Ventura, left, and Dean Barkley. Who’s next?

The Independence Party’s election night reception had a perfunctory feel about it — not exactly somber, but nothing much to holler about either. About 100 supporters and candidates watched CNN on a big screen in the grand ballroom of the Sheraton Minneapolis, near Ridgedale in Minnetonka.

As early results trickled in, it became apparent that Dean Barkley wasn’t going to shock the world with any kind of upset over Norm Coleman or Al Franken in his U.S. Senate bid. In fact, it soon became clear that Barkley was hovering around 15 per cent of the vote, a slight disappointment to the faithful who thought he might at least hit 20 per cent.

No one expressed outright disappointment, but frustration with the two-party stronghold and disgust with the Coleman and Franken campaigns were themes of the night. That, and: What now?

“This isn’t the end, this is the start,” Barkley told the die-hards shortly after 9 p.m., not quite giving a concession speech. “We need to keep on building this party, so even if I do not win tonight, two years from now we can win and carry on because this country needs an alternative.”

Barkley was referring to the 2010 Minnesota gubernatorial race, not himself: He’s been saying all along that this bid — his fourth run for Washington since the early 1990s — is his last.

As Barkley spoke, one silent figure loomed in the far back corner: Former Gov. Jesse Ventura. Clad in a black leather jacket and tan khakis, his crown of black hair pulled into a teeny pony tail, the Body mingled pleasantly for most of the evening with supporters and well-wishers, but he wasn’t talking to the media — not surprisingly.

But not because he was in a mood to tweak the jackals — the guv expressed a desire to lie low, out of the spotlight. And Ventura has to if the party is to move away from his shadow. Same with Barkley. It’s not their party anymore, but the question remains, whose is it?

Still a major party, eyes on the Capitol
Aside from Barkley, the IP fielded some decent candidates in U.S. Congress races: David Dillon pulled 10 per cent in the 3rd Congressional District and Bill McGaughey garnered nearly 7 per cent in the 5th.

(Most party faithful seemed bemused by Bob Anderson, who gained 10 per cent in the 6th Congressional District, essentially handing the race to Michele Bachmann over El Tinklenberg, whom the Independence Party had actually endorsed. Score another one for the Scandinavian name effect.)

But many — like political ad guru and Jesse/Barkley buddy Bill Hillsman — have long contended that U.S. Congressional and Senate races are no place to build a third-party apparatus. Rather, local and statewide races are where inroads can be made. And to that end, party activists have their sights set on St. Paul in 2010.

Sound far-fetched? Well consider that Barkley scored more than twice the percentage points he did in Senate bids in 1994 and 1996. And the party has maintained major-party status, with Peter Hutchinson’s 6.4 per cent showing in the 2006 gubernatorial race — something that opens some state coffers for any candidate the IP may field.

“Tonight’s the next chapter,” Chris Truscott, Barkley’s communications director, nothing the lack of public money for Barkley’s run. “Federal races are tough because of spending laws.” 

And consider that many around the state share the sentiments of Jim Moore, the IP’s Senate candidate in 2002, when he says that Franken and Coleman ran “the worst Senate campaign I’ve ever seen as far as what it offers voters.”

In fact, Moore, who stepped down as the party’s chair last year, says he’s actively looking at potential candidates — but of course, there’s a dearth of big-name candidates like Ventura out there.

“If you don’t have the candidate, you find one,” Moore said, without naming names. “It’s hard with name recognition and money. But these will be names you’ve heard of.”

The Independence Party has fielded some strong candidates in the past who went nowhere, and it’s obvious that sometimes the right candidate can manage around 5 to 10 per cent of the vote. But actually win a race?

“The Republicans went too far right and the pendulum is swinging for moderates,” Moore offered. “There’s an opening for us.”

G.R. Anderson Jr. covers politics, the state Capitol and issues related to public safety.

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Comments (12)

  1. Submitted by Jon Commers on 11/07/2008 - 10:13 am.

    It’s interesting that party faithful appeared bemused by the thwarting of their endorsed candidate’s chances, and the victory of incumbent Rep. Bachmann. This kind of confusion is consistent with the underlying problem with the Independence Party: Since Ventura, there has been no compelling, consistent message or narrative about why the party exists. How do Bachmann’s views interact with the IP platform? What is the IP platform?

    Giving folks who ordinarily caucus as DFLers or Republicans a way around their own party’s endorsing conventions isn’t much of a role to play. If the IP wants to build the kind of ground organization required by any statewide effort, they will need to work much harder to articulate why having their voice in the mix adds to the discussion. I remain unconvinced.

  2. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 11/07/2008 - 11:50 am.

    The ONLY votes Barkley, Dillon, McGaughey and Anderson received were the same as “None of the Above.”

    Barkley basically admits to having untreated mental illness and apparently mentions it often enough that it was in almost every story. Anderson was completely out of his league at the few public debates — he was like the plucky kid at a family reunion who wants to tell his story. McGaughey probably picked up middle of road closet racists who wouldn’t vote for a liberal black man OR a conservative black woman.

    Even Jesse’s victory was simply a “None of the Above” as no one wanted to vote for Humphrey, who was the classical old-school insider, or slippery Norm Coleman.

    The party is a joke. Always has been; always will be.

  3. Submitted by Colin Lee on 11/07/2008 - 11:51 am.

    The Independence Party has a clear role to play. Voters underestimate the role that having the most state lobbyists per capita plays in Minnesota politics. There is nothing more dangerous than having our politicians indebted to a lobby. Independence Party candidates turn down PAC and lobbyist contributions so that they aren’t tainted by the same influence-peddling games as the other candidates.

    The key for them is defining themselves as the only populists in their races. Showing sympathy with the bad state of politics and elections and providing voters with an alternate avenue free of dirty money and negative attack ads provided an obvious distinction for Barkley. Whenever Instant Runoff Voting gets implemented, I expect that the other two parties will be forced to emulate this higher level of political behavior and discourse simply in order to survive. That will be a tough pill to swallow for so many weak candidates who currently win by the Karl Rove strategy.

  4. Submitted by C Kaiser on 11/07/2008 - 11:55 am.

    The future success of the Independence Party (or any third party candidate for that matter)is totally dependent on getting Instant Runoff voting implemented statewide (nationwide?!?). When the stakes are as high as in the last election (regardless of your political “position”) it makes it very difficult to vote for the candidate whose views might better reflect your own views, knowing that if that candidate is a third party candidate, (and stands no real chance of winning) you are helping your least favorite candidate to win it all. Instant Runoff ballots allow you to rank your selections, and if your first pick doesn’t win, your vote goes to your second pick. This is an idea whose time is well past due, and it would behoove ALL political parties (other than the Big “D” and the Big “R”) to put all of their energy and resources in to getting this policy implemented so that all of us can vote for our favorite candidate without fear of that candidate ending up being a “spoiler” and throwing the election to a kook with a Joe McCarthy-like mentality who promotes Un-American hearings to investigate “Traitors” who may have expressed dissent with the Status Quo.

  5. Submitted by Amanda Tempel on 11/07/2008 - 12:40 pm.

    This is exactly why we need Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) at the State/Federal Level.

  6. Submitted by Brian Simon on 11/07/2008 - 12:48 pm.

    “The Independence Party has fielded some strong candidates in the past who went nowhere, and it’s obvious that sometimes the right candidate can manage around 5 to 10 per cent of the vote.”

    If I’m not mistaken, Tammy Lee won 20% of the vote in MN-5 in 2006.

    Jeremy Powers writes
    “The ONLY votes Barkley, Dillon, McGaughey and Anderson received were the same as “None of the Above.” ”

    Which says a lot about the DFL & Repubs, if 15% of voters – in this year’s Senate race – decided neither of the national major parties offered a compelling candidate. Thousands more literally chose none of the above, leaving their ballots blank on the Senate race.

  7. Submitted by Chuck Lindeberg on 11/07/2008 - 01:24 pm.

    Instant Run Off voting anyone? Get involved with FairVote Minnesota!

    http://www.fairvotemn.org/

  8. Submitted by Brad Lundell on 11/07/2008 - 04:02 pm.

    I listened to the 3rd District Congressional debate on MPR and was tempted to call in and ask David Dillon what he was actually “for.”

    He did say something about never voting for a budget that wasn’t balanced, so I guess he’ll never go to see a movie that didn’t get “two thumbs up” from Roger Ebert and whoever is sitting next to him.

    This isn’t a shot at Dillon per se, but I have come to the conclusion that the Independence Party has pretty much become Goldilocks and the Three Bears after Baby Bear went to college. The only porridge on the table seems to be either “too hot” or “too cold.” Nothing seems to be “just right.”

    But this is the same plight that beset John Anderson in 1980. If you are simply an “anti” choice and haven’t got a firm “forward” philosophy that clearly differentiates you from the competition over time, you are probably going to be captive to the personality heading the ticket; John Anderson, Ross Perot, Jesse Ventura, take your pick.

    And as for instant run-off, where do I sign up?

  9. Submitted by Colin Lee on 11/07/2008 - 04:13 pm.

    Brad and anyone else interested, to sign-up for supporting Instant Run-off Voting in our communities and at our legislature, fill out the form here:

    http://www.fairvotemn.org/volunteer/volunteer.html?sid=86

  10. Submitted by Nick Lemmer on 11/07/2008 - 05:20 pm.

    I’m proud to be from a state that values the insight a third party can bring to the bi-polar political process.

  11. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 11/07/2008 - 10:01 pm.

    The future of the Independence Party depends on finding charismatic former professional wrestlers to run for office. Because that is all the IP ever was. It was one clever guy who got a small plurality of the vote against lousy candidates from the major parties.

    Some people seem to think that IP candidates getting 10 to 15 percent of the vote in races means something. It doesn’t. You could run third-party centrist candidates in any race in any state and they would get the same results. It is basically just a “none of the above” vote. It doesn’t happen in other states because there is no point to it. Candidates run for office for one of two reasons: 1) to win, and 2) in the case of fringe (as opposed to centrist) third parties like the Greens and Libertarians, to push their ideology. The IP doesn’t really have a coherent ideology other than being vaguely centrist. So there is really no point.

    The continued existence of the IP is just a hangover from Ventura’s election and the illusion that there really is a viable third party, and people misinterpret the 10-15 percent IP candidates get as being evidence that there is a viable third party. At some point the IP may realize that there is no point to it and Minnesota will go back to being like other states. The IP could also lose its major party status, which would make it hard for guys like the 6th CD candidate who wasn’t even endorsed and spent $200 to get 10 percent. Dean Barkley looked like he was having fun out there, so maybe they will keep running. But if the question is whether there is anything significant or meaningful about the IP or what it contributes to the political process in Minnesota, the answer is no.

  12. Submitted by Tim Nelson on 11/09/2008 - 03:33 pm.

    Moderate democrats are being elected in battleground States because they run on a moderate platform, not because they bear the label of Democratic party member. Just as Elmer Anderson, a liberal Republican in days gone by, they are aisle crossers.

    Did any moderate Republicans get beat by anything other than a moderate Democrat this year? No. So, the trend is for moderates to play musical chairs, while the partisan hacks keep their seats. This is no way to run a railroad.

    Both parties began purging moderates in the mid-seventies.

    Richard Nixon was a moderate, but also a war hawk, much like John McCain is today. Ronald Reagan led the charge to change that reality in the Republican party, and he succeeded, but if the Democratic party had not followed suit, purging their moderate candidates, we would not be where we are today.

    A do-nothing Congress is the direct result of this shift to voting in a party block. The DNC, in a successful effort to gain a majority, began running purple candidates in purple States only as recently as 2006. Most of these wins were due to moderate views on progressive agenda issues.

    This enlarged middle belongs to the growing number of purple Democrats, but it also belongs to John McCain, who is there by virtue of being re-elected so many times. The Republican party has not started building back their middle in Congress, and purple Democrats are now gaining seats in every election.

    You may remember an adjustment period at the beginning of 07′. Pelosi and Reid discovered what electing purple candidates would mean to their agenda. While old guard liberals were to be in charge of committees, progressive legislation had to be stripped from the legislative agenda.

    So, this newly elected group is getting legislation targeted exactly for them, the moderate Democrats. Progressive groups are not so generous in their praise, and give a radically lower rating to Congress in general. They feel left out, and they should, because they are.

    So long as partisan hacks get major party endorsement, the Independence party (and my vote) will exist.

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