Independence Party’s Tom Horner dreaming of a governor’s race that leaves him alone in the middle

Tom Horner
MinnPost photo by Bill Kelley
Tom Horner is seeking the Independence Party endorsement, believing that this time around many voters will seek the middle ground he says he occupies.

In his dreams, Tom Horner would be facing Republican Tom Emmer and DFLer Mark Dayton for governor this fall.

Horner is the leading Independence Party candidate for governor, though his spot on the November ballot still is not a certainty. He believes the philosophies of Dayton (“tax the rich”) and Emmer (“whack government”) represent the extremes of the two major parties.

He, of course, sees himself in the wide political middle.

First, Horner, a lifelong Republican, must get through the IP convention in two weeks and, likely, a primary race in August. At this point, though Horner is expected to win party endorsement, at least two other candidates, Rob Hahn and John Uldrich, are expected to run in the primary against Horner. Both are interesting characters.

Hahn, a political novice, is the head of Hahn Publications in St. Paul and is writing a novel about an independent candidate running for governor. In real life, he’s a fiscal conservative who favors such things as racinos and riverboat gambling to help get the state’s fiscal house in order.

Uldrich is the father of the IP’s chairman, Jack Uldrich. His entrance into the race in January caused his son some embarrassment. The party chair was surprised by his father’s entrance into the race in January and responded to it with a message to IP activists:

“As a citizen of Minnesota my father is, of course, free to file for public office and normally, as party chair, I would remain neutral in his candidacy,” the younger Uldrich wrote in January. “Given the circumstances, however, I feel compelled to state that under no circumstances am I — or will I be — supportive of his candidacy.”

With IP’s very independent members, no guarantees for Horner
Given that Independence Party members are, well, independent, there are no absolute guarantees Horner will be the party’s candidate. But he’s running a campaign clearly aimed at building a base for November. That base, he hopes, will come from moderate Republicans and DFLers, who feel their respective gubernatorial candidates are too extreme and will guarantee only four more years of gridlock.

In raw numbers, Horner believes that his base must account for roughly 800,000 people, or 37 percent of the vote on election day.

“They exist,” said Horner. “The question is: Can I reach them with the budget I will have?”

The big task he will face is convincing those 800,000 people that their votes will not be wasted by voting for the Independence Party candidate.

Four years ago, Peter Hutchinson, an undeniably bright and thoughtful guy, couldn’t even come close to persuading Minnesotans to move the IP’s way. He picked up only 6 percent of the vote.

But Horner believes Hutchinson was facing a tougher situation than what he is dealing with now.

“He’s one of the brightest guys in Minnesota,” said Horner, “but he was going against two skilled politicians [incumbent Gov. Tim Pawlenty and DFLer Mike Hatch]. There were almost no debates. The lines [between the GOP and DFL] were drawn. There was just no oxygen left. Now, both parties are in a different situation. … I have to go out and make the case that voters don’t have to choose between the lesser of two evils. If they’re willing to be flexible, I win.”

For Horner, the key to being seen as a viable candidate is to receive the early support of political names far more familiar to Minnesotans than his is.

The big score so far is former U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger. At some point soon, Durenberger, for whom Horner once was a staffer, is expected to endorse Horner. Already, though, Durenberger has written letters of support on Horner’s behalf and has set up a number of meetings for Horner with moderate Republicans and business leaders.

He’s emphasizing bringing divergent views together
Horner’s spiel to them emphasizes that he can bring divergent groups together to create positive government results.

“The way forward is not to rail against government,” he says. “It’s to fix Minnesota.”

His fixing ideas lean to fiscally conservative, though he repeatedly says his strength as governor would be his willingness to accept the best ideas from both sides of the political aisle.

“There’s got to be an alternative to what we have now,” he says. “What we have is a choice between extremes. On one side [the Republican cut approach], the most vulnerable are punished. On the other [the DFL], the people who have been most successful are punished. … We have a lot of very bright, very creative people in Minnesota, who can find a better way.”

In his vision, he would be the moderator of ideas, unencumbered by hard-line party positions. It’s a posture that irritates his opponents.

“You have to believe in something,” an irritated House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, now the DFL-endorsed candidate, said at an earlier forum that included a cross section of Minnesota gubernatorial candidates. “How else do voters know who you are?”

Horner laughs at the notion that he is a man with no beliefs.

“I’m just not appealing to idealogues,” he said. “We’re not going to fix government with either cuts or tax increases. Not every government program deserves a permanent place. Some have to go.”

He said he is running for a couple of reasons:

• One, his Republican Party no longer exists. It has been taken over by extremists from the right, he argues.

• Two, he says he wants Minnesota children of today to enjoy the same advantages he had growing up. His administration would focus on early childhood education and K-12 education. He thinks a moderate governor can help invest in those priorities by attracting the private sector and nonprofits to the table.

Horner knows his way around Minnesota politics
Horner has not run for office before but certainly knows his way around Minnesota politics. And he understands the political middle.

He was a staffer for Durenberger, when he met his future bride, who was a staffer for the offices of both Sens. Hubert and Muriel Humphrey. He and a former GOP state legislator, John Himle, founded a public relations/public affairs office that has advised political people and organizations of all persuasions. For years, he was the generally understated Republican political commentator for Minnesota Public Radio.

The decision to run as an IP candidate came after a chance meeting last summer with the party chair, Jack Uldrich.

“How you coming on recruiting a candidate?” Horner asked him.

“We have some interesting people who have expressed interest,” Uldrich said, adding, “Would you be interested?”

Horner didn’t dismiss the idea out of hand. Instead, he had conversations with a number of people, including former IP gubernatorial candidates Hutchinson and Tim Penny. He talked with his mentor, Durenberger.

“I’m not a neophyte,” Horner said. “I understand what the party could and couldn’t do.”

What the party can’t do is offer much in the way of infrastructure or financial support. But what it can offer is a platform “based on principles and values” that doesn’t tie a candidate to tight positions on relatively minor issues. It also still has a number of “passionate” supporters.

Likely, some of the early-era IP supporters have drifted off to the Tea Party movement, Horner admits. But he believes that’s more than made up for by moderate Republicans who are discovering a new political home.

Horner says there’s one other thing the IP supporters offer:

“The first two years of Jesse Ventura’s administration were extremely successful,” Horner says. “He appointed the best administration Minnesota ever has had and gave the people he appointed the latitude to do their jobs.”

The second half of his term?

“That became more about his personal antics,” Horner said.

He likely will be seeking Ventura’s endorsement, but for now, his push is to attract the backing of more traditional supporters, those people who live in the middle of the political spectrum.

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.

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Comments (23)

  1. Submitted by James Hamilton on 04/27/2010 - 09:38 am.

    Mr. Horner talks a good game at his website. But, like most politicians, he has yet to talk specifics. If he wants to sell me on the idea that he is not simply another version of politics as usual (which his background as a political consultant might suggest) he’ll have to take the hard road.

  2. Submitted by Ambrose Charpentier on 04/27/2010 - 09:44 am.

    I don’t know why we should think Horner is anything other than a Republican in Independent’s clothing. He’s probably getting Republican financial support for his campaign too – I’m sure he’s counting on it.

    On another issue, I don’t have a high opinion of PR professionals as trustworthy people. They’ve made a practice of saying whatever they think will get them where they want to go and obfuscating for the paying client.

  3. Submitted by Ross Williams on 04/27/2010 - 09:52 am.

    The problem with the IP is that it mistakes being misfits for being moderate. This article makes that clear. Their “base” depends on people’s dissatisfaction with the other candidates’ vision, rather than any common, shared vision for the state. You don’t build a lasting political movement with only shared dissatisfaction to hold it together.

    The reason the moderates left the Republican party is that the Democrats have moved into the center. I don’t think Mark Dayton would have been all that uncomfortable in the Republican party of Elmer Anderson/Nelson Rockefeller. And Anderson would not be that uncomfortable with the current DFL leaders.

    The division between the two parties now is really whether you believe in government, or you don’t. Republicans are really not interested in better government, just less government. So the IP is left to peel off a portion of the folks that still believe in government, letting the folks that don’t in charge and running the state into the ground.

  4. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 04/27/2010 - 09:54 am.

    It would be nice to see an IP candidate that pulled votes from the GOP for a change.

    What Horner should hope for is IRV (Instant Runoff, or ranked order Voting), which would allow voters to vote for him without worrying that they were wasting their votes, and making him a serious candidate rather than a spoiler.

  5. Submitted by Brad Robinson on 04/27/2010 - 09:57 am.

    Middle of the road is easy to state, but what does it really mean? The devil’s in the details. Sounds like he feels some programs have lost their viability. Which programs does he want to cut? That 37% will start to evaporate if he starts proposing specifics without adequate justification. I like to think that I too am a middle raid kind of guy, and the thought of another Elmer Andersen is very appealing. But the idea of cutting our way through the current fiscal problems, by itself, is not realistic. Of course, anyone proposing tax increases will not be elected either.

  6. Submitted by Tom Horner on 04/27/2010 - 10:44 am.

    The best way to get specific answers is to ask specific questions. I haven’t been shy on my web site, in my speeches or in my comments on Facebook and other forums about my positions.

  7. Submitted by dan buechler on 04/27/2010 - 02:26 pm.

    OK then I’ll ask one specific question. Would you rule out 4 day school weeks (except in the most rural and isoated school districts)?

  8. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 04/27/2010 - 03:58 pm.

    I’m wondering why returning to previous, adequate levels of state support for education, libraries, parks and recreation, infrastructure and health care (GAMC, MNCare, sufficient payments to Medicaid providers to keep them in business) are considered EXTREME???? These are normal expenditures shrunken for the sake of a failed ideology to abnormal and inadequate levels by Republicans in the governor’s office and the legislature.

    What’s extreme and extremely destructive is what we’ve had for eight very long years of Pawlenty.

  9. Submitted by Tom Horner on 04/27/2010 - 04:57 pm.

    Dan — I would rule out four-day school weeks for all districts, including the most isolated. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be creative though — for example, perhaps we expand academic offerings in smaller districts through online curricula, once we figure out how to engage students and assure accountability in virtual classrooms.

    Bernice – I agree with your fundamental point that it is unacceptable to turn our backs the most vulnerable before we have effective alternatives. It is true, though, that the cost of many public health programs is unsustainable. That doesn’t mean we abandon our obligations; it means we need to figure out how to translate federal health reform into health care that is lower cost and high quality for all Minnesotans.

  10. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 04/27/2010 - 09:21 pm.

    I can’t wait for the debates. May the candidate with the best vision and the most honest, thoughtful policies win the day.

  11. Submitted by Aubrey Immelman on 04/27/2010 - 11:26 pm.

    Best wishes, Tom. You have a good man in your corner with Sen. Durenberger. I look forward to lending a hand in the 6th CD.

  12. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 04/28/2010 - 08:38 am.

    Thanks, Mr. Horner. I would recommend, then, that Minnesota choose to accept the benefits to be had from the new federal plan BUT to go beyond it by enacting John Marty’s Minnesota Health Plan, a publicly funded but privately delivered system of health care.

    We could/would then ensure health care for every Minnesota resident from any provider s/he chooses and for every condition considered medically necessary by patients and their doctors.

    By so doing, we would knock off about 20% of our total health care spending while making sure that no provider is underfunded. AND, by using an independent management body appointed (as now planned) by county boards from around the state, we would take away every opportunity for any governor or legislature to “unallot” health care from any group of people.

  13. Submitted by James Hamilton on 04/28/2010 - 08:58 am.

    I want to thank Mr. Horner for offeing to talk specifics here. So:

    Mr. Horner, would you name five state programs which you believe scan and should be eliminated and tell us what savings you project as a result?

  14. Submitted by James Hamilton on 04/28/2010 - 09:18 am.

    Mr. Horner:

    I had read your entire website before posting my original comment on this article. After reading your response and posting my reply, I read your Facebook site, including your posts to the discussion threads. (At least one of the links from your posts is no longer available.)

    Having done this, I have to say that our ideas of specifics are miles apart. I do not consider a statement of principles (” Minnesota ‘s tax system should be built on two principles: it should be fair and it should raise only the revenue needed.”) specific. What one considers fair another considers onerous; revenue one believes is needed is woefully inadequate to many others. If you become the IP candidate, I hope you’ll break with the political tradition of ambiguity and tell voters precisely what you propose to do.

    In that vein, perhaps you can tell us which of the “creative solutions of the Association of Minnesota Counties and other groups that are proposing real reforms in government efficiency” you endorse and how you see them being implemented.

  15. Submitted by Eric Schubert on 04/28/2010 - 03:49 pm.

    Hi James,

    Having the pleasure of working closely with Tom for a decade, I can promise you that you’ll have no problem figuring out where Tom stands on issues.

    And that’s one of the big things that will separate him from the other candidates. He’s an incredible communicator, no bull.snot. and as thoughtful and smart as all get out.

    Good luck in trying to get an answer from any of the other candidates to “specifics.” Go to their Facebook pages. The candidates are largely “talking” at the people and rarely engaging in any real dialogue. It’s just another form of a commercial. Tom is the real deal. And he wants to move Minnesota forward with Republicans and Democrats and whoever else has a good idea that can work.

    He’d be a breath of fresh air.

  16. Submitted by Tom Horner on 04/28/2010 - 04:25 pm.

    Good questions — I’m feeling like Jason DeRusha.

    On health care, Minnesota isn’t going to a John Marty single-payer system. Even with large Democratic majorities in Minnesota and the federal government, there was not enough political support to achieve that goal. It’s not supported by the public.

    However, we must translate federal health reform into lower-cost, higher-quality care for Minnesotans. We do this by changing incentives to pay for quality and outcomes, not procedures (ICSI and other models are useful); by moving to more coordinated care models (Mayo, Fairview and others); and, by investing in prevention and personal responsibility (including continuing the state health improvement program).

    On the tax side, Minnesota needs to reduce the taxes that inhibit job creation. The challenge isn’t the political debate of businesses fleeing Minnesota, it’s that many Minnesota companies aren’t creating their jobs here. Yes, we need to reform the regulatory and permitting processes that take too much time and produce too little public benefit, but beyond that we need to reduce the corporate income tax, allow an exemption for some S-corp flow through, go further on providing incentives for risk capital and R&D investments, and reduce the capital gains tax.

    We make up the revenue by lowering the rate on sales tax and broadening the base, putting in place protections for low- and modest income Minnesotans. The sales tax better reflects today’s econonomy, it is less volatile than income taxes and produces more fairness — wealthy people buy more and are less able to avoid the tax.

    We also should increase the tobacco tax. There is no good public policy that supports cheap cigarettes.

    And, we need to look at the $11 billion in tax expenditures — the deductions, credits and other breaks — to bring them in line with the economy, with equity and with good tax policy.

    On the spending side, it’s a mix of investments (in education, especially in early childhood, and infrastructure, for example, promoting ultra-high-speed broadband statewide) and reform and cuts as noted in the following:

    the Association of Minnesota Counties has made several good proposals. For example, county plows now life their blades when they reach a city street. State, county and city law enforcement don’t cooperate. Bringing cooperation and efficiency to these areas would save $275 million.

    The state is the largest purchaser of health care. Reforming how we purchase care and changing how the state reimburses providers could save an estimated $740 million — not by tossing the vulnerable on the street, as happened with the ill-advised changes in GAMC, but by doing things better and smarter.

    There are 3,000 units of government with taxing authority in Minnesota. Many of these are vestiges of days when transportation and technology posed different challenges. Merging, collaborating and combining can save significant public funds. One example — Minnesota could eliminate aid to counties by allowing a local option sales tax of a 1/2 cent. Counties would be free to impose it or not. They then would be accountable for money spent (or not spent) and would not have the enormous and costly burden of responding to state mandates.

    DEED has several overlapping training and jobs programs. They can be combined.

    We need to tackle the legacy costs of public employees, not by eliminating benefits already earned, but by working with new and future workers to make the same transition the private sector already has undertaken. But we need to do it collaboratively. One example — work with local school districts to raise the starting salaries of new teachers. Right now, many teachers enter the profession with huge college debt, they are paid $25,000-$30,000, often get assigned to the most challenging schools and have to spend money out-of-pocket to buy classroom supplies. Raise their salaries and work with Education Minnesota to transfer these new teachers from the current and very expensive defined benefits retirement plan to a defined contribution plan.

    We must look at all the subsidies, from JobZ to energy subsidies, from business incentives to the $11 billion in tax expenditures to determine where we still are getting value (not politcal value, but economic value to the state) and eliminate those that don’t measure up.

    These are some of the ways in which we can balance, drive new investments in the future and put the state on solid financial ground while we grow the economy.

    Hope that answers your questions.

  17. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 04/28/2010 - 08:05 pm.

    Mr. Horner,
    The governor some time ago had a “blue ribbon” panel of business leaders that suggested cutting or removing the capital gains tax and replacing it with an expanded sales tax to services and clothing as well as tobacco. I see that you mention the tobacco component. What is your take on the rest of the panel’s suggestion?

    As a follow up, do you feel it is prudent to include both revenue and budget cuts to fix the long term budget problems? Or do you feel as some do that it is not a question of revenue but rather one of too much spending?

  18. Submitted by Tom Horner on 04/28/2010 - 09:29 pm.

    You’re referring to the Governor’s Commission on 21st Century Tax Reform and I thought the report was exceptionally well done and made a compelling case for the need to reduce Minnesota’s taxes on job creation.

    And on the solutions, I strongly believe we will need a mix of reform, investment, spending cuts and revenue increases. Spending cuts alone would be devastating to Minnesota and taxing the rich is a political slogan, not an economic policy.

  19. Submitted by Martin Owings on 04/29/2010 - 01:15 am.

    It’s just interesting to see a Candidate engaging in a Q&A on a news website with citizens. I think they probably all read the stories, it’s a pity more of them don’t engage.

  20. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 04/29/2010 - 06:55 am.

    I believe that if Mr. Horner continues down his path of thoughtful and well reasoned proposals. It will benefit not only the governors campaign but will in the end give him a leg up on his rivals.

    Mr. Horner has the opportunity to represent the moderate voter, which to me are the vast majority of folks who vote. Will Mr. Horner win over partisans and ideologues probably not. Then again, ideologues and partisans are not necessarily the path to victory in this campaign.

  21. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 04/29/2010 - 09:56 am.

    Ah, Mr. Horner. Re: “No public support for single payer.” You seem to have bought into one of those “facts” made to appear true by virtue of being repeated over and over.

    Kaiser Foundation: In 2008, when asked about the Massachusetts Plan (after which the new federal legislation is modeled), 73 percent of 181,000 voters from all 10 legislative districts in the state said they opposed individual mandates and supported single payer.

    Kaiser: February 2007 poll of 390 Minnesota physicians showed these preferences: 64% single payer, 25% health savings accounts, 12% managed care (MN Medicine Magazine, February 2007).

    See the web site for Physicians for a National Health Plan ( for the results of too many polls to list here showing that 60-plus to 70-plus percent of the American public favor single payer health care. (Search “polls”)

    The new federal plan will cost more than $5 trillion over ten years without providing either true universality or cost savings beyond those the insurance and drug industries say they will “try” to achieve. Since 10 huge companies control almost the entire insurance market, I don’t look for much from them.

    Single payer (See HR-676 for the federal plan) would cover absolutely every person while saving $400 billion per year, or $4 trillion saved in 10 years. Unfortunately, the Senate allowed the insurance industry to help the legislation, with the predictable result that the law is great for insurers but costly for patients.

    The upshot is that while the people want single payer, politicians are “not ready” to do what is best for their constituents.

  22. Submitted by James Hamilton on 04/29/2010 - 02:36 pm.

    Props for Mr. Horner for his reply, whether or not I agree with the approaches he suggests. Perhaps we can get the DFL and soon-to-be-selected IR candidates to give us a similar opportunity. (Not that I’ll hold my breath, mind you.)

  23. Submitted by John Olson on 04/30/2010 - 08:03 pm.

    Thanks Tom for coming “out here” and answering questions. I don’t agree with all of the answers, but the fact that you are actually interacting with us serfs in a respectful, rational tone that is anything but condescending is a huge plus.

    James, I’m not sure any of us taxpayers are “worthy” of actually having the honour to interact with any of the other candidates. We are just expected to continue to swallow their spoon-fed swill without question or challenge.

    I’m still in the “undecided” camp, but I am leaning towards the center. 😉

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