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Chapter Eight

Switching to the Congressional race

Maybe that was not such a bad idea

I had not given the idea of running for Congress much thought. On June 22nd, the day after the Senate endorsing convention, I posted a narrative about the Independence Party’s convention on the Minnesota politics e-democracy forum. An attorney from Golden Valley named Jordan Kushner posted a message in reply asking: “Did the IP endorse any candidate for the 5th CD?” Good question. The short answer was “no”. The party’s Fifth Congressional District, chaired by Peter Tharaldson, did briefly subcaucus to endorse a candidate for the Minnesota legislature at the convention on June 21st but the question of a Congressional candidate never arose.

Kushner’s question started me thinking. The Senate race was over for me. Why not run for Fifth District Congress? The disadvantages were obvious but there were also some advantages.

For one thing, I had a certain reputation and visibility as a long-time activist with Minneapolis Property Rights Action Committee. I was co-chair of the present organization. This group continued to produce a half-hour show each week on the Minneapolis cable-access channel, MTN. I was also a regular contributor to the Watchdog newspaper, a free-circulation newspaper distributed in Minneapolis every other month. Maybe some voters would recognize my name from that connection. Also, I was a current board member of Harrison Neighborhood Association, which might find favor in some quarters, offsetting my conservative landlord reputation.

In fact, switching to the Congressional race might be a blessing in disguise, I thought. At that time, the price of gasoline exceeded $4.00 per gallon. My usual mode of campaigning in statewide races required driving thousands of miles. To confine the campaign to the Twin Cities area would save a bundle of money for transportation. Also there was the Minneapolis e-democracy forum, with the most subscribers of any forum in the state, where it would be appropriate to have a discussion of political issues in the 5th Congressional district. That would give me an alternative to the hostile Star Tribune in communicating with politically attuned persons in the district. Also, since the DFL incumbent, Keith Ellison, was virtually sure of reelection, I could not be accused of being a “spoiler”, like many IP candidates. I thought that, if I ran for Congress in the 5th district, I might challenge the 3rd district IP Congressional candidate, David Dillon, to a debate on trade. That unorthodox event might attract attention, to the benefit of us both.

How does one enter the race for Congress as an Independence Party candidate? Easy - just file for the office at the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office by the filing deadline. It was July 15th this year. The Independence Party has major-party status which means that candidates filing for office do not have to petition to get on the ballot. They only have to pay a filing fee, which was $300 in this case. Candidates also need to meet eligibility requirements: in this case, be eligible to vote in Minnesota, be at least twenty-five years of age, have resided in the district for at least 30 days before the election, have attended the party’s most recent caucus or intend to vote for a majority of its candidates, and have been a U.S. citizen for seven years or more. If other candidates file for the same office with the same party, then there is a primary election to determine which candidate will represent the party in the general election. If only one person files, he or she is automatically the nominee.

Another consideration, important to some, is whether the party has officially endorsed a candidate. As with the Senate race, the party should have held a nominating convention and selected a candidate by majority or other vote as required. In my case, that was not done. The 5th district party organization, not the state, would have had to convene a meeting for that purpose. Only Peter Tharaldson could make that happen. I sent an email message to him expressing interest in the Congressional race. Tharaldson replied that I’d be welcome to run. He had thought there might be another candidate for that position, but was now not sure. He did believe, though, that my type of campaign was better suited for a statewide race. If I did seek endorsement, the required convention could not be held before the end of July due to the party’s notification rules. However, a smaller group could vote to give me access to party lists.

I had been through a Congressional race in the 5th district before, not as a candidate but as a campaign volunteer for the Independence Party’s Congressional candidate, Tammy Lee. She was a public-relations professional who ran an effective campaign and enjoyed much party support. The DFL Congressman, Martin Sabo, was vacating his seat after several decades. Some of his staff people were supporting Lee.

Keith Ellison, who was my state representative in district 58B, was endorsed by the DFL convention. He then won the primary, and the general election. The Republican candidate had been Alan Fine, a business professor at the University of Minnesota. He alienated many voters by attacking Ellison for his association with “terroristic” groups. Ellison was a Muslim and a peace candidate, so this line of attack may have appealed to some. More voters, however, saw it as a smear tactic. In the end, the Republican candidate, Alan Fine, and the Independence Party candidate, Tammy Lee, both gained around 21 percent of the vote. Ellison won election with 55 percent of the vote.

Therefore, if I ran, I would face Keith Ellison as he ran for reelection. He faced token opposition in his own party. Now that the Administration had used him (being the only Muslim member of Congress) as an emissary to Muslim nations, Ellison’s religion was no longer controversial. He had, however, antagonized some of his previous supporters by backing off from his staunch anti-war positions taken during the 2006 campaign. The Republican candidate, endorsed by the Republican state convention in Rochester, was Barb Davis White, an ordained minister and former funeral home director. She was a political conservative.

Both Ellison and Davis White were African Americans. I was white. The 5th Congressional district of Minnesota was also predominately white although the state’s minority population was concentrated here. Race did not and should not have become an issue in the campaign if I ran. What was a legitimate issue? No one knew or cared. Most observers saw Ellison as a shoo-in for reelection. I was beneath the radar of political reporting.

While mulling over a potential race, I wrote what I thought would set the stage for the campaign in the form of a statement: “Manifesto of our Future Possibilities”. My campaign was set to stress two issues: the $700 billion annual trade deficit and the impending shortage of natural resources, especially petroleum. The newly grown beard was another change. Minneapolis voters tend to be more liberal than in other districts.

I sent the “Manifesto” to Peter Tharaldson and he liked it. I also composed a half-page flyer about my campaign. The headline read: “Does it make sense for non-DFL parties to run candidates for Congress in Minneapolis and adjoining suburbs?” That is the question most IP candidates face, and I thought I’d address it head on. I also ordered some professionally produced business cards, with a flag design, to announce my Congressional candidacy.

I file on July 10th

The filing deadline, again, was July 15th. I thought I would beat the rush by filing on Thursday of the preceding week, July 10th. Al Franken must have had the same idea. When I arrived at the State Office building to file with the Secretary of State, some people with Franken placards were coming out the back door. Franken had just filed. A rally was in progress in the hall outside the filing office. Quietly, I made my way to the counter. I filled out a form and wrote a check for $300. In return, I received a packet of information about political campaigns in a large manila envelope.

The deed was done. I was now a candidate for Congress in the 5th district.

I knew from previous campaigns that running for public office has certain financial reporting requirements. When I contacted the Federal Election Commission, I learned that a candidate need not file any reports unless he has received or spent at least $5,000 on the campaign. That would not be a problem for me. However, I thought it prudent to open a checking account at Wells Fargo to deposit whatever campaign contributions I might receive. The Secretary of State’s office did have a form for candidates to disclose certain information about themselves and make statements of issues. I complied. There was also a form for assisting blind voters. I took care of these details immediately. I learned that campaign lawn signs cannot be posted on public property, literature cannot be attached to telephone poles, etc. The law has anticipated certain aspects of campaigning.

Everyone was waiting for July 15th. What would Jesse do? Jesse Ventura was a guest on the Larry King Show on CNN on Monday evening, July 14th. I left the neighborhood-association board meeting early to catch the show. Larry King kept pressing Jesse for an announcement, but Jesse milked the suspense for all it was worth. Finally, he told King that he had decided not to run for Senate in Minnesota. It was because of his family. He had decided not to run over the weekend.

Two days later, we learned that seven people had filed for U.S. Senate in the Independence Party primary. Dean Barkley had decided to run, after all. He was a former U.S. Senator. Jack Uldrich, former party state chair, had also filed. These were the party’s best-known candidates. Then, of course, the party’s endorsed candidate, Stephen Williams, had filed, as had Kurt Anderson. A former DFL Congressional candidate, Darryl Stanton, had filed with the Independence party. So had Bill Dahn, still bitter about having been enticed to switch parties when Jesse Ventura ran for Governor in 1998. Also, there was a candidate named Doug Williams, having the same last name as Steve.

I was glad to have switched to the Congressional race. I could never have beaten Dean Barkley or, likely, several of the other candidates. Without party endorsement, the race was not worth the effort. Now it was up to Steve Williams and Kurt Anderson to see if they could compete against the better known candidates, Barkley and Uldrich, in a crowded field.

My race was not crowded. In fact, I was the only Independence Party candidate who had filed for the 5th Congressional District seat. Furthermore, there were no Green Party candidates on the ballot for that office. There was only the Democrat, the Republican, and myself. Hopefully I would inherit the third-party vote. But the race would not be easy. The 5th District Congressional District including Minneapolis was heavily Democratic. Incumbent officeholders from that party are typically reelected for decades.

In time, an ominous email message was sitting in my box. It was from a Star Tribune reporter, Steve Brandt, asking: “Were you endorsed by the Independence Party or did they decide not to endorse?” I knew that reporter Brandt, no friend of mine, would be picking for any weakness that he could find in my candidacy. I referred him to Peter Tharaldson to reveal whether or not I had skeletons in my closet with respect to party support. Since the subject was never again raised, I assume what whatever skeletons might have been suspected were considered not worth pursuing. But later came a question about my fund raising.

Steve Brandt - This was the same reporter who had written an article, published in the Star Tribune on July 8th, when the Independence Party did not have an announced candidate for Congress in the 5th District - I would file two days later - to the effect that incumbent Congressman Keith Ellison did not have any experienced challengers. It quoted Independence Party stalwart, Lisa McDonald, a former Minneapolis City council member: “I just don’t see a credible candidate running against him (Ellison).” (Translation: The Independence Party does not have any credible candidates for this race according to candid party insiders.) “As filing opened this week,” wrote Brandt, “the Independence Party so far has been missing in action.” (Another way to put it, more kindly, was that the filing deadline had not yet arrived.)

This article by Steve Brandt was, in fact, the last article appearing in the Star Tribune about the 5th district Congressional race until October 27th. Then, Brandt gave me two sentences of coverage. Nothing was said of my political views whatsoever. In this article on July 8th, anticipating that a Green Party candidate, Adri Mehra, would run, Brandt gave extensive coverage to Mehra’s background and views. But Mehra did not file. The Star Tribune failed to update its reporting to reflect that fact. We were left only with the impression that the Independence Party had no credible candidate to oppose Ellison and was perhaps derelict in its duties.

At any rate, I was not formally endorsed for Congress by the Independence Party. Tharaldson did arrange for an endorsing convention of 5th district party members at Davanni’s pizza in Golden Valley on Tuesday, August 12th. It never happened. The party official responsible for sending out notices of this meeting to party members failed to do so. The “convention” was cancelled. Instead, a small committee of 5th district officials voted to “support” my candidacy.

The lack of a formal endorsement caused problems for me with respect to appearing at the Independence Party booth at the Minnesota state fair. Tharaldson’s phone call to the appropriate party official came too late to do any good. Also, the party website did not list me as one of the party’s Congressional candidates until the month before the election. I may have been the only Independence Party member - the only third-party person - on the ballot but formalities were important to certain persons (not to me).

Conversations with Green Party people

I established a certain relationship with the Green Party when I posted some of my views on the e-democracy shortly after filing for Congress on July 10th. The Green candidate for U.S. Senate in 2006, who fell just below the 60% threshold for endorsement this year, Michael Cavlan, liked what I had to say about the Bush administration - it was perhaps the worst in U.S. history - and about the Iraq war.

He wrote me privately on July 18th: “Thank you Bill, you have given myself and others someone to vote for.” It turned out that Cavlan and others were unhappy with Ellison due to the fact that he had broken a promise not to support the Iraq war but had voted for the war’s funding.

This led to a luncheon meeting with Mike Cavlan and two women, Lori and Heidi, in the food court of the Sears Tower redevelopment on Lake Street on July 23rd. In discussing my background, Cavlan liked the labor activism associated with the shorter workweek and fight against NAFTA in the early ‘90s but he did not like my association with the Watchdog newspaper which he called a right-wing publication. He said the Greens in Minneapolis were in disarray, some preferring to keep Green candidates off the ballot so that the DFL would win. He was not in that camp.

Cavlan considered Ellison an opportunist who, not only had failed to oppose the war, but also opposed the effort to impeach President Bush as promised. I admitted that I did not necessarily favor immediate withdrawal from Iraq because I feared it might hurt Iraqis who had cooperated with the United States.’’

So we did not completely hit it off. My passion was not to defeat Keith Ellison but to help build a political movement that would, for instance, promote renewable energy. I then had the idea of sponsoring open houses at business firms involved in this industry, for the purpose of showcasing a possible future. Cavlan was at least mildly supportive of that approach. A greater enthusiasm for us both was Dean Zimmermann, a former Green member of the Minneapolis City Council who had recently been released from prison after a bribery conviction.

Cavlan was his close friend. He told me the inside story of what had happened to Zimmermann - essentially he had been given envelopes stuffed with money and failed to deposit it promptly in a legal defense fund account before the FBI raided his home. I proposed that Zimmermann might become my campaign manager, both to show personal support for him and thumb my nose at the prosecutors and court that had convicted him. Cavlan liked the idea and said he would talk with Zimmermann about it. Over time, however, this scheme fell through the cracks.

I also was invited to attend a meeting of the 5th Congressional district Greens by Kevin Chavis at the Park House (2120 Park Avenue) in Minneapolis. “We do not currently have a 5CD candidate, and Greens will need to hear why they should vote for you over Ellison or NOTA,” he wrote. Chavis cautioned me that many Greens did not share my and Dean Zimmermann’s support for PRT (personal rapid transit). But the group wanted to hear my views. David DeGrio, another IP candidate, would also be there. I was not clear if an endorsement was contemplated.

I did attend the meeting at the Park House on Sunday afternoon, July 20. My presentation was limited to three or four minutes. It was well received but apparently not enough so to inspire real support for my candidacy. In the past, I had criticized some of the policies of the Green’s only current member of the Minneapolis City Council, Cam Gordon. He and his young son were at the meeting. Gordon’s attitude toward me seemed cool. I can’t say, however, that I was getting much more support from my own party. I’ve always been a maverick or free spirit. That in a landlord - an inner-city landlord - is seldom appreciated.

left: Harvey Hyatt at "Drinking Liberally" club in July --- center: Bill McGaughey on July 15, 2008 --- right: Bill McGaughey as he appeared in Mexican Independence Day parade

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