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What Minnesota's Independence Party has been and might become


The origin of Minnesota' Independence Party is the Reform Party, formed in the wake of Ross Perot's candidacy for President in 1992. (Perot gained 19% of the vote in a three-way contest between himself, President George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton, the next President, despite having withdrawn from the race for a time.) Perot stressed fiscal responsibility and opposition to NAFTA which he said might cause a "giant sucking sound" as high-paying U.S. manufacturing jobs went south to Mexico. The Minnesota Reform Party retained a focus on fiscal responsibility but abandoned the Perot stance on trade policy.

By all accounts, the Independence Party of Minnesota is one of the nation’s most successful third parties. It elected a Governor, Jesse Ventura, in 1998. A U.S. Senator from that party, Dean Barkley, briefly held office by appointment. Even today, a number of mayors, city council members, and other elected officials from medium-sized cities such as St. Cloud, Maplewood, Anoka, and Bloomington affiliate with the Independence Party.

Tim Penny, the party’s candidate for governor in 2002, is a former member of Congress who served with distinction on President Bush’s advisory committee on Social Security. Peter Hutchinson, its gubernatorial candidate for 2006, was a former superintendent of the Minneapolis public schools and a former Minnesota finance commissioner under Governor Rudy Perpich.

Though finishing in single digits, Hutchinson presented campaign proposals that were adopted by the DFL legislature and the Republican governor in the next legislative session. Tammy Lee, the IP candidate for Congress in the 5th District in 2006, wound up with 21% of the vote - about the same percentage as the Republican - in a heavily Democratic district.

The term, New Independence Party, represents Bill McGaughey’s projection of what the Independence Party might be rather than what the party is now. To the extent that a successful election campaign can move an organization in its direction, the party could conceivably fit the description of what is being discussed here.

With respect to the Democrats and Republicans, the Independence Party would not benefit from or be beholden to their respective sets of large contributors. It would have to run an effective shoe-string campaign to win anything.

Unlike the Democrats, the Independence Party lacks strong support from organized labor and from well-defined demographic blocs such as African Americans and feminist voters. Unlike the Republicans, it could expect to have limited support from big business. Hollywood, the oil and gas industry, trial lawyers, banks, pharmaceutical companies, and other well-heeled interest groups are spoken for already.

It’s conceivable, however, that the Independence Party might attract defectors from the business class. The owners of small businesses and small property owners who suffer from lack of political clout because they cannot afford to make large donations to political campaigns might support such a party. If it reverts to the Perot position on trade, some in the working class might do likewise. One should recall that the first President Bush, a Republican, initiated the proposal for a North American Free Trade Agreement while Democrat Bill Clinton later twisted arms with pork-barrel promises to gain fast-track authority for it.

The Independence Party of Minnesota, created in the image of Jesse Ventura, would have a different feel to it. It would be bold and outspoken, down-to-earth. Political correctness is not part of that package. Neither is the suave civility of corporate Republican types.

We in America need to revive sometimes ornery individualism as a civic virtue. We need the ability to go either way on an issue, depending on arguments that are presented. We need to resist demonizing people targeted by the media and politicians. We need to become swing voters, "flip-floppers", on both sides of a question, not just in the middle. We need once again to elect people to office who care about budget and trade deficits.

Third-party types are looking for the next “Republican Party” to come along, riding the crest of anti-slavery. Bland affirmations of the status quo won’t cut it. It’s necessary to be in tune with people’s concerns that are not being addressed by the existing parties. Then it’s necessary to act according to a bold plan.The required posture is that of the fighter.

That’s why, with a little fighting, the Independence Party could become the second major party in Minnesota. Both Democrat and Republican have failed the working man and woman. They both posture on gender and race, afraid of open discussions. The Republicans at least have a consistent program to advance the interests of rich people. What do the Democrats have? What do they stand for other than kicking Ralph Nader off the ballot? The Greens do also have a program although, with their focus on eco-feminism, they’re a bit outside the mainstream.

We need an environmentally sound approach, friendly to legitimate businesses and to working people generally but neutral with respect to the various demographic groups, focused on regulation that advances the well-being of the entire society rather than funneling public money and tax breaks to special-interest groups.

That’s what the Independence Party of Minnesota could be. If we deliver a clear message in election campaigns and other fora along those lines, we’ll be on the road to success.




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