BY T.W. BUDIG
ECM Capitol Reporter
Independence Party of Minnesota (IP) Chairman Mark Jenkins looks to state legislative races as "winnable objectives" for his party.
"The attitude has been favorable for many, many years," Jenkins said of voters choosing third-party candidates.
Republicans and Democrats, through their narrow politics and squabbling, have created fertile soil for the IP, Jenkins explained.
"The opportunity has been good, and now it’s even better," he said of the party of Jesse Ventura securing legislative wins.
All told, some 13 IP candidates have filed for legislative seats. While two IP candidates are running for the state Senate, 11 have eyes set on House seats.
Several of these House seats are in the suburbs.
In House District 35A, Justin Boals of Anoka is challenging seven-term incumbent Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka. Abeler won reelection in 2010 with 68 percent of the vote.
The entry of a third-party candidate into his race did not change his strategy for reelection, Abeler explained. He takes all of challengers seriously, he said. But in general, Abeler questions the political vitality of the IP.
"I don’t think the IP has any political faction anymore at this point," he said.
A big personality or well-known IP candidate might triumph in a contest with weakened opponents, Abeler explained.
But even if an IP candidate wins, the "critical mass" at the Legislature would be missing. And if the IP lawmaker began caucusing with the Republicans or Democrats, whatever distinction they brought would "evaporate," Abeler explained.
In House District 29B in the western suburbs, Eugene Newcombe of Monticello, a 20-year career Army veteran, is running for an open seat.
Newcombe decided to run, he explained, out disappointment over a lack of action by his local House member and the non-response of members on a House committee that he contacted concerning the release of a sex offender.
Newcombe felt a lack of respect for the average citizen. After reading the party platforms, Newcombe decided to run as an IP candidate, because he found the party’s platform centrist.
But Newcombe has been disappointed by the assistance the IP has afforded him so far, he said. Moreover, he senses little voter loyalty towards the IP – a base loyalty Democratic or Republican candidates enjoys, he explained.
"For the most part, I believe I’m on my own," he said of organizing and financing his campaign.
Newcombe has door knocked at 1,000 homes in the district, and hopes to visit thousands more, he said. People are interested in his message, Newcombe said.
Still, speaking the day before a campaign kick-off fund raiser at a local VFW, Newcombe was apprehensive. "I haven’t a confirmed person coming yet," he said.
Boals and other suburban IP candidates did not immediately return calls.
Suburban candidates include Andrew Kratoska of Brooklyn Park running in House District 36B, Joseph Koch of Richfield running in House District 50A, Ron Lischeid of St. Paul Park running in House District 54A, and Dave Thomas of Roseville running in House District 66A.
The IP hopes to win five to six legislative seats in November.
"That’s where we’d really like to go," Jenkins said.
But he would be lying, he joked, if he said that he would be crying in his beer if the party scored just one or two legislative victories.
One reason the party is focusing on legislative seats, Jenkins explained, is that a few committed volunteers can make a big difference. In a statewide race such effort has only minimum impact, he added.
Jenkins indicated that the IP will be able to supply support to its candidates.
The IP has had some success in winning legislative seats.
Former Republican state senator Sheila Kiscaden of Rochester, who lost the Republican Party endorsement, ran as an IP candidate in 2002 and was reelected. She later became a Democrat.
The IP is holding its state convention on June 23 in Roseville and one item that could cause "fireworks" is a possible debate over the U.S. Senate endorsement, Jenkins explained.
Two IP U.S. Senate candidates are heading for a showdown in the Aug. 14 primary, Glen Anderson Menze of Starbuck and Stephen Williams of Austin.
Two IP candidates are also running for the U.S. House, Steve Carlson, whose campaign address is listed as St. Paul, is running in the 4th Congressional District. Adam Steele of Bemidji is running in the 7th District.