Independence Party, minor parties prepare for campaign season

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol Reporter

Independence Party Chairman Mark Jenkins has those moments.

“Yes, some days I think that’s all we’re doing,” Jenkins said of running into walls.

But if he thought the party were a dead end, Jenkins added, he wouldn’t be working hard to advance it.

It might be thought the time is ripe for third parties. A Gallup poll in October showed 60 percent of Americans believed Democrats and Republicans do such a bad job that a third party is needed.

Former Gov. Jesse Ventura remains an icon of the third-party movement in Minnesota. Ventura grabbed more votes in some north metro counties than his Republican and Democratic opponents combined. Ventura is seen at a rally a number of years ago. (File photo by T.W. Budig)
Former Gov. Jesse Ventura remains an icon of the third-party movement in Minnesota. Ventura grabbed more votes in some north metro counties than his Republican and Democratic opponents combined. Ventura is seen at a rally a number of years ago. (File photo by T.W. Budig)

A more recent Gallup poll showed Congress’ approval rating at 9 percent, the lowest recorded by Gallup in 39 years.

Still, Jenkins, who in a YouTube video implores voters not to stay out of politics because politics “sucks” — a condition he attributes to them staying out — said a “disconnect” exists between voter angst and willingness to support third parties.

Political scientists, too, see challenges for third parties.

Larry Jacobs, political science professor at the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs, said while many people don’t like Republicans or Democrats, two-thirds of Americans have psychological attachments to them.

“Research shows that even folks who claim they are independent usually end up supporting the party they ‘lean’ towards,” Jacobs said in an email.

Additionally, the “rules of the game” favor established parties, he said. The U.S. Supreme Court believes a two-party political system fosters stability, the court tending to favor the major parties, Jacobs said.

Hamline University Department of Political Science professor David Schultz sees other pitfalls. For one thing, Schultz views third-party candidates bedeviled by a “spoiler” dynamic.

That is, voters are reluctant to pull the lever for them because they’re doubtful the candidates can win. They’re worried about their “worst fear,” that some other candidate they don’t like will slip in.

Schultz views third parties as cyclic, tied to booms and busts in the economy.

The unemployment rate in Minnesota in November 1998, when former Reform Party gubernatorial candidate Jesse Ventura shocked the world, was 2.8 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. State revenue coffers were bulging.

“Jesse had a confluence of things going at the same time,” Schultz said of the big personality, former governor.

There are currently three major parties in Minnesota, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, the Republican Party of Minnesota and IP. Major-party status is conferred, in part, on a party candidate winning votes in each county and at least 5 percent statewide.

Recognized minor parties are the Grassroots Party — a single-issue party focusing on legalization of marijuana — and Libertarian Party.

“Hopefully, there will be four major parties (in future years),” Libertarian State Party Chairman David Arvidson said.

The Libertarian Party — if you’re a Democrat and fiscal conservative, you’re a libertarian, Arvidson insists — looks to field 10 candidates for Minnesota House in 2014.

As minor-party candidates, these candidates need to gather 500 signatures over a set time period in filing for office, a process not required of major party candidates.

“They (Republicans and Democrats) have the power. They can do what they want,” Arvidson said of perceived stacking of the deck. Arvidson views attempts at moving the state primary forward as a cloaked means of forcing minor-party candidates to gather signatures in the cold of winter instead of the spring.

All candidates signing a public subsidy agreement, regardless of party, may issue political contribution refund receipts to contributors. This allows donors to receive up to a $50 refund from the state.

But the public subsidy payment is only partially available to minor-party candidates, according to a Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board official.

Third-party candidates can struggle in raising campaign donations, Arvidson said. But this is shortsighted on the part of voters, he argues.

“Your children are going to win,” Arvidson said of backing Libertarian Party candidates.

Like the Libertarians, the IP will be fielding a slate of candidates in 2014.

Jenkins anticipates about a dozen, including gubernatorial and U.S. Senate candidates.

Former IP officials warned him, Jenkins said, that statewide candidates tend to be pragmatic, not announcing until the snow falls.

“I’ve seen snowflakes — get out there,” Jenkins urged potential IP candidates.

One criticism of the IP, Jenkins said, is that it doesn’t stand for anything.

But the party has been embracing certain issues, he said, and looks to the issue-driven millennial generation for potential IP votes.

“We definitely need to get people in (elective) office. There’s no question about that,” Jenkins said.

Political movements come and go, Schultz explained.

He credits the Tea Party with a successful transition from a popular movement to a force within the Republican Party. The Occupy Wall Street movement failed to make such a transition, he said. No one is talking about Occupy Wall Street anymore, he added.

The Green Party did not respond to a request for comment.


Tim Budig can be reached at [email protected].