Co-owner of Lansing Corners near Austin is running for governor to protect, strengthen small businesses
Patterson, a cannabis candidate, says pandemic restrictions stifled his plans for opening a Rochester brewery
AUSTIN, Minn. — Steve Patterson does not smoke pot, yet he is running for governor on the Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis Party.
Beyond his customer base at Lansing Corners Bar and Grill, an Austin-based restaurant he co-owns, Patterson has no statewide profile, no fundraising apparatus and no chance of becoming governor.
But Patterson, a one-time Rochester resident who now lives in Austin and who’s making his first bid for public office, believes that his quixotic campaign can score a victory without necessarily winning political office – that is, if his ideas for protecting small businesses can get wider circulation.
Patterson, 34, says he represents a strain of public opinion that is "just sick of it all" – sick of what he considers DFL Gov. Tim Walz’s heavy-handedness in dealing with the pandemic, the damage to small business, and the two-headed monster called the two-party system.
“I never used to get into politics, but I feel like we were all forced into politics” when the lockdown orders took effect, Patterson said in the dining area of Lansing Corners an hour before opening.
It could be argued that Patterson suffered the consequences of Walz’s shutdown order more keenly than others. Patterson says he and his business partner, Brian Miller, were on course to open a Rochester microbrewery, Prime Stein Brewery, in March 2020 when Walz’s lockdown order halted it in its tracks.
The business never opened because the owners of the building he was leasing got “cold feet.” Instead of founding a new business, Patterson found himself $60,000 in debt. What’s worse, the big box stores like Target and Walmart were allowed to stay open while his dream withered on the vine.
“They said, ‘When are you gonna open?’ And I said, ‘Well, how am I supposed to know? We have no crystal ball.’”
Patterson said he decided to pull the trigger on running for governor while watching a Vikings football game. A commercial aired urging people to get vaccinated. Tired of the constant "harassment," Patterson went on Facebook and vowed to run for governor if he got a 100 likes. He got 129 for his post called the "People's Governor."
Patterson says it was wrong to take away people’s freedom and ability to choose.
“I think to a certain extent, people should have the choice. … I think that if someone is afraid to go out to eat, that shouldn’t mean that other people can’t. And that as bluntly as I can put it,” Patterson said.
Patterson and his business partner opened Lansing Corners last summer. The one-time supper club turned bar-and-grill is housed in a striking red structure in the middle of a cornfield 4 miles north of Austin. Patterson sees many of the challenges facing the state from the perspective of a small business owner.
Like many businesses with “Help Wanted” signs on display, Patterson struggles to find workers. State government can help by incentivizing work rather than discouraging it, he said.
One way of doing that, he said, is giving tax breaks to employees who work more than 40-hours per week. The state’s welfare recipients should be allowed to keep their benefits for a period of time even when they make more money.
“I feel like in 2020, we trained people on how to be unemployed. And I think people are just comfortable with it now,” he said.
Though not a cannabis user, Patterson supports the idea of allowing people to use and smoke marijuana recreationally. The real value of running on the cannabis ticket as a third-party candidate is to engage people turned off by the rancid state of politics.
“What I’m looking for is new voters,” Patterson said. “I’m on Facebook, I’m on Twitter. I’m on TikTok. I’m looking (for voters who are) legitimately interested in other options.”
A viable third-party candidate has the potential to moderate the state’s hyperpartisan environment by taking ideas from both the left and right. Most people belong to the broad, non-ideological middle anyway, he said. And offering more choices to voters in terms of third-party candidacies could lead to better governors.
“I feel like we can come up with a better result,” said Patterson, a one-time health care security officer. “If I post a job for a cook, I’m going to get a better result if I have 15 people apply instead of one.”
But first Patterson must get past the Aug. 9 primary. He and his running mate, Matt Huff, are being challenged for the cannabis nomination by Darrell Paulsen of Maplewood and his running mate, Ed Engelmann.
It’s not as if Patterson has a lot of time to campaign. He estimates working 65 hours a week at Lansing Corners, helping run the restaurant and bartending. He opens and closes everyday and bartends in between.
“I do it between customers,” he said about campaigning. “I don’t bring it up to customers, but customers do bring it up to me.”
Given his relative youth and time constraints, Patterson is occasionally asked why not run for a more modest, achievable office – such as school board or city council. His retort: That’s not where the problem that he believes needs fixing lies.
“When the shutdowns happen at the state level, I feel that’s the level I need to be,” Patterson said. “It’s to the point where I need to know, in my heart, that I did everything I possibly could to keep this place open. And being on the school board or being mayor wouldn’t do that.”