Make or break
Independence Party hopes to live outside The Body
By Lenora Chu
It's too early to tell whether Gov. Jesse Ventura's Independence Party, which is fielding more than 50 candidates for public office in Minnesota this year, will evolve into a major political force in the years to come.
But Election 2002 in Olmsted County will certainly be a harbinger of the party's future, political analysts say, and the outcome of the election in the area will be watched across the state.
"If there's anywhere the Independence Party is going to be able to do well, it's in the Rochester area," said Wy Spano, publisher and co-editor of Politics in Minnesota.
Steve Schier, a political science professor at Carleton College, agreed, saying the Independence Party has "better prospects" in Rochester than in any other part of the state.
"In Rochester, there are a number of moderate Republicans who are not pleased with the past of the Republican Party," Schier said. "Politics there are (neither) liberal nor conservative."
Since Gov. Jesse Ventura announced in June that he will not seek re-election, a number of former Democrats and Republicans and political newcomers have filed IP candidacies for legislative and statewide offices.
Former 1st District Democratic congressman Tim Penny of Waseca announced his IP candidacy for governor in late June, and polls immediately placed him on a level playing field with the DFL- and GOP-endorsed candidates.
Sen. Sheila Kiscaden, who lost the GOP endorsement this year after serving urban Rochester for 10 years as a moderate Republican, will be seeking re-election as an IP candidate. A host of other IP candidates in southeast Minnesota are also running for the Legislature, including Dr. Joe Duffy of Mayo Clinic, who is vying to replace retiring Rep. Dave Bishop, R-Rochester, in the House.
Political experts have said that while Ventura's celebrity gave the Independence Party a presence in Minnesota, the gubernatorial candidacy of Penny, a respected lawmaker with a reputation for reaching across the aisle in Congress, gives the party "credibility."
"(The IP) has scored quite a coup here," said Tony Solgard, chairman of FairVote Minnesota, a nonprofit group that advocates alternative voting systems. "It no longer looks like the party of the personality of Jesse Ventura; it's transformed into something quite different."
Many questions have been prompted by the recent events, such as whether the Independence Party will have the money and support to broadcast their centrist message to voters and whether successful IP candidates can wield significant power in the Legislature.
But political analysts seem to agree on one thing: IP candidates must win at least a few offices in November.
"The prospects for a third party being continually viable is pretty tough," Solgard said.
Schier said "it's now or never" for the IP in Minnesota. "If Tim Penny doesn't win the governorship, the days of the IP are probably numbered," he said.