HISTORY OF THE INDEPENDENCE PARTY
The history of the Independence Party of Minnesota dates to the Ross Perot presidential campaign of 1992. During and after that election, Perot supporters developed two separate approaches to continuing the drive for centrism, reform and patriotism. Many joined United We Stand America (UWSA), a non-partisan, non-profit, membership organization, organized to lobby for reforms to make government more ethical, accountable and fiscally responsible. UWSA, closely identified with Ross Perot, was essentially a national organization directed from headquarters in Texas.
UWSA quickly established chapters in all the states and many communities and began lobbying for reforms including a balanced budget through reduced spending, campaign finance reform, initiative and referendum, term limits, and fair international trade policies. After three sessions of Congress, 1993, 1994 and 1995, little progress had been made. In 1994 the UWSA proposals, almost item for item, became the Republican congressional campaign marketing plan, called the Contract with America. Republicans won a majority in the Senate and House, but afterward generally failed to act on the substance of the UWSA proposals.
During the same time, other Perot supporters chose to establish a new political party in Minnesota, and the Independence Party was founded during the 1992 election campaign. Dean Barkley started his career in elective politics in 1992 by running for the 6th District seat in Congress against Rod Grams (Republican), the eventual winner. Barkley, who started his run as an independent, and became the IP candidate, received 16% of the vote. Also in the same race was James L. Peterson (Independents for Perot), who received 5% of the vote.
In 1993, Steve Minn, endorsed and supported by the IP, gave the party its first election victory with his election to the Minneapolis City Council. In the 1994 election, Barkley once more ran against Rod Grams, this time for the United States Senate. Grams won the election, while Barkley received 5.38% of the vote, which qualified the Independence Party for the first time as a major party under Minnesota law.
In September 1995, Ross Perot announced on Larry King Live his intention to form a new political party. Polls at the time indicated widespread dissatisfaction nationwide with the two-party establishment. Perot's approach was to establish Citizens to Establish a Reform Party (CERP). Depending on state laws, the goal was to either form a new political party in each state or to place candidates on the November 5, 1996 ballot. In Minnesota, the Independence Party decided to join the national Reform Party, and in early 1996 the Reform Party of Minnesota was established. At about the same time, United We Stand America was discontinued and many of its members affiliated with the Reform Party.
Ross Perot was the 1996 Reform Party USA Presidential candidate. 5% of the votes were needed for major party status in Minnesota and many other states. Perot received 12% of the votes in Minnesota and 9% across the country. Dean Barkley, running for the US Senate, now as the Reform Party candidate, against Paul Wellstone (DFL) and Rudy Boschwitz (R), received 6.98% of the vote. These results maintained the party, under its new name, as a major party in Minnesota.
In 1997-1998, the national Reform Party continued to build, and in 1998 was recognized by the FEC as a major party on the national level. In June 1998, the Reform Party of Minnesota voted to formally affiliate with the Reform Party USA. However, throughout this period, strains and disagreements between the national party and the Minnesota party were frequent and serious. Many objected to the national organization's high centralization and close control from the top, and the Minnesota party was consistently involved in pushing for grassroots power and decentralization. Meanwhile, Steve Minn had won reelection to the Minneapolis City Council in 1997.
In the 1998 election, Jesse Ventura and Mae Schunk, Reform party candidates for Governor and Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota, "shocked the world" by winning the election with 37% of the total vote. Minnesota's Governor, and Minnesota as the home of a successful centrist third party, became instantly famous on the national scene. The party had still not succeeded in electing any members to the state legislature, although one sitting senator, Bob Lessard of International Falls, joined the party during the Ventura administration. Also in the 1998 election, Alan Shilepsky received 9.7% of the vote for Secretary of State, Jim Dunlop 12.0% for State Treasurer, and Jim Mangan 5.8% for Attorney General; any of these three results would also have been sufficient to keep the Reform Party a major party.
Differences with the national party continued. Governor Ventura's victory was achieved with no financial help from the national party. Struggles followed over Perot vs. Ventura as "head" of the party, over the national chairmanship, over a national convention location, over a public call by the national party chair for Governor Ventura to resign from the party, and many other variations on the issue of top-down control vs. grass-roots democracy. Governor Ventura ultimately declared the national Reform Party "hopelessly dysfunctional", and at his recommendation, on March 4th, 2000, the Reform Party of Minnesota voted to disaffiliate from the RPUSA and return to the Independence name. Since that date, the party is not associated with any national political party, and is a Minnesota state party only.
In 2000, the only statewide race in Minnesota was for the US Senate seat of Rod Grams (R), who was eventually defeated by Mark Dayton (DFL). Jim Gibson, the IP candidate, received 5.8% of the vote, again retaining major party status. In 2001, Mike Landy of the IP mounted a strong run for mayor of St. Cloud, eventually losing by 400 votes, while in Bloomington, Steve Elkins of the IP was elected to the City Council.
In 2002, Governor Ventura decided to return to private life after one term in office. He recommended Tim Penny, former six-term DFL US Representative, as his successor. The IP nominated Penny and Martha Robertson, former Republican state senator, for governor and lieutenant governor. The Penny-Robertson team received 16.18% of the vote. The IP's progress can be measured by the fact that this very strong showing came as a serious disappointment; many had realistically expected nothing less than victory. Merely remaining a major party no longer seems enough. In other 2002 statewide races, the IP was represented by Jim Moore for US Senate, Dale Nathan for Attorney General, Dean Alger for Secretary of State, and Dave Hutcheson for State Auditor.
The tragic death of Senator Paul Wellstone was a major shock for the Minnesota electorate. We remember him with sorrow and great respect; we will not discuss here theories of how his death may have affected the election. His place in the Senate had to be filled, and Governor Ventura appointed Dean Barkley to serve out the rest of the term. Senator Barkley's admirable performance of this unexpected assignment was a great credit to him, and to the party he helped to found and build.
Also in the 2002 election, Sheila Kiscaden of Rochester was turned down for endorsement for re-election to the Minnesota Senate by the Republican party. She joined the IP and won re-election, giving the Independence Party its first victory in a Minnesota legislative election. Lora Walker, running as a declared IP member for a non-partisan office, was elected to the county commission in Chisago County.
The Independence Party of Minnesota remains the same group of dedicated, concerned, and principled volunteers it has always been. In the aftermath of the 2002 election, it continues to work to defeat the influence of big-money special interests in politics, to foster wider citizen involvement in politics, to discourage political careerism and partisanship, and to reform government across the state and across all levels of government. Its continuing appeal to thoughtful centrist voters of both established parties, and to voters of no previous political affiliation, makes the IP Minnesota's best chance for real political reform.