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Chapter Twenty-five: My Campaign for U.S. Senate

 

I have caucused with the Independence Party in each biennium since 1998. My wife and I assigned our $100 political donation to the party at the beginning of 2002. Even so, I had never until that year attended an IP state convention. My experiences at the caucus in Senate District 58 had left an unpleasant taste. One year, when I submitted a resolution opposing free trade, several caucus attendees attacked the idea. I accepted “friendly amendments” only to have the amended proposal voted down by the same people who had offered them. With only a handful of persons in the room, the caucus conveners were using heavy-handed parliamentary procedures to control the discussion. I thought, this enterprise is going nowhere. I had a better outlet for spending my political energies, Minneapolis Property Rights Action Committee.

Governor Ventura’s sudden decision not to seek reelection sparked a surge of new interest in the Independence Party. People were urging a Ventura adviser, former Congressman Tim Penny, to seek the Independence Party nomination for Governor. Christine Jax, Ventura’s Commissioner of the Department of Children, Families and Learning, also threw her hat into the ring. A Star Tribune article about Jax reported that she had said “she offers two qualities that Penny cannot. ‘I’m not a politician and I’m not a white male. I know there are a lot of people interested in someone like that.’” Red flags went up within me. This was standard DFL practice. This was straight out of the editorial pages of the Star Tribune. When DFLers Judi Dutcher and Becky Lourey were passed over for Governor in favor of Roger Moe, that newspaper was full of comments from unhappy individuals that one of those meritorious female candidates was not nominated. Women are good, men are bad - that’s the bottom line of Star Tribune editorial wisdom.

To amuse myself, I wrote a satirical argument for Jax’s candidacy in the form of a campaign flier. This “flier” was titled “Two Reasons Why You Should Support Christine Jax for Governor”. The text read: “1. ‘I am not a politician.’ OK, she’s married to a veteran DFL legislator and her brother-in-law was Vice President of the Minneapolis City Council ... but, of course, these political connections had nothing to do with her being appointed Commissioner of the CFL ... and, as the clincher, she has never run for public office before. 2. ‘I am not a white male.’ White males are the scum of the earth. These are the kinds of people who enslaved the ancestors of African Americans and stole the American Indians’ land. They’ve raped and pillaged wherever they’ve gone and foisted their pretentious culture and patriarchal religion on other people. And, males have been oppressing women for thousands of years ... With their high testosterone levels, they are drawn to violent activities like war. Putting the two together, we see that white males are really bad people and Minnesota voters would probably not want to elect them to public office. You shouldn’t nominate one either.”

I put this mean-spirited piece “promoting” Christine Jax’s gubernatorial campaign into a drawer. Then, one day, I received a letter from Jax soliciting my support at the Independence Party convention. Since she had written me, I would write her. I sent her a copy of my satirical flier along with a cover letter stating that I did not think much of her campaign selling points. Jax’s response was startling. She began in bold-faced type: “If you ever show this to anyone, I will sue you.” She went on to call my piece of writing “the meanest thing I have seen since I was in the 8th grade” and make other such remarks, evidently believing that I was planning to pass off my work as Jax campaign literature.

I felt like a terrorist caught in the act. The only useful information to come of this was Jax’s disclosure that the Star Tribune article had given the wrong impression of what she actually said. Asked how she was different from the other candidates, she had responded that she was not a white male. She was not meaning to use this as a selling point. I could understand how newspaper reporters twist things to fit their story line. Pointing out that my “flier” was a spoof, I wrote Jax what was intended to be a conciliatory letter. I proposed that we meet at the Independence Party state convention and discuss the matter further. However, Jax withdrew as a candidate. She was not at the convention.

This incident was fresh in my mind when I received a telephone call from the 5th Congressional District chair, Peter Tharaldson, asking me if I was planning to attend the IP state convention in St. Cloud. He offered me a ride in a rented van along with several other persons. I accepted his offer conditioned on my being able to bring a friend. The friend could not be reached. I was set to go with Tharaldson but, due to an early-morning misunderstanding, wound up driving to St. Cloud by myself. I do not want to repeat the story here of how I decided to become a candidate for U.S. Senate. Suffice it to say that I thought my running might help the Independence Party find itself in terms of issues or, at least, raise useful questions. The “white male” bugaboo, hitting a raw nerve with Jax, showed that something needed to be done in this area. After several days of indecision, I filed on July 16th.

Since issues were my focus, I spent the first several weeks writing campaign literature and position papers. I put together a campaign web site, www.billforsenate.org. Many of those writings appear in an appendix at the back of this book. In a green-cover spiral notebook I copied the names and addresses, telephone and fax numbers, key contact persons, and email addresses of general-circulation newspapers in Minnesota. Behind this was the same information for many radio and television stations and special-interest newspapers. I carried the notebook around with me on the campaign trail as a reference material.

Having filed as a candidate, I began receiving letters from political-pressure groups. Most wanted me to declare my position on questions of interest to their members. My first inclination was to send these groups polite letters stating that I had no developed position on their questions. My campaign was about two issues only and I would stick to them. That stance might offend some but it was not as bad as pretending to be what I was not. As a minor candidate, I was unlikely to receive their endorsement anyhow.

On the whole, I thought it would be to my advantage to make forthright, specific statements of my positions. The election was not mine to lose by statements antagonizing constituencies; it was mine to win, or at least do well, by attracting support from individuals who agreed with me. There were also good-government groups sternly requesting a written promise from me not to engage in negative advertising. There were teachers who wanted me, as a political candidate, to appear in their class. There were persons wanting samples of my campaign buttons or bumper stickers, preferably mailed in damage-proof containers.

To research issues, I went to the Wilson library at the University of Minnesota to review back issues of Monthly Labor Review which contained recent information about work hours. I went through a large stack of back copies of U.S. News & World Report in my office. These I reviewed in search of answers for the League of Women Voters questionnaire. I looked for articles that concerned each type of question in search of pertinent information. It was surely to my advantage to respond to questionnaires from organizations such as the League of Women Voters or from newspapers such as the Star Tribune, Pioneer Press, or Duluth News-Tribune, which published voters guides. That might be my main way to communicate with voters in the large population centers. Attractive personal photos were also important.

I devoted special attention to the issues statements. In addition, most newspapers presented personal information about the candidates. They invited candidates to answer a standard set of questions. The St. Paul Pioneer Press ran a full-length story about the U.S. Senate primary written by reporter Toni Coleman. Reporter Scott Thistle handled that function for the Duluth News-Tribune. The Rochester newspaper, the Post-Bulletin, covered the U.S. Senate race from its Washington, D.C. office. Coincidentally, I received a call from Angela Greiling Keane, a reporter there, on the day after I had visited the Post-Bulletin’s Rochester newsroom in person.

As in the previous year’s race for mayor, I tended to take a contrarian position on some of the peripheral issues. Most Senate candidates favored a strong prescription-drugs benefit for seniors. I argued that the country could not afford this new program which would cost tens of billions of dollars annually. Besides, U.S. doctors were over medicating their patients. No one cared because someone else, an insurance company, was paying for it. I thought the federal government might more usefully fund studies to show the effect of drugs on particular patients utilizing information from the human-genome project. If we wanted a new medical entitlement, the government might give everyone a voucher for annual physicals up to a certain dollar amount.

I tried to straddle questions which pitted the environment against economic development. I was in favor of privatizing part of Social Security pointing out the “sweetheart” deal that the U.S. Treasury had with the trust funds. I answered “strongly disagree” to the question posed in the Star Tribune Voter’s Guide as to whether the United States should go to war against Iraq. Wellstone had “mixed feelings” and both my Independence Party opponents were mildly in favor. Norm Coleman did not respond to the questionnaire.

Faced with the need to respond to questions off the top of my head, I generally favor the technological quick-fix. Instead of going to war against Iraq, I think the U.S. Government should pour money into developing technologies for automobiles powered by hydrogen-based fuels or electric batteries. It should promote wind-generated electricity and solar cells. The problem of big-city traffic jams might be addressed by two proposals with which I have some acquaintance. An entrepreneur in Oregon, Bob Behnke, has been promoting a concept called “smart jitneys” which would use wireless technology to form instant car pools. A Minnesotan with whom I have recently served on the World Federalist Association state board, Ed Anderson, has developed the technology for Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) which would move people through congested areas along elevated guideways. Both projects have languished for years for lack of funds to do a demonstration project.

The relatively small number of dollars needed for this development might bring a cheap solution to transit problems. But I have a theory about how government operates: The cheap solutions will never be funded because they lack a constituency. The more expensive alternatives associated with the status quo are all promoted by lobbyists riding a wave of money.

My core issues, however, were the shorter workweek and opposition to political correctness. I knew that I was raising ideologically sensitive issues. That called for a campaign manifesto. I wrote a ten-page statement explaining my two issues. These I mailed to the editorial departments of major newspapers, to publications or civic groups representing organized labor and minority communities, and to the other Senate candidates. While he was lining up for the parade in Little Falls, Norm Coleman told me that he had received a copy of my statement. Otherwise, there was no reaction. Media outreach was the name of the game.

To a few publications, I faxed a press release which defended Public Safety Commissioner Charlie Weaver’s decisions concerning drivers licenses. I faxed the entire group of Minnesota newspapers an announcement of my candidacy. Then, to those newspapers which had email addresses, I sent another announcement telling how and why I thought I had a shot at winning the IP primary. After a few days on the campaign trail, I did a mailing to major newspapers giving “news” of the campaign and enclosing a few photos. It would be a real attention grabber if the newspapers ran photographs of me and the sign. Toward the end of the campaign, I sent an email message to some Minnesota radio stations hoping that they would pick up on my argument that “political correctness” was like a state religion. None did. Many of these statements, representing the distance-bombardment phase of my campaign, appear in Appendix B.

The guts of the campaign - the ground war, so to speak - was a month-long series of trips around the state. There is no need to recount those experiences here. A travelogue-type narrative is included at the end of this book as Appendix A. I originally wrote this narrative at the request of Watchdog editor, Ray Whebbe, who promised to publish them in an issue of Watchdog appearing just before the primary. In fact, my travelogue was truncated, and the newspaper itself came out on election day. This was a disappointment. On the other hand, Whebbe’s request to describe the campaign from the standpoint of a personal experience rather than a presentation of issues inspired the approach taken in this book. The photographs which I took to illustrate the Watchdog article have been used as illustrations here.

I thought I would enjoy an advantage in the metro area in belonging to the Minneapolis Property Rights Action Committee. Those expectations were misplaced. Not only did the Watchdog publicity fall through but also much that might have been gained through the cable-television show. My hour as a guest was shared with a (nonpolitical) representative of Peace House and Dave Berger, the Green Party candidate for state auditor. Both went on for about twenty-five minutes, leaving me ten minutes at the end. Then, two members of the landlord group attacked me for bringing up issues like the shorter workweek and international trade. Their statements came too late to be included in the taped version of the show which went on the air.

Eve White was upset to learn that I would be at the meeting intending to speak my mind on race issues, when Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Stenglein and two representatives of the African-American Men’s Project would be making a presentation. She did not want me to sit at the front table with them. Another member told Eve that I had every right to go on the show and talk about “the White Man’s party”. That was not quite what I had in mind. Still, there might not be enough time to go into the subtleties of the situation. Standing at the floor mike, I tried to press my case as hard as I could without creating a racial incident.

There was a lull in my touring schedule on Thursday and Friday, September 5th and 6th, the week before the primary. The Star Tribune Voters Guide came out on September 6th. On September 5th, I read in the newspaper that candidates for U.S. Senate would be debating that evening at Augsburg College. In attack mode, I faxed Twin Cities media lamenting the fact that I had been excluded from the debate. Then, as an afterthought, I called Augsburg College. Soon I received a telephone call from a man at the Urban League. Sure, I was welcome to participate. I faxed all the media another statement headlined “Oops, Egg on my Face”, which apologized for the previous fax.

The evening event, sponsored by Augsburg College, Unity VOTE, and the Twin Cities chapter of the Society of Black Journalists, called for a debate among the candidates for state auditor in the first hour and then among the Senate candidates in the second hour. I sat in the audience to hear the state-auditor candidates debate. Dave Hutcheson, the Independence Party candidate for that office, told me that he owned rental property in Minneapolis and had attended one of our landlord meetings. The Senate debaters, besides me, included the Independence Party’s endorsed candidate Jim Moore, the endorsed Green Party candidate Ed McGaa, and Paul Wellstone, the DFL incumbent. The Republican endorsee and eventual winner, Norm Coleman, did not participate. I told Paul Wellstone, an old acquaintance, that I was running for his Senate seat. “A worthy opponent!” he replied in a jovial mood, shaking my hand.

My single most important campaign opportunity was to participate in a radio interview on Minnesota Public Radio on Friday, September 6th. Not only was this interview timed well to influence the September 10th primary election; it lasted for a full hour and was shared by only two other candidates, DFLer Alve Erickson and the other Independence Party candidate, Ronald E. Wills. I was the only candidate present in the St. Paul studio with host Mike Mulcahy. Erickson was participating from MPR studios in Duluth, and Wills from an airport telephone booth in Michigan. After requesting brief opening statements, Mulcahy questioned Erickson and me on such subjects as terrorism, civil liberties, and Social Security financing. Wills unexpectedly joined us and discussed the entire range of issues. At the end, it was Erickson and me again.

I told Mulcahy during the break that I had other issues I wanted to discuss: the shorter workweek and political correctness. He obliged. Mulcahy asked about and challenged my views on affirmative action. He wanted me to explain why I thought shorter-workweek legislation would help the economy. Though time did not do justice to these topics, it was at least getting our feet wet. I know that many people listened to the Mid-Morning show since I later met three or four persons who had heard me on the show and also received an email message from a former work colleague. I am grateful to MPR for the opportunities it has extended to us lesser known candidates for political office.

Mostly, then, I ran a media campaign, trying to pack as much voter exposure as I could into the available time. The core of my campaign consisted of seeking newspaper coverage in the small- and mid-sized newspapers out state. I carried my two-sided sign in six parades. It was a different kind of campaign than a year earlier. My mayoral campaign had consisted of distributing literature and carrying a sign. In the 2002 Senate campaign, the literature and sign were used more for newspaper stories. During the final days of the campaign, when it was too late to expect published articles, I again resorted to personal campaigning. On Monday, September 9th, I spent several hours walking down Nicollet Mall talking with people and handing out literature. People gave me feedback on my issues, some negative, of course, but also positive.

It is a paradox that, in campaigning for Mayor of Minneapolis on an issue that enjoyed overwhelming voter support (preservation of affordable housing), I received only 143 votes and finished twelfth. A year later, I received 8,482 votes and finished second in a statewide race stressing two issues that were anathema to the political establishment. (See Appendix H for an analysis of the election results.) I had spent less than $2,000 altogether on the campaign excluding the $400 filing fee. Who says that politics is not full of surprises or that democracy is dead? Only in America - actually, in Minnesota - do such things happen.

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