Waseca, Minnesota: Independence Central?

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Early in his remarks Saturday evening, gubernatorial candidate Peter Hutchinson introduced some of those in attendance at the house of Tim Penny in Waseca. He pointed out former 24-year State Representative Rod Searle, Waseca Mayor Roy Srp and of course Penny. “What is it about Waseca,” he asked, “that it is home to so many independent-thinking people?”

Indeed, the group of about three dozen represented a broad cross-section of former and current Republicans and Democrats. Despite this diversity, all seemed to be uniform in their thinking: the current two major political parties weren’t doing it for them. As the former Republican Searle stated simply, “My party has abandoned me.”

Hutchinson and his “Team Minnesota” — the Independence Party slate of candidates — have been traveling around the state drumming up support for their third party alternative approach and accompanying four-point agenda. Along with Hutchinson, the candidates include Dr. Maureen Reed for Lieutenant Governor, John James for Attorney General, Lucy Gerold for State Auditor, and Joel Spoonheim for Secretary of State. All come from a decidedly nonpolitical background; none have run for major office before.

Of them, only Hutchinson is remotely a Minnesota household name, built from his reputation as Rudy Perpich’s Commissioner of Finance and a four-year stint as Minneapolis School District Superintendent. Dr. Reed — an M.D., not a Ph.D. — is an Internal Medicine physician, former Medical Director for HealthPartners, and former President of the University of Minnesota Board of Regents. Hutchinson chose her, he said, because of the emphasis they both place on health care reform and the future of Minnesota.

Attorney General candidate John James is a former Minnesota Commissioner of Revenue under Perpich and a business and tax attorney. In his remarks he emphasized public safety (“Too many kids are turning up dead,” he said), simplifying tax forms and collection, cleaning up the environment, re-establishing trust between state government and people, and not passing along state expenses to local governments. Unlike his two major party opponents, he is against the death penalty.

State Auditor candidate Lucy Gerold is the Deputy Chief of Police in Minneapolis, a position, she said, gives her a unique view on what the role of State Auditor ought to be. Unlike the current Auditor, Republican Pat Anderson, she views the job as a partnership between the state and local government, not as the state “policing” local government.

Joel Spoonheim, the candidate for Secretary of State, the youngest of the bunch, was openly honest about his lack of experience. But he said he provides the connection between Team Minnesota and young people, who have been disengaged from politics. He is currently Brooklyn Park’s Economic & Redevelopment Director and is a co-founder of Civics Connection, a nonprofit committed to teaching political skills to young people, both in the workplace and in the community.

Though he alluded to the “blood feud between the Democrats and the Republicans,” Hutchinson and his team focused on the four basic points of their campaign: health care, education, roads and transportation, and the environment.

Hutchinson said that health care is the one topic that nearly all Minnesotans want to talk about. There is universal agreement that it is too expensive, too complicated, too inefficient and too lacking in accountable results. While he didn’t go into detail about his proposals, he encouraged the guests to view them on the campaign website.

Later he discussed the challenges of the campaign. At this point he has 50% name recognition, not bad but certainly less than Pawlenty and Hatch. He stressed the importance of debates (“The debates are what gave Jesse [Ventura] credibility”), but said Pawlenty agrees to debates and then “bales.” In 2002, there were 20 debates among the candidates; this year there are only six. Of the five remaining, two will be broadcast on Twin Cities Public Television and three on Minnesota Public Radio (MPR), but none (so far) on commercial TV.

In mid-October of the 2002 gubernatorial race, then-IP candidate Tim Penny was ahead in the polls, Hutchinson said, but the Wellstone plane crash changed everything. The Democrats and Republicans started telling their constituencies, “Be afraid,” which meant “even if you’re not crazy about our guy, you don’t want the other guy to win.” After that, Tim Penny’s support eroded.

Like his IP predecessor Jesse Ventura, Hutchinson plans to engage young people. “We have representatives on every major college campus, have posted our ads on YouTube [also here] and have groups on Facebook.” He noted that as of Friday, Sept. 29, there will be a talking buffalo on his website to answer questions. Visitors just type in what they want to know and the buffalo gives audible answers. It’s called “Ask Indy”.

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