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As Minnesota’s Republican Party was giddily tweeting the news that the party had fielded candidates for all 201 seats in the state Legislature for the first time in 30 years, the Independence Party of Minnesota was quietly celebrating its own milestone: 16 candidates for the Legislature in 2010, seven in Senate districts and nine in House districts.

IP sees chance at legislative inroads

Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

Amy Smith, the Independence Party candidate in SD 66, says, "I think we have a tremendous opportunity right now. I can see that we're engaging with a lot of people, and that's what it's about." (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

Party fields 16 challengers for House, Senate seats

As Minnesota’s Republican Party was giddily tweeting the news that the party had fielded candidates for all 201 seats in the state Legislature for the first time in 30 years, the Independence Party of Minnesota was quietly celebrating its own milestone: 16 candidates for the Legislature in 2010, seven in Senate districts and nine in House districts.

“From our perspective, it’s our best opportunity in the last 10 years,” Independence Party Chair Jack Uldrich said.

Uldrich attributed the increase in party filings to a “strong anti-incumbent mood racing across the country and the state,” and what he called an open race for governor: Last month, the Independence Party endorsed Tom Horner to run for the office being vacated by Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and earlier this week Horner announced that he had selected former Association of Minnesota Counties executive director Jim Mulder as his running mate.

“I think Tom Horner’s success is going to trickle down, and when you combine that with the anti-incumbency mood, it gives us our best shot in years,” Uldrich said.

In 2008, only 10 IP members ran for legislative seats, and in 2006 there were 11. Of course, the party’s biggest success came in 1998, when Jesse Ventura — then a member of what was known as the Reform Party, which morphed into the Independence Party — was elected governor.

The most successful IP legislative candidate since 2006 appears to have been Paul Gaston, who challenged Rep. Bev Scalze in House District 54B in 2008 and racked up slightly more than 12 percent of the vote. (Scalze got 55 percent and Republican challenger Julie Johnson 33 percent.)

Uldrich said he has personally worked with three of this year’s IP legislative candidates — Mark Jenkins of Maplewood, Amy Smith of St. Paul and Mark Meyer of Lake Crystal — and he believes they understand what needs to be done. “It’s going to take a lot of shoe leather,” Uldrich said. “I feel as though they have expressed a really strong desire [to run] and understand what it’s going to take to be competitive.”

By the end of the day Tuesday, when the two-week filing period closed, IP candidates had filed the necessary papers with the Minnesota secretary of state’s office to run in these districts:

Senate District 18: Richard Hoff of Cosmos is challenging the DFL- and GOP-endorsed candidates, Hal Kimball of Cokato and Scott Newman of Hutchinson, respectively. The seat is being vacated by retiring Sen. Steve Dille, R-Dassel.

Senate District 34: Tim Biros of Norwood Young America filed to run against incumbent Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Jordan, and the DFL endorsee, Laura Helmer of Chanhassen.

Senate District 47: Andrew Kratoska of Brooklyn Park is challenging incumbent Sen. Leo Foley, DFL-Coon Rapids, and the Republican-endorsed candidate, Benjamin Kruse of Brooklyn Park.

Senate District 52: John McCallum of Mahtomedi filed to challenge incumbent Sen. Ray Vandeveer, R-Forest Lake. Their DFL opponent is Becky Siekmeier of Grant.

Senate District 55: Mark Jenkins of Maplewood will face incumbent Sen. Charles Wiger, DFL-Maplewood, and Republican endorsee Tami Ekstrand of North St. Paul.

Jenkins is predicting a “great year” for the IP, but he’s realistic about his chances. “I’m very confident that this is a good year for us, but I’m not naïve enough to think that I’m going to win my first race,” he said. “I don’t care what party someone runs on — the first race is never a guarantee. There are some very good politicians out there of every party who didn’t win in their first try.

“Will this be a year that the Independence Party maybe brings our threshold up to 15 to 20 percent? Absolutely. I’m very confident, but … I’m not so full of myself that I’d say it’s a done deal and I’ve got it in the bag. I’m going to have to work my tail off.”

Jenkins said he has promised Uldrich that he’s in it for the long haul. “I told him, ‘I’m not going to run just once,’” he said. “One of the challenges we have as a party is that we get great, qualified people to run who make a valiant attempt, then we never see them again. If I don’t win this year, I’ll take a couple of months off and then start my campaign for the 2012 state Senate election.”

Senate District 65: In a St. Paul district where six-term incumbent DFL Sen. Sandy Pappas trounced two challengers, a Republican and an IP challenger, with 76 percent of the vote in 2006, Amy Smith will run on the IP ticket. The two will face Republican endorsee Rick Karschnia.

Smith, a fourth-generation St. Paul resident, is running this year because she believes it’s the right time. “I think we have a tremendous opportunity right now,” she said. “I can see that we’re engaging with a lot of people, and that’s what it’s about. It’s grassroots, getting out there, connecting, and I think that’s something that some of the major parties have gotten away from.”

Senate District 67: In one of the more interesting filings this week, former Ramsey County Commissioner Dino Guerin joined the throng — nine DFLers and one Republican — vying for retiring DFL Sen. Mee Moua’s seat.

Guerin, who filed as an IP candidate on a platform promoting legislation that would allow cities to establish casinos and bars to have slot machines, pleaded guilty in 2000 to writing $35,000 worth of bad checks and was ousted from his county commission seat. At the time, Guerin, a district chief with the St. Paul Fire Department, blamed his downfall on a gambling addiction.

House District 7B: Call it a game of political musical chairs: Tony Salls, who ran as an IP candidate in the district in 2008, is doing the same this year, vying for a seat being vacated by Rep. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth. Reinert, in turn, is running for the Senate District 7 seat being vacated by Sen. Yvonne Prettner Solon, who was chosen by former Sen. Mark Dayton as his lieutenant governor running mate. One Republican, Travis Silvers, and two DFLers are also in this race: Kerry Gauthier and Jay Cole, who ran for the same seat in 2008 — on the Independence Party ticket.

House District 11A: A rematch is shaping up in this district between incumbent Rep. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, and IP candidate Dave Holman of Morris, who also ran in 2008. Westrom and Holman will face DFL endorsee Bennett Smith of Donnelly.

House District 17B: IP candidate Curtis Lendt of Chisago City is challenging DFLer Cindy Erickson of North Branch and the winner of a Republican primary battle between Sheldon Anderson of Wyoming and Bob Barrett of Shafer. The seat is being vacated by retiring Rep. Jeremy Kalin, DFL-North Branch.

House District 24B: Until Tuesday, incumbent Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, appeared to be heading for an uncontested election. Then two candidates stepped up: DFLer Joan Muth-Milks of Wells, and Mark Meyer, an IP candidate from Lake Crystal.

“I decided to run because the incumbent didn’t have anyone else running against him,” Meyer said. “The Democrats seemed to be unable to find someone to run against Tony Cornish, and it seemed like if I didn’t run, nobody would.”

That changed at the last minute on Tuesday, when Muth-Milks filed as a DFLer. Meyer remained undaunted: “I don’t know how things are in the other legislative seats, but I think in 24B, there’s a sense [among voters] that we can do better,” he said. “I think the Independence Party has a chance to change the game forever, and I’d like to be part of that.”

House District 41B: IP candidate Naomi Babcock of Bloomington is challenging incumbent Rep. Paul Rosenthal, DFL-Edina, and Republican endorsee Pat Mazorol of Bloomington.

House District 47B: Incumbent Rep. Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, is facing challenges from IP candidate Don Hallblade of Coon Rapids and Republican Linda Etim of Brooklyn Park.

House District 55A: IP candidate Joseph Polencheck of Maplewood is running against incumbent Rep. Leon Lillie, DFL-North St. Paul, and the winner of a Republican primary pitting the party’s endorsed candidate, Nathan Hansen of North St. Paul, against Bob Zick, also of North St. Paul. Zick also tried for Lillie’s seat in 2008, but he ran that time on the IP ticket.

House District 59B: Voters in this Minneapolis district may experience déjà vu when they head for the polls, because the names on the November ballot will be exactly the same as those on the 2008 ballot: Nineteen-term incumbent DFL Rep. Phyllis Kahn, Republican endorsee Ole Hovde and IP candidate Ron Lischeid.

House District 61A: Sixteen-term incumbent Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis, is one of the most formidable candidates in the Legislature (she hasn’t earned less than 70 percent of the vote since 1992, and in 2006 and 2008 she collected more than 88 percent). Nevertheless, she has two challengers, neither of whom surfaced until the end of the filing period: Republican Nicholas Skrivanek and IP member Sadik Warfa.

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