In a posting on his personal Facebook page last week, Independence Party State Director Kyle Lewis wrote that the party “has chosen to continue on a path of repeating all the same mistakes from prior years” and announced his resignation.
“I cannot keep my name as a leader of a party that I do not believe is the best option for the voters of this state,” wrote Lewis.
Lewis served as the IP’s director for 11 months and handled many of the nuts and bolts aspects of daily operations. He joined the IP after volunteering for Tom Horner’s 2010 campaign for governor.
In his statement, Lewis complained that the IP is essentially rudderless, writing: “To this day, the IP cannot tell who it is or what it stands for.” Noting declines in fundraising and delegates and vacant CD leadership positions, he pronounced the IP “in worse shape than when I joined.”
Such frank discontent from a top party official is only the latest round of dispiriting news for the IP as it struggles to regain relevance.
Although still a major party under the law, the IP this year failed to recruit the sorts of candidates who have helped make it a player in gubernatorial races dating back to Jesse Ventura’s election in 1998.
Past IP gubernatorial candidates – Horner, former congressman Tim Penny, and former Perpich administration Finance Commissioner Peter Hutchinson – all had public policy bona fides and a reputation for centrist political positions.
Weak candidate roster
By contrast, this year’s endorsed candidate, Hannah Nicollet, is a software developer and relative political newbie who came to the IP after volunteering for Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign. Nicollet originally intended to run for U.S. Senate but made a last-minute switch to the governor’s race when no other candidates surfaced in the IP’s gubernatorial contest.
Mark Jenkins, chairman of the IP, said he was taken by surprise by the resignation of Lewis.
“My biggest disappointment is the way he exited,” Jenkins said, in reference to Lewis’ public airing of his grievances on Facebook.
Jenkins acknowledged that it was difficult to recruit better-known candidates in the gubernatorial and U.S. Senate contests this year. He attributed that to the fact that both Gov. Mark Dayton and Sen. Al Franken are seeking re-election.
“I had a number of people who said to me, ‘If only it was open election and not an incumbent,” he said. “But I’m very pleased that we’ve got Hannah.”
He said Nicollet doesn’t fit the stereotype of the refugee Paul-ite looking for a new home. “She’s not the type who says, ‘Let’s privatize the roads and abolish the Fed,’” Jenkins said. “She thinks that personal liberties are important.”
Is he concerned that a poor showing at the polls could cost the IP its status as a major party?
“We have to receive 5 percent of the vote in one of five [statewide] races and I’m not worried about that,” he said. “I’m worried about getting beyond the 10 to 15 percent [in polls] so that we’re considered viable for the election.”
Jenkins called Kevin Terrell, the party’s endorsed candidate for Senate, “the strongest candidate out of the gate.”
In response to Lewis’ complaints that the IP lacks basic political pragmatism, Jenkins said that the party has sought to address that problem. In 2013, he noted, delegates at the state convention lifted the party’s long-standing prohibition against accepting money from political action committees.
He said the IP has yet to receive any PAC contributions but added, “We’ve been building the ask. We haven’t gone and solicited yet.”
Heading into the fall, Jenkins said a main priority will be to ensure that there are a sufficient number of debates for the IP slate to get their messages out. “I’m working to put together a plea for five or six debates, with all three parties present,” he said.