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Jesse’s party in shambles? IP state director quits

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.


  1. I find it amusing you choose to call the Independence Party, ‘Jesse’s Party’, when in fact, Dean Barkley is its founding father, dating back to 1992. I first met Dean when hosting a 6th Congressional CD candidate forum for NSP’s employee PAC in 1992. Dean stood strong against PAC money and special interests ‘legal bribery’ of government. He expected a government to live within it means and not on the backs of our children and grandchildren. His practical, common sense solutions to campaign finance reform and ending government gridlock drew a lot of interest to his fledgling party, and I’ve been a member to this day. The problem isn’t ‘what does the IP stand for.” Those basic principles haven’t changes since 1992. Our legislature and Congress continue to be bought and paid for by special interests and the recent Supreme Court decisions confirming that corporate money can buy elections. Independents agree on the need for change, but the challenge has always been for the Independence Party has been to retain allegiance when its candidates have been as wide and varied as Ventura, Penny and Horner. While the Tea Party is challenging the foundation of the GOP, so are groups like Libertarians, disgruntled DFLers and GOPs challenging the core of the independence Party. As new leaders emerge within the party, long-time supporters drift away, questioning the validity of their party’s founding principles. I find this a challenge for all political parties in general, not a problem exclusive to the IP. The inverse proportion of individual participation in the political process to the choking influence of big money will reverberate for years to come, and the major parties will now be defined by the special interests that buy them. The Independence Party – and its candidates – will always, first and foremost, put the people first. – Sally Paulsen, Treasurer, independence Party of MN

  2. Voters are much more concerned about the concrete issues that impact them directly, such as taxes, health care, education, transportation, public safety, government spending, etc., as opposed to the abstract issues, such as campaign financing and election reform, which are frequently seen as tangential in their impact, elusive in their reform, and unconstitutional in their legality. The public is not as nearly as concerned of reformative politics as it is with effective politics. And yet, there has been an unbending core of individuals in the IP who have dedicated themselves to the idea of political reform that supersedes any and all other other ideas. The impact of this is that scores of individuals who have come to the Independence Party with the idea that it be an effective force in the political arena, have discovered it to be under-informed, under-equipped, under-manned, and overwhelmed in the face of its political opposition. Upon discovering that the Independence Party is essentially impotent in the political competition for voters, they have left the party. Such exposed weakness in the realm of contemporary politics is the reason why the IP is so low for numbers for participation, why it is so low in its finances, and why it has become irrelevant in Minnesota politics . – Tom Klas, former Chair of the Fourth Congressional District Independence Party Minnesota, former member of the Executive Committee Independence Party Minnesota, former member of the Independence Party Minnesota.

  3. Peter Tharaldson

    At the end of the day, it’s the numbers that tell the story. I am the delegate who proposed the state director position several years ago, and got it passed. I’m also a researcher by trade, and understand demographics by heart. Let me tell you the story of the two Independence Parties.

    The first Independence Party is that of the government, it is the organization and officers. If a party were a country, it would be the prime minister, the parliament, and the bureaucracy…the machine that runs it. The Independence Party government has always been in shambles more or less, struggling with finances, offices etc…. Mr. Klas has put a considerable amount of effort into trying to create that government, so has Mr. Jenkins and my friend Kyle Lewis (that’s why they feel so passionate about this). They have skin in that game and its a rough game. The fact of the matter is though, that no matter how much effort the IP government puts into supporting a candidate or idea, it makes no difference (correlation analysis is statistics prove this). The IP government has always been a fraction of the Green Party government.

    The Independence Party state, is the entire electorate which supports the Independence Party, its candidates and its efforts. Like in a country, it’s far far more important to the government of the party. Interestingly, the organization of the Independence Party, like our other parties, is a state institution, chartered with the Secretary of State, and interestingly not controlled that much by the government of the party.

    The Independence Party state, despite having the government discourage candidates in order to focus on a few races, or push candidates to run everywhere, or push for PAC money, or against it, has actually not only held its own, but has expanded in comparable races year over year. In a recent poll, Party ID was around 10%, and that was different from independent, which the party typically gets 1/3 of its electoral vote from. Never before has actualy IP party ID been higher.

    The ultimate problem is that we have a government that is not reflective of the nature or business of the party. That’s a very bad thing. The Green Party has a highly organized government, but get’s 1/9th the vote. I fear that those who think that a party is just the government don’t understand that “partocracy” is a very bad thing for the IP, and something it inherited when founders, not knowing better, simply copied the structure of the DFL and the Republicans.

    The irony is that as the IP government becomes more iconoclast in defining the party by organizational strength, they actually scare the broader mainstream of the party, the electorate or state if you will, away from participation. It’s almost a government radicalization even if its not intentional. The increase in party ID has happened at the same time there has been a decrease in party governance participation, simply because the increasing idiosyncrasies with a few more dedicated people in the government are not an investment that the IP state is willing to make.

    All mean well, but in the end there is a profound a severe disconnect between the IP goverment and the IP state. I personally will go with the health of the IP state anytime, as that is what matters. That said, even with a growing electorate, we need to get past tipping points. In Canada, the New Democratic Party (NDP), took decades to achieve that (and despite being a parliamentary government system, Canada has the same winner take all pluralistic election system we do).

    Where the IP needs to go is to open its doors, have open conventions, rely on primaries, and really govern by town hall. That would be far far more representative of one of America’s most enduring third parties.

  4. Why is it news when a state director in the Independence party resigns but it is not news when a state director of the DFL resigns to join the Independence party?

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