Third parties caucus, stress local politics

Green and Independence parties at University-area caucuses elected not to run presidential candidates this year.

Hayley Odom

With no high-profile presidential candidate to date, the major Minnesota third parties caucused last night, hoping to offer the politically fatigued a new avenue.

A majority of the 21 Green Party members at the Moos Tower caucus – one of 134 statewide – voted not to run a presidential candidate. Instead, they chose to concentrate on local politics.

Jesse Lickel and Matt Tajbakhsh, College of Liberal Arts students, were chosen as two of the caucus’ four delegates to go to the party’s state convention in Bemidji, Minn. There, delegates will decide who the Greens will endorse for the presidency, if anyone.

Although the Minnesota Greens are concerned about retaining major party status – which gives them state funding and automatic ballot access – it is not the focus of their campaign, said Betsy Barnum, a Green Party spokeswoman and University graduate student.

The state party won major party status when 2000 presidential candidate Ralph Nader received slightly more than 5 percent of the vote in Minnesota.

Nader will run this year as an independent candidate.

Barnum said she does not think the Greens should run a candidate for president this year because local efforts should be more important.

“A presidential run takes too much energy and resources away from what we could be doing this year to elect, for example, state legislative candidates,” Barnum said.

University political science professor and political analyst Larry Jacobs said Minnesota and the Upper Midwest have a stronger third-party tradition than other regions, but third parties will play a smaller role here and nationwide than they did in the 2000 elections.

“I think the Democrats and progressives are so focused on beating (President George W. Bush) that Nader is not going to do as well as he did in 2000,” Jacobs said.

He also said third parties could appeal particularly to students who are disenchanted with the Republican and Democratic parties.

“Third parties are kind of a laboratory of democracy,” Jacobs said. “They’re not controlled by professional politicians, and if you go to meetings regularly, you’ll be involved in helping shape the party.”

The Independence Party caucus for the University area voted in a chairman, University sophomore Sean Brown, to start an Independence Party student group on campus. Eighteen students and residents participated in the caucus.

“I wanted to get more involved in campus life and politics in general. It’s a bit overwhelming and exciting,” Brown said of his new position.

“(The convener is) excited that 20 people showed up tonight for the caucus, but there are 60,000 students on this campus and 20 is not that many,” Brown said.

Brown also said he wanted to get the name of the group out as soon as possible in order to get people involved.

Other students said they came to the University-area caucus because of their curiosity about the party.

Dewitt Liu, a former student, said he is interested in an “underdog” party and wanted to see what it had to offer. “It was a good experience but I tend to support the DFL,” Liu said.

University senior Melody Shepherd came to the caucus because she said the Independence Party’s constitution matches her values.

Results from the Independence Party straw polls will not be available until Friday because of an online voting option and the use of instant runoff voting paper ballots. All major-party candidates were represented on the Independence Party ballot.

The result will not be binding and does not mean the party is endorsing a particular candidate, said Dave Hutcheson, operations committee chairman for the party.

The Independence Party did not put forth their own candidate for the caucus because it is not a national party, Hutcheson said.

Former Independence Party gubernatorial candidate Tim Penny said the caucuses’ results will indicate Minnesota’s presidential preferences at this time.

“The Independence Party becomes part of that swing vote that can go either way,” said Penny, senior fellow and co-director of the Hubert Humphrey Institute Policy Forum.

Although the November election is a focus for other parties, the Independence Party is focusing more on local issues.

“The real focus (for the Independence Party) this year will be to recruit several qualified candidates for the State Legislature,” Penny said.

Several of these candidates were present at caucuses around the state last night.

Other third parties, such as the Libertarian Party, could impact the presidential election this year, Penny said.

“If I were the Bush administration, I’d be worried about a Libertarian candidate having the same effect that Nader had (on the Democratic candidacy) four years ago,” Penny said.

Jacobs said if the Libertarian Party gets a lot of attention, they could pull votes from Bush.