Independence Party targets students for state caucuses

Josh Verges

As Republicans and Democrats plan their fight for the presidency, the state Independence Party is thinking small.

“We hope that with their focus (elsewhere) we can sneak a few people into the state Legislature,” said Dave Hutcheson, Independence Party lead caucus organizer.

To do this, Hutcheson and a slew of volunteers – including many college students – are working to increase attendance March 2 at the party’s approximately 90 state caucuses.

The party held 50 caucuses in 2000 and had about 500 attendees, Hutcheson said. This year, he expects more than 1,200 participants statewide.

The Democratic-Farmer-Labor and Republican parties will have 4,000 Minnesota caucuses this year.

The Independence Party is contacting college students statewide to spread the word about the caucuses, Hutcheson said. There is no Independence Party organization on campus.

The party discourages political careerism and special interests so they rely largely on volunteers, Hutcheson said.

He said the party has several students and recent graduates participating in this year’s caucuses.

Matt Zabka, a St. Cloud State University economics student, will organize that region’s Independence Party caucus.

Zabka first volunteered for the party in 2002 when he handed out pamphlets on the St. Cloud campus in support of gubernatorial candidate Tim Penny.

Penny, now a senior fellow at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, said the party is regrouping after his loss to Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

“It’s back to square one in terms of organization,” Penny said.

Penny said because there is no statewide election this year, it is difficult to make the party visible.

“The candidate speaks for and defines the party,” Penny said.

And without an Independent holding a major office, party leaders will rely on new candidates to jumpstart the party, he said.

Hutcheson said the difference between the Independence Party’s caucuses and those run by Republicans and Democrats is that anyone can participate.

“This is the caucus that’s open,” he said. “If you want to express an opinion, come do it here.”

Hutcheson said the caucuses are a good way for people who are thinking about running for office to win the support of party members.

Penny expects the party to endorse 10 to 12 candidates for the Legislature.

Hutcheson said the most important caucus feature is choosing state delegates who vote for party leadership, and that many of these positions are open to students.

Penny, who began his career with the DFL, said Independence Party centrist ideals appeal to students.

“Younger people tend to be very independent in their approach to politics,” he said.

Socially liberal and fiscally conservative students “really don’t have a good home” in the traditional parties, Penny said.

Penny encourages University students to talk to him at the Humphrey Institute, submit comments to the party’s Web site and attend their local caucus. But he warned that the party meetings will not be held at every precinct, like the Democrats and Republicans.

Locations for Independence Party caucuses are on the party’s Web site.

“You may have to drive a little bit to participate,” Penny said.