Third-party candidates hope for political shift

by Courtney Blanchard

Voters complain that elections often come down to a choice between the lesser of two evils. Third parties say they’re the alternative.

Third parties sporadically make grand entrances into the Minnesota political scene but have stepped out of the limelight in the past two years. After November, a handful of candidates hope that will change.

Shaun Denham, spokesman for the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office, said the Independence Party is the only third party with major-party status in Minnesota. The Green Party lost its status after not getting enough votes in the 2004 election.

The Libertarian Party has a few candidates in the November election, according to its Web site. Sue Jeffers, owner of Stub & Herbs, refused the Libertarian ticket in order to challenge Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty in the primary.

Minneapolis City Council member Cam Gordon said there’s a perception that DFLers and Republicans are the only serious candidates. But that’s changing on a local level.

Gordon is the only Green Party member of the DFL-dominated council. He represents Minneapolis’ 2nd Ward, which includes the University and surrounding area.

“I think it is an uphill battle for a third-party candidate,” he said.

However, in a race without much Republican competition, 2nd Ward residents elected Gordon in 2005 with “a clear message and a lot of door knocking.”

Gordon, a member of the Green Party since 1994, said he became involved with the party because he agrees with the party’s core values and principles.

“There’s a tendency for other parties to water down messages and try to get swing voters,” he said.

In the 5th Congressional District race, Independent candidate Tammy Lee said it’s a two-person race between herself and Democratic candidate Keith Ellison.

“In the 5th District, this is a race a Republican can’t win,” she said.

The way Republican candidate Alan Fine has campaigned has actually benefited Lee, she said.

“It’s OK to contrast on issues where there’s been an irresponsible past,” she said, “but that’s different than personal attacks on race and religion.”

Instead of running as a DFLer or Republican, Lee ran under the independent banner because she described herself as fiscally responsible and socially progressive.

“I think both parties have become too extreme for mainstream voters,” she said. “The moderates are squeezed out.”

Jay Pond said he thinks otherwise.

Running on the Green Party ticket in the 5th District, he said DFLers aren’t progressive enough.

Pond said as a third party candidate, he’s able to criticize both major parties, and if elected, he can be independent of either party’s influence.

The biggest obstacle for Pond is the exclusion of Green candidates from Minnesota Public Radio debates. Because he lacks major-party status, Pond hasn’t been allowed to debate Fine, Ellison or Lee on the stations.

Pond said he can still influence politics in the district, especially by calling on Ellison to follow through on his campaign platform.

Even if Pond doesn’t go to Washington, he said, “When you get a voice in politics, that’s winning.”

Perhaps the most high-profile third-party candidate in the state is Peter Hutchinson, running in the Independence Party for governor.

In a contentious race between Pawlenty and DFL-endorsed Attorney General Mike Hatch, Hutchinson, like Lee, has used squabbles between the major parties to his advantage. A video on shows him standing next to two men in duck costumes, criticizing them for “ducking debates.”

“Running as an Independent means you’re not burdened with all that partisan stuff,” he said.

Third parties rise in times when main parties can’t resolve current issues, Hutchinson said, times when students play a big role in politics.

“Young people aren’t owned by the political parties,” he said.

Urban studies junior Andrew Bender Dahl leads the College Greens at the University. He said he became involved in the party because his views aren’t represented by DFLers or Republicans.

“You need to work for what you believe in, not the lesser of two evils,” he said.

The College Greens meet weekly and plan events, help campaign and bring in speakers. A current project involves promoting Muslim women in politics such as Hennepin County Commissioner Green candidate Farheen Hakeem.

“In Minnesota, in local and state politics, we have a good chance of breaking through,” Bender Dahl said.