Politicians eye U’s Penny for governor

Tom Ford and

Gov. Jesse Ventura shook the gubernatorial race last week when he announced he would not run for re-election, changing the dynamics in a race for the state’s top position.

Now the search for a new Independence Party front man has begun, and it could end at the University. Tim Penny, senior fellow and co-director of the Humphrey Institute Policy Forum, surfaced as a possible candidate last week after an endorsement by Ventura.

Other potential candidates include Jack Uldrich, state Independence Party chairman; Christine Jax, Ventura’s education chief; Dean Barkley, Ventura’s planning director; and Lt. Gov. Mae Schunk.

Both Uldrich and Barkley said they would encourage Penny to run.

Penny stepped out of politics in 1995 after his sixth term as a Democratic U.S. representative. Uldrich said Penny left Congress because he was tired of the Washington partisanship.

After hearing the news that Ventura would not run for governor, Uldrich said he immediately called Penny.

“The public is really seeking a third alternative, and Tim is really the person,” Uldrich said. “Unlike Gov. Ventura, I think Tim understands the chance to build the party.”

Uldrich said he was initially disappointed by Ventura’s decision.

“Now I really view it as an opportunity for the Independence Party to step out of Jesse’s shadow,” Uldrich said.

Penny’s candidacy could expand the public’s perception of third-party politics, Barkley said.

“The sense I have right now is that he’s as serious as he’s ever been in making the leap away from the DFL,” Barkley said. “There’s a real opportunity for (Penny) to show the public that the third way is more than just a personality.”

Penny, who was not available for comment, is expected to make his decision sometime this week.

Schunk, who will also decide this week, said running for the Independence Party candidacy would enable her to continue strengthening education.

If she chooses to run, Schunk said, she would like to continue what she called a promising four-year trend in education.

“The governor has made some great reform, and I would like to see that continue,” Schunk said. “I am weighing my options and am trying to figure out how to continue with the ideas that I have and about things in education that I would like to continue to promote.”

Ventura’s announcement also sparked debate over the role of third-party politics in the race. A gubernatorial race without Ventura will be more predictable, said Bill Walsh, Republican Party spokesman.

“With Ventura in, he’s hard to react to. It’s hard to get your arms around him,” Walsh said. “I think whether he’s in or out, candidates would be wise to adopt some of his techniques and adopt some of his methods.”

Walsh said Ventura did not help build a third party movement.

“The governor was sort of a phenomenon of personality himself and really not a phenomenon of a third party,” Walsh said.

Ken Pentel, Green Party candidate, said Ventura’s bow out lessens the intrigue of the race, but “makes a clearer path” for other parties.

“He wasted a lot of political clout because of his celebrity and because of cashing in on the office type of thing that was either a perception or a reality,” Pentel said. “In a way I’m glad he is out. In a way it’s not as interesting.”

Cam Gordon, former Green Party candidate for Minneapolis City Council Ward 2, said Ventura’s absence would lessen the third-party candidates’ exposure.

“Ventura’s announcement changes the focus of the campaign,” Gordon said. “I fear that by Ventura not running, third-party candidates will be more excluded.”

Larry Jacobs, a University political science professor, said Ventura stepping out of the race was “the equivalent of a political earthquake.

“Now you’ve got that 30 to 40 percent of Ventura voters up for grabs,” Jacobs said. “Those voters tend to be people not too enamored with kind of professional politics.”

Jacobs said Ventura would not have a long-standing legacy.

“One of the lessons of the Ventura era has been the limits of politics of personality,” Jacobs said. “He found that personality alone cannot dictate the legislative process.”

Elizabeth Putnam welcomes comments at [email protected]
Tom Ford welcomes comments at [email protected]