Chapter Seven - The Senate Endorsement
by Bill McGaughey
This begins the story of my political candidacies in 2008. After abandoning plans to run for the U.S. Senate, I switched to the Congressional race in Minnesota’s fifth district. My principal opponent was the Democratic incumbent, Keith Ellison. This election was my high-water mark in terms of votes received. But first, the story of the Independence Party’s contest for Senate.
In the spring of 2008, there was speculation that former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura might run for U.S. Senate as a candidate of the Independence Party in Minnesota. He was the only party member to have been elected to a major office. Another possibility was that Dean Barkley, an IP Senate candidate in the 1990s who had been Ventura’s campaign manager, would again run for that seat. Barkley made a public statement that either he or Ventura would run. Yet, neither had committed to the race. That left Steve Williams as the party’s only announced candidate. In May, Kurt Anderson and I joined him.
I had joined the Independence Party in 1998 largely on the basis of a personal acquaintance with Alan Shilepsky, who was the party’s candidate for Secretary of State that year. Shilepsky, however, had become a Republican and left the party. Now my main contact person in the Independence Party was its chair in the 5th Congressional district, Peter Tharaldson.
Tharaldson was a personable, capable man who often chaired the party’s state conventions. So when I thought of running for Senate, I went to him first. Tharaldson told me that the procedure for prospective statewide candidates was to write a letter to the state party chair announcing their intention. I did write such a letter to Craig Swaggert dated April 23, 2008. I told Swaggert, the state chair, that trade policy would be my main issue. I requested access to party membership lists.
Between elections and party state conventions, the Independence Party holds small membership gatherings through Meetup.com every month or so. Tharaldson, who had spearheaded a campaign to put more police officers on the street in Minneapolis, was interested in building the party through issues-oriented programs. After I had explained the rationale for my trade program, he said he agreed with much of this. Certainly my position was consistent with the Perot legacy. Tharaldson agreed to schedule a Meetup at the party headquarters on University Avenue on the evening of Monday, April 28th. The focus of discussion would be on trade policy.
Attendance at this meeting was light. Only four people, including me, sat in the back-room office discussing our views. That location was so that Steve Williams, in Austin, could participate by speaker phone.
David DeGrio, who had been active in Tammy Lee’s campaign and was planning to run for state representative, said that he did not agree with my views. He held a scientific/technical position with 3M. By phone, Steve Williams argued that trade protection was unnecessary. His proposal to replace the payroll tax by a sales tax would spur job growth because the tax would fall on consumption rather than income. His health insurance program would also promote jobs by taking the burden off employers. One of the other participants - maybe Robert Keller - shared my concern about outsourced jobs. The meeting failed to produce anything approaching a consensus on trade policy.
Another event coming up would be a state party convention scheduled for Saturday, May 3rd, at the Auto Club in St. Louis Park, just off Highway 100. The meeting would be convened not for the purpose of endorsing candidates but to consider amendments to the party platforms. I had argued with Chairman Swaggert that the endorsement of candidates and consideration of issues should take place at the same meeting. I didn’t think party members would turn out for two state conventions around the same time. My views went unheeded.
When I arrived, I found that Kurt Anderson had put his literature on all the tables. All I had was self-made business cards. Steve Williams was also there with his supporters. Former Minnesota Governor Al Quie addressed the convention on the subject of judicial reform. There was other business, and we broke for lunch. I went to a nearby McDonald’s with two party members whom I did not know. One was a young man named Chris Pfeifer who had driven to this meeting all the way from an hour north of Bemidji. He had interesting things to say about the economy there. Back in the council chambers, the party candidates for endorsements to various offices were asked to introduce themselves and make some remarks. I gave what I thought was a spirited presentation.
Then it was time to consider resolutions. I proposed the following: “We support consideration of alternatives to the current “free trade” approach which look at trade from a development standpoint. The U.S. government should cooperate with other governments to promote economic development throughout the world in ways that increase living standards, improve working conditions, and improve quality of life for all the world’s people without gutting the U.S. industrial base, depleting nonrenewable resources, or damaging the natural environment. Furthermore, we need to get our own cost structure in line - especially in the health-care field - so that goods production can be reestablished in the United States and Americans can have attractive long-term job prospects.”
Some delegates seemed ready to support this proposal. Then the prospective Independence Party candidate for Congress in the 3rd district, David Dillon, raised objections. He objected to the idea that the U.S. industrial base was “gutted”. He himself was a manufacturer in the printing field, he said, and his business was strong. So were the businesses of others he knew. When the vote was taken, a majority agreed with Dillon. My proposed resolution was rejected. It was not an auspicious start to a campaign that would stress trade issues. But I had a friendly conversation with Steve Williams afterwards in the parking lot.
Speculation was building that Jesse Ventura might become a candidate for U.S. Senate. He had recently published a book, “Don’t Start the Revolution without me!”, suggesting that he had further political ambitions. When asked about his plans, Ventura always said he had not yet made up his mind. He had from now until the filing date on July 15th to decide. He would run if Dean Barkley did not; and Barkley said he would run if Ventura did not.
Obviously, if Ventura decided to run for Senate, he would be the party’s candidate in the general election, not me. Yet, it might be worthwhile for me to throw my hat into the ring. If I won the party’s endorsement at its state convention, Ventura would have to run against me and perhaps others in the primary. Since I was mainly interested in pushing the trade issue, it might be useful for me to debate Ventura (who had adopted a free-trade position as Governor) on this topic in various cities around the state. I would be resigned to losing the primary. But a legitimate competition for Senate would make news, and that would be good for everyone. Such was my thinking anyhow.
Jesse Ventura did a book signing at the Mall of America on Thursday, May 15th. I joined the line of people waiting for him to autograph copies of his book after a short talk. In my hand was, besides Ventura’s book, a copy of my own 1992 book, “A U.S.-Mexico-Canada Free Trade Agreement: Do We Just Say No?” and also some typed sheets with information about the Kennedy assassination. Ventura is a well-known critic of the Warren Commission report.
Ahead of me in line was a history teacher at Bloomington Kennedy high school named Gary Severson who was a Kennedy assassination buff. He shared some information about the late President’s environmental trip just before Dallas. Milford, Pennsylvania, where I own a house, was an early stop on this trip. A later one was in Grand Forks, North Dakota, where Severson grew up. Severson said he had snuck in the back door of the college auditorium (which was unlocked) and sat in the front row during Kennedy’s speech, barely ten feet away from the soon-to-be-assassinated President. Something was fishy about the security arrangements. Perhaps the plan was to kill Kennedy on this trip.
When we reached Ventura in line, Severson, too, had something to give the former Governor which concerned the Kennedy assassination. When it came my turn, I told Jesse Ventura that I was also thinking of seeking the Independence Party endorsement for U.S. Senator. I said that I hoped that he would run. He would make an ideal candidate, I said, if he switched his position on trade. Ventura looked up at me without comment before autographing the book. He accepted my book and the typed sheets.
I flew to Detroit for my 50th high-school reunion on the following day, Friday, May 16th. My flights were booked “stand by” since the tickets were complimentary. My step daughter, Celia, who became a U.S. citizen in April of this year, is a flight attendant with United Airlines. Scheduled to fly to Chicago on the first leg of the journey at 8:00 a.m., I kept getting bumped from one flight to another. I finally got on the plane at 6:00 p.m. Fortunately, the connecting flight to Detroit had a few empty seats. I was able to proceed to my destination without further delay.
The long delay at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport did, however, give me an opportunity to read Governor Ventura’s book in its entirety. I came away from it even more impressed with Ventura than before. Having seen the maquiladoras on the border between Mexico and the United States, he recognized the exploitation that takes place under free trade. As Governor, he had learned firsthand that CIA agents are planted in state governments. This was illegal, of course. The American people suffer from various unseen threats, and it might take a “revolution” to correct the situation. He would not shirk from serving his country if it came to that.
Another month went by before the endorsing convention. I was then actively engaged in the project to organize the trade conference.
Party leaders had decided that the endorsing convention for U.S. Senate, to be held on June 21st, would use the instant-runoff voting (IRV) technique. That meant that convention delegates would rank their choices for Senate on the ballot - in this case, indicate their first, second, and third choices. If the candidate getting the most first-place votes did not win a majority of votes, then the last-place finisher would be dropped. That person’s second-place votes would be reassigned to the other two candidates. Presumably, one of them would then have a majority. The Independence Party, like most third parties, favors the IRV technique because it allows voters to vote their true preference instead of having that (third-party) candidate be seen as a “spoiler”.
The Independence Party of Minnesota has a rather elaborate set of criteria as to who can be a candidate representing the party.
Prospective IP candidates must:
This was the kind of formulation that a committee would write. I did not concern myself with it much.
There was some tension between me and the party in this regard. I had written in my book and elsewhere that I did not think that 80-point platforms were the way to grow the party organization. Instead it should pick one or two issues of burning concern to voters - as the Republicans had done with slavery in the 1850s - and organize a constituency behind that concern. However, party members and its leadership seemed to put much stock in the party platform as if it were a document, like the Declaration of Independence, that would attract voters by its brilliance. The rules for cross-endorsements, for instance, said that such candidates needed to agree with 75% of the planks in the party platform. I did think most of the planks were well-intentioned and good - just not that important.
Allegedly, there was to be a candidate screening by a committee of party officials. I did not appear before any such committee; the process may have been collapsed into the issues debate to be held five days before the endorsing convention. I did, however, fill out the party’s “Candidate Endorsement Application Form”, a two-page document.
In answer to the question whether I agreed with the party platform, I said I did; however, my main issues in the campaign would be economic proposals not included in the platform. No, I was not receiving PAC money. Yes, I am at least twenty-one years of age and have lived in the district (the state of Minnesota) for at least thirty days before the general election. There were also other questions. I prepared a brief statement (300 words or less) of why I wanted to be a candidate for U.S. Senate.
The prospect of Jesse Ventura or Dean Barkley entering the Senate race always loomed in the background. Ventura remained an enigma. Barkley, however, was poised to enter the race although an announcement was withheld. For a time in may or June, it seemed that he would definitely run; I was told that he would. The Independence Party website contained a short article encouraging people to urge Barkley to become a candidate.
Jim Moore, the former party chair, left a message on my answering service apologizing for the favoritism shown by this article. He promised that it would be removed from the party website. I left a message for him to the effect that the pro-Barkley posting did not bother me. But then, suddenly, about a week before the endorsing convention, I had another message from Moore that Barkley would not become a candidate for Senate, after all. He had accepted a position as supervisor of Metro Mobility (a division of Metro Transit, my old employer). The Senate race then boiled down to three candidates: Stephen Williams, Kurt Anderson, and me.
My campaign now came to its first real event: a debate between the three candidates at the Hiawatha center near Lake Nokomis in south Minneapolis in the evening of Monday, June 16, starting at 7 p.m. As I walked to the building from my parked car, Kurt Anderson was unloading video equipment to tape the debate. We walked together into the building where a handful of people were laying out chairs in a room. We, the candidates, sat at a table in front. Two dozen folding chairs were prepared for the audience. Eventually, most of them were filled.
According to ground rules set by Peter Tharaldson, the candidates were each allowed five-minute opening statements,. We would then each be asked to answer specific questions in such areas as education, agriculture, debt, the Iraq war, and foreign policy, and have three minutes to answer. Finally, there would be questions from the audience.
I don’t remember too much of the discussion since I was focused on my own performance except that I tried to stress economic sustainability. A question was asked about nuclear power, which I did not favor. I remarked that Kurt Anderson was an able attorney who had successfully argued my brother’s case before the Minnesota Supreme Court. Anderson returned the favor by mentioning that I had graduated from Yale. All in all, it was an adequate, even spirited, performance. I had a good grasp of the facts having just assembled and reviewed the newspaper clippings. Afterwards, Red Nelson and I went out for a beer at Cardinal’s bar on Hiawatha avenue.
A negative comment from the audience stuck in my mind, though. Jack Uldrich, former party chair, remarked that he did not think any of the three candidates was prepared to run an effective campaign for Senate. He had looked at our websites. They were about ten years behind the times, more suitable for 1998 than for today. Ouch! That criticism certainly applied to mine. Our websites, Uldrich said, were too print-oriented. We did not have appealing graphics. We did not have links for making financial contributions to the campaign. We did not have videos on YouTube or make use of social-networking sites such as MySpace. Our campaigns were technologically deficient.
In the five days between this debate and the endorsing convention, I prepared a mailing to prospective delegates. Bona fide candidates were entitled to use the party’s membership list to enlist support at the convention. Peter Tharaldson arranged to send the three candidates two separate lists, not knowing which better represented the likely delegates.
I received the lists by email and then printed them on an iMAC computer purchased recently from the Apple Store at Ridgedale. At Office Max, I made several hundred copies of four pieces of literature - a campaign statement, a sheet with biographical information on one side and the front page of my campaign website on the other, and a cover letter - and mailed them off in hand-addressed envelopes. More than 200 party members received the mailing. The cover letter was dated June 17, 2008. The recipient would have a day or two to look over these materials before the convention.
Additionally, I telephoned as many of these people as I could on Thursday and Friday evenings before the convention. Most were not home. I do, however, remember talking to a number of people, including Dean Barkley, asking for their support at the convention. (He was noncommittal.) Few committed themselves to voting for me. Yet, I do believe that serious candidates at endorsing conventions make telephone calls to prospective delegates. The exercise could not have hurt.
The endorsing convention officially began at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, June 21st, at the Bloomington civic plaza (city hall) on Old Shakopee road. Delegates were invited to arrive an hour or two earlier to meet the candidates. For this occasion, I had prepared two large poster-board signs. One said: “Bill McGaughey for U.S. Senate.” The other said: “Can we talk about jobs?” With Peter Tharaldson’s help, I arranged to place a round table near the door to the council chambers where our convention would take place. I placed some of my books, photocopies of letters, and a campaign signup sheet on this table. Then I went into an adjoining room where delegates were eating pizza.
I made the rounds of several tables talking to people and answering their questions. Kurt Anderson and Steve Williams were doing the same. Williams had brought a number of family members to the meeting. He introduced me to them. During this period, I asked Red Nelson if he would give my nominating speech. He said he would. I asked Chris Pfeifer from northern Minnesota if he would second the nomination. Yes, but he did not promise to vote for me. That was OK.
That meant that in each round of voting, the delegates could vote for “no endorsement” as if it were a candidate, making it more difficult for any of the three candidates to win. Those pushing for “no endorsement” were given time to make a presentation before the candidates spoke. And, of course, if none of the four choices (including us candidates) managed to get 60% or more of the vote, then the convention would end without endorsement. I suspect that the motive behind this maneuver was to leave room for Jesse Ventura or Dean Barkley to enter the IP primary without facing an endorsed candidate. Steve Williams, among others, spoke out against the proposal.
Before the vote, party leaders asked the announced candidates tough questions. Recognizing that none of us had raised much money for our campaigns, Diane asked us each how we expected to attract donors. Kurt Anderson answered confidently that he expected to raise $100,000. I answered that I could not commit to any figure because I was not connected to any well-financed group. Steve Williams said that money was less important than some other aspects of campaigning. Jack Uldrich asked each of the three candidates whether, if the convention ended without endorsement, we would file to compete in the primary. Steve Williams and Kurt Anderson said they would. I said I would not.
Why not? I felt as if we, the three announced candidates, were being set up to be the “three stooges” traveling the state in an elusive quest for votes. If the party convention failed to endorse any of us, the media would pay no attention to us whatsoever. All the attention would be on Dean Barkley or Jesse Ventura if they ran. But an endorsement of someone at this convention would make it worthwhile for that person to campaign. I required the endorsement to make that effort.
Williams, Anderson, and I were each given ten minutes to plead our case. Williams made a rather emotional appeal based on having lived in several parts of the state. Anderson had a carefully structured argument. He was the only candidate, he said, who had demonstrated the professionalism of having mailed all delegates a postcard. Also, he had appeal in rural areas.
When it came my turn to speak, I devoted the first several minutes of my speech to appealing to the delegates to endorse one of us three rather than go with the “no endorsement” option. I said that the delegates had come here expecting to endorse someone and the push for no endorsement was “bait and switch”. I also said that if Ventura ran for Senate, I would either drop out or stay in the race whichever was more advantageous for Ventura. I then devoted the remainder of my talk to discussing ways that I might expect to connect with voters.
With Tharaldson presiding, a vote was taken. The first round of voting was inconclusive. Steve Williams finished on top with around 26 votes. The “no endorsement” option was second - maybe 20 votes. Kurt Anderson finished third with 15 votes. I finished in last place with 12 votes. The convention then took a break.
When it resumed, Jim Moore was chairing the convention. Several delegates made comments or asked questions. Then I raised my hand to announce that I was dropping out of the race. Moore and others expressed surprise. One or two delegates asked me to reconsider. But I was firm in my decision. On the second and final round of balloting, with my name removed, Steve Williams won the required 60% of the vote. He was the party’s nominee for U.S. Senate.
The meeting was not over. We had now to consider whether to cross-endorse a candidate for Congress in the 6th district. The prospective candidate was Elwyn Tinklenberg, former mayor of Blaine and transportation commissioner under Jesse Ventura. He had previously received the DFL (Democratic) endorsement for that seat. Another party member, Bob Anderson, also wanted to run in the 6th district. So we had to choose between the two. The convention did endorse Tinklenberg by the required margin. He became the party’s official nominee.
It was a fateful decision, though, since election rules did not allow a candidate to be listed on the ballot with endorsements from two parties. Tinklenberg was listed as a Democrat; Bob Anderson, as an Independence Party candidate. In the November election, Anderson received 10% of the vote. The Republican, incumbent Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, beat Tinklenberg by a margin of 4 percentage points. The Independence Party candidate may have been a “spoiler” in this case, but certainly not by design of the party.
After the vote, I hung around the hallway talking with Tinklenberg, Williams, and others, including Roger Smithrud, who was preparing to run for the state legislature in my district, 58B. Tinklenberg’s press man, John Wodele, was there. Steve Williams expressed gratitude that I had spoken out against no endorsement. I doubt that party leaders felt that way.
But the big news out of Bloomington was that the Independence Party had endorsed a Senate candidate - Stephen Williams of Austin, MN - and it had also endorsed Elwyn Tinklenberg for Congress. Williams did subsequently receive invitations to appear on public television’s “Almanac” show and participate in other high-profile events.
That was the end of my Senate campaign in 2008. True to my word, I did not file for that office in the IP primary. I wrote a report on the endorsing convention for the Minneapolis e-democracy forum. I also wrote a letter to Peter Tharaldson urging party leaders to do more straight shooting with the party’s rank and file instead of pulling last-minute stunts like the “no endorsement” option.
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