Minnesota's Reform Party seceded from the national party this weekend, days
before precinct caucuses mark the official kickoff of the campaign season. By an
overwhelming margin, Reform Party members voted to follow Governor Jesse
Ventura out of the national party, rename themselves the Independence Party, and
focus on fielding statewide candidates for office. But the splintering process
isn't over; a core of activists say they'll reestablish the Reform Party to
keep ties to Ross Perot's national group.
Reform Party Chairman Rick McCluhan casts his vote to disassociate from the national party and form the Independence Party of Minnesota. Photo: Amy Radil
wasn't in attendance as 200 Reform Party members gathered at
Metropolitan State University Saturday to follow in his footsteps. Ventura has
kept his distance from party activists and has not promised the new party his
support. But Ventura's rejection of Ross Perot's political party over what he
calls its dysfunctional leadership and its consideration of Pat Buchanan as
presidential nominee carried a great deal of weight with those assembled.
State party chair Rick McCluhan urged members to approve the breakaway, holding
out hope that they'll someday rejoin.
"We were the organization that shocked the world back in November of
1998 with the election of governor Jesse Ventura, and I think given that type of
political climate in the state of Minnesota we are almost duty bound to lead the
way to hopefully see the national Reform Party get their act together to the
point in the future when they may once again become a viable force," McCluhan said.
But some in attendance said Minnesota should stay part of the national party
while its problems are sorted out. Longtime Reform Party activist Eileen Corry,
decked out in red white and blue and holding a picture of the Governor, said
Ventura's departure simply gave the party to Perot and his allies.
"The Dallas people are revelling in the fact that Jesse got out," she said. "They're
pouring the champagne.The dysfunction in the national party will heal. And
by jumping ship we're making Minnesota an island again."
Other speakers expressed similar fears, that by becoming a state party Minnesota
members will be consigned to a political backwater, with no input on national
issues. But supporters of the break argued the party should focus on gaining
influence within the state first. Steve Minn, whom Ventura appointed and the
Legislature rejected as Public Service and Commerce commissioner, experienced
Ventura's lack of legislative allies firsthand.
"We haven't even got anybody elected to the state Legislature yet," Minn noted. "Unless
we start doing that there is no point in even paying attention to distractions
at the federal level."
But several speakers hinted at dissatisfaction with state party leaders, and
immediately after the vote to secede, some members said they'll maintain a
Minnesota chapter of the national Reform Party. Cedric Scofield, a Minnesota
member of the national Reform Party's executive board, says he'll hold a
Minnesota Reform Party convention this summer. He says the chapter will be made
up of Buchanan supporters, and people who want to keep ties to Perot and his
Meanwhile, the new Independence Party of Minnesota will turn its attention to
helping the campaign of Jim Gibson, the party's candidate for U.S. Senate.
Gibson, a software developer, favored the change to the Independence Party.
Support for his candidacy seems to be widespread among party members, in
contrast to their sparring on other issues and to the crowded field of DFL
candidates hoping to take on Republican incumbent Rod Grams.
Gibson's showing in November is crucial for the health of the new Independence
Party. He needs to receive more than five percent of the vote for the party to retain
major-party status, which insures an automatic ballot listing and allows the
party to receive public campaign funds.