Third, fourth and fifth-party candidates for U.S. Senate had their say in a half-hour debate on Twin Cities Public Television on October 16. Senate candidates from the Grassroots, Socialist Workers, Independence, Constitution and Libertarian parties took audience questions and probed each other's views. Issues ranged from eliminating the federal income tax to forming a "workers' government" and cutting back corporate welfare. On the international front, the candidates showed greater unity in wanting the U.S. out of most foreign affairs.
OF THE FIVE CANDIDATES attending Monday's debate, two represent parties with major-party status in Minnesota - Jim Gibson of the Independence Party and David Swan of the Constitution Party. The other three included Erik Pakieser of the Libertarians, Rebecca Ellis of the Socialist Workers and David Daniels of the Grassroots Party.
While the candidates' views on the role of government spanned the political spectrum - and beyond - the five had something in common in that all are coming from outside the mainstream political arena to run for U.S. Senate, and all five are running minimalist campaigns, in contrast to the numerous television ads purchased by Republican Rod Grams and DFLer Mark Dayton.
The debate revealed there is little support among third-party candidates for U.S. intervention abroad, whether for human rights or military purposes. Pakieser, a military veteran, said if elected, he would prevent terrorist attacks by keeping military personnel at home.
"As a Libertarian senator, I would not support U.S. military force being used in any country around the globe. Rod Grams had the gall to express sympathy for the families of those aboard the USS Cole at the debate we had last week. Rod Grams could have brought those sailors home, they had no business being in Yemen in the first place, and they wouldn't be dead if people like Rod Grams hadn't sent them out there," Pakieser said.
Constitution Party candidate David Swan agreed with Pakieser that the U.S. government should be shrunk to a few core functions. Touching on the other recent headline in international news - violent clashes in the Middle East - Socialist Workers Party candidate Rebecca Ellis condemned U.S. assistance to Israel.
"I'm totally opposed to the U.S. backing up the Israeli regime that's decimating Palestinian villages where one of the main people in their government goes to the temple and declares it's owned for Israel, then gets upset when young people throw stones; so they go in and decimate villages," said Ellis.
Ellis' views provided a rare note of opposition since most Republicans and Democrats consider support for Israel sacrosanct. Ellis said U.S. involvement overseas usually results in harm to the affected countries, and said she'd also withdraw U.S. military aid to Latin America.
Candidates, including Pakieser and David Daniels of the Grassroots Party, also said they support legalization of marijuana and an end to U.S. involvement in the war on drugs at home and around the world.
St. Paul resident Angie Stehr, a member of the citizens panel asking questions during the debate, said she was intrigued by the more isolationist bent of the third-party candidates. She said their views seemed a sharp contrast to the predisposition Republicans and Democrats have toward U.S. involvement overseas.
"Virtually everybody was a lot less into that kind of involvement and it would be nice to hear both of those kinds of viewpoints on the same stage," Stehr said. "We hear all of the people not wanting to get involved on one stage and those largely in agreement with getting more involved on the same stage without being able to challenge each other, that would have been very interesting."
Several audience members said the minor-party candidates would be a welcome addition to the typical three-way debates featuring Grams, Dayton and Gibson. However, they said given the boisterous nature of Monday's group, a less confrontational format might need to be created.