State Education Commissioner Christine Jax dropped out of the Independence Party race for governor Thursday. Her decision means former Congressman Tim Penny is expected to handily win the Independence Party endorsement for governor at the party's state convention this weekend. The party announced a new slate of legislative candidates. Party officials say they hope to capture some legislative seats this fall to show that they're more than just the party of Jesse Ventura.
Jax says she decided she didn't have enough time to put together an effective primary campaign to challenge Penny. She says after Penny named state Sen. Martha Robertson as his running mate, she felt that the issues she's concerned about, such as abortion rights and education standards, would be prominent in his campaign. She says she fully supports Penny and Robertson.
"I see two great people who are fully capable of carrying the banner of the issues I care about; they have the financial and human resources to go forward and become elected, and so I feel that there's no reason for me to be disruptive to the party, to the third party movement, to this ticket, I'm just going to back off and do it now, do it before the convention," she said.
Jax switched from the DFL to the Independence Party when she announced her intention to run for governor last month. But she says she won't attend the state convention in St. Cloud, and says she has some concerns about party leadership.
Party chair Jack Uldrich openly courted Penny, and is taking a leave of absence from the party to manage Penny's campaign. Jax says the Independence Party should avoid making some of the same mistakes as the Republican and DFL parties.
"We have to get past the back-room politics; we have to get past king-making and we have to get past things that maybe can be gotten away with but don't pass the smell test," Jax said.
The acting party chair, Nancy Jorgenson, says she's disappointed Jax is dropping out of the race, and says she hopes Jax will consider running for another office, possibly the Legislature.
Jorgenson says the Independence Party is not the good-old-boys network. She says she tried to help Jax when she entered the race. "I helped her to understand what running a race in our party would mean. I helped her to obtain the delegates list... made sure that she was going to have equal access to all of our delegates. You can say it's the good-old-party network, unfortunately, I'm standing here as a woman at the head of this party now, and I don't buy it. I'm sorry," she said.
Jorgenson held a news conference to introduce about a dozen former Democrats and Republicans who've decided to run as Independence Party legislative candidates. Some are city council members, some are first-time candidates. One is Edwina Garcia, a former DFL legislator who served four terms in the 1990s.
"I am moving from a stagnant status quo. From a been-there, done-that, to a promise, to an opportunity, to a vision," she said.
Party chair Jorgenson says the IP hopes to field about 20 legislative candidates this year. Gubernatorial candidate Tim Penny says if he's elected, he's going to need some IP members in the Legislature.
"It had been the cult of personality... now we're seeing a couple of things that are very interesting."
- Larry Jacobs, U of M political science professor
"Obviously by coming together, me as a former Democrat, Martha Robertson as a former Republican, we're trying to demonstrate that we can work with both sides, we intend to work with both sides, but it wouldn't hurt to have a few party members in the middle," Penny said.
University of Minnesota political science professor Larry Jacobs says the Independence Party needs to pick up some legislative seats to build a base for the party. Jacobs says this year's elections are key, as the Independence Party tries to move beyond the party of Jesse Ventura.
"It had been the cult of personality, and it was the boa-clad governor who basically dragged this party out of nowhere into the limelight in Minnesota. And now we're seeing a couple of things that are very interesting," he said.
Jacobs says the recruitment of seasoned legislators gives the party credibility. He says the party is also trying to define itself as a name-brand, as Penny and other candidates refer to the IP as the party of the "sensible center". In the past, the Independence Party has failed to develop the type of grassroots base found in the state's other major party, the Green Party. The Greens have elected city council candidates in Minneapolis and Duluth.More from MPR