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St. Paul, Minn. — Dean Barkley was about to leave for his job as state planning director wearing jeans and a sweatshirt, when the governor's office called and told him he might want to change into a suit. An hour later, still a little in shock over the fact that he'd just been appointed to the U.S. Senate, Barkley said he needed to share the news with his wife and mother, and talk to Wellstone's campaign manager.
"I have never done this before, so I might go over and talk to Mr. Blodgett, some of the Wellstone office, and start getting educated for my brief run at being a U.S. aenator, so I won't embarrass anyone and I'll do the state proud," he says.
Barkley didn't apply for the interim job, but he did run for the office twice, in 1994 and 1996. The first time, Barkley got more than 5 percent of the vote, earning major party status for what was then the Reform Party.
Barkley will join one other independent in the Senate, former Republican Jim Jeffords of Vermont, who votes with the Democrats. Barkley says he hasn't decided which party he'll caucus with, but says it will depend on what's best for Minnesota.
"Whether that means I caucus by myself in a bathroom, whether I ... go to Senator Jeffords and say, 'Maybe we should have a two-person caucus, what can we do there?' or I go with the Democrats or Republicans -- time will tell," says Barkley.
Gov. Ventura had said he was planning to wait until the polls closed to appoint an interim senator, because he said he didn't want to influence the election. But Ventura says he decided over the weekend to appoint Barkley, and he timed his announcement to coincide with the only Senate debate between Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Walter Mondale.
Ventura says the exclusion of Independence Party candidate Jim Moore and the Green Party's Ray Tricomo from the debate changed his mind about the timing of his announcement.
"Since you people are out to destroy the third-party movement -- you the media -- you're participants in it," Ventura says. "Then I have to do anything and everything I can for what I believe is the third-party movement, and that the third-party movement should continue and that it takes citizens like us to keep the fight up, because certainly we get no help from you, the media."
The debate's sponsors, Minnesota Public Radio and KARE-TV, decided to only include candidates with at least 3 percent support in recent polls. Ventura had said he might appoint an average citizen -- maybe a garbageman -- and his office was flooded with hundreds of applications. Instead, he chose a lawyer who used to run a car wash.
Barkley considers himself a fiscal conservative and social liberal. He says he agreed with Paul Wellstone on issues such as campaign finance reform, and supported Wellstone's vote against a resolution authorizing military force against Iraq.
But Barkley said he needed to brush up on the spending bills and other legislation facing the lame duck session.
"You gotta give me a little bit of slack here, you know -- I've had a whole hour to figure this whole thing out," Barkley says. "You think these guys are going to give an independent slack? Right. Dream on," Ventura added.
Barkley says he knows the pressure will be on when he gets to Washington, but says he's looking forward to the challenge. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the assistant majority leader, was in town for a DFL campaign event. Reid says Democratic leaders will work with Barkley.
"We're going to do everything we can to work things out with Barkley, so ... the few weeks that he's in Washington that he will feel it's a pleasant experience," says Reid.
It's unclear whether Barkley will serve until the results of the election are certified, or until the winner is sworn in in January.
Diane Goldman was Barkley's campaign manager in 1994, and says he'll be an excellent senator. But she and many other Independence Party members urged the governor to wait until after the polls closed to announce his appointment. Goldman says she didn't want the governor's appointment to detract attention from the Independence Party candidates on the ballot.
"The governor -- they got his ire up and he just decided to go for it with this announcement," Goldman says. "So be it, and now we have to move on."
Goldman says Barkley's appointment will bring national attention to the third-party movement.