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McGaughey’s Thoughts on and Relationship to the Independence Party

  By all accounts, the Independence Party of Minnesota, formerly the Reform Party, is one of the nation’s most successful third parties. It elected a Governor, Jesse Ventura, in 1998. A U.S. Senator from that party, Dean Barkley, briefly held office by appointment. Even today, a number of mayors, city council members, and other elected officials from medium-sized cities such as St. Cloud, Maplewood, Anoka, and Bloomington affiliate with the Independence Party. Tim Penny, the party’s candidate for governor in 2002 and its “elder statesman”, is a former member of Congress who served with distinction on President Bush’s advisory committee on Social Security. Peter Hutchinson, its gubernatorial candidate for 2006, is a former superintendent of the Minneapolis public schools and a former Minnesota finance commissioner under Governor Rudy Perpich.

Bill McGaughey has affiliated with this party at all precinct caucuses which he has attended since 1998. Alan Shilepsky, the Reform Party’s candidate for Secretary of State in 1998, interested him in becoming a member. In 2002, McGaughey challenged the party’s endorsed candidate for U.S. Senate in the primary: Jim Moore. Moore received 49.5% of the primary vote, McGaughey received 31% of the vote, and Ronald E. Wills received 19.5% . Moore, Walter Mondale, and Ray Tricomo of the Green Party lost in the general election. Norm Coleman was elected to the Senate, succeeding Paul Wellstone who had been killed in a plane crash. Today, Jim Moore is state chair of the Independence Party.

In 2003, McGaughey decided to run for President in the Democratic primaries. There would be no statewide races involving the Independence Party for another three years. The chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Terence McAuliffe, removed McGaughey’s name from the South Carolina primary ballot because of concerns about party loyalty. McGaughey went on to campaign for five weeks in Louisiana in February and March 2004. There he finished fifth among the seven candidates on the ballot: behind Kerry, Dean, Edwards, and Clark, but well ahead of Kucinich and Lyndon LaRouche. He had 3,100 votes or 2% of the total.

McGaughey has been a party maverick. He ran against Moore in the 2002 primary because of concerns that the Independence Party lacked a clear identity. In his view, it placed too much emphasis upon the party platform - a document covering everything from unicameral legislatures to petitioning for ballot access to developing hydrogen-based fuels. These were all worthy proposals for public consideration but not in McGaughey’s view the type of issue that creates political identity. The idea that the Independence party was neither left nor right, neither liberal nor conservative, but “in the middle” may have been an apt description of the party’s position with respect to the Republicans and Democrats but, again, was not the type of political characterization that would make someone want to rush out and join the Independence Party.

McGaughey’s strategy in 2002 was to run on two issues which were calculated to antagonize, if not infuriate, the Republicans and Democrats respectively. They were presented as two statements inscribed on either side of a picket sign. To oppose the Republicans (the party of big business), one statement read: “I believe that the Federal government should reduce the standard workweek to 32 hours by 2010.” To oppose the Democrats (the party of Civil Rights in its various incarnations), the other statement read: “I believe in the full citizenship, dignity, and equality of white males (and of everyone else, too).”

While support of shorter-workweek legislation may have given McGaughey the reputation of being a harmless dreamer, support of white-male dignity brought something worse. The Star Tribune, the state’s largest newspaper, imposed what amounted to a news blackout of McGaughey’s campaign, refusing to mention him in any article or even report the primary-election results. The newspaper’s “legal department” instructed its advertising department not to accept any paid ad which contained the words “dignity for white males”. Presumably McGaughey was a racist-sexist bigot unfit to be taken seriously as a political candidate.

This is Minnesota politics in the first decade of the 21st century. Attitudes in Louisiana might be different, but McGaughey declined to promote white-male dignity in that state because it would look too much like a northerner pandering to southern racists. The Roman Catholic archbishop of St . Paul and Minneapolis, Harry J. Flynn, who had previously served in Louisiana, might say to applause that racism in Minnesota was as bad as what he had seen down south, but someone like McGaughey who challenged the orthodox view could expect hostile treatment on either side of the Mason-Dixon line. So he dropped the subject. Maybe in fifty years a rational, balanced, honest political discussion can be held in America on the subject of race, but not now.

That left the economic issues. In Louisiana, McGaughey promoted a single issue: what he called “employer-specific tariffs” to protect Americans against job loss from outsourcing to low-wage regions. The basic scheme is presented in an article written for the Green Party publication, Synthesis/Regeneration in the early 1990s. It appears on the web at and at In the 2006 campaign for U.S. Senate, McGaughey will be advancing a broader package of issues though with much the same focus.

All this, of course, describes the politics of William McGaughey, not of Minnesota’s Independence Party. It is another point of difference between him and the party. McGaughey thinks that, to become a major party, the Independence Party of Minnesota needs to take risks. It cannot shrink from taking stands on controversial issues. The downside is not that the party will antagonize certain groups of voters but that it will be ignored. As a quiet, respectable party it may become irrelevant to the political process in the din of electoral competition between Democrats and Republicans.

Also, in McGaughey’s view, the Independence Party needs to hold public discussions. It needs to hold meetings that are not governed by Robert’s Rules of Order. It needs to make noise. A party confined to business meetings and party conventions, which talks only to its own members, surely will not grow. Instead, growth takes place on the periphery of an organization. Growth also takes place from arguing with people who disagree with one’s position. That’s why McGaughey ran for President. He felt that political communication could best take place during election campaigns. As a political activist, he needed to get on the road.

The term, New Independence Party, represents Bill McGaughey’s projection of what the Independence Party might be rather than what the party is now. To the extent that a successful election campaign can move an organization in its direction, the party could conceivably fit the description of what is being discussed here.
With respect to the Democrats and Republicans, the Independence Party would not benefit from or be beholden to their respective sets of large contributors. It would have to run effective an shoe-string campaign to win anything. Unlike the Democrats, the Independence Party lacks strong support from organized labor and from well-defined demographic voting blocs such as African Americans and feminist women. Unlike the Republicans, it would have limited support from big business. Hollywood, the oil and gas industry, trial lawyers, banks, pharmaceutical companies, etc. are spoken for already.

It’s conceivable, however, that the Independence Party might attract defectors from the business class. The owners of small businesses and small property owners who suffer from lack of political clout because they cannot afford to make large donations to campaigns might support a party which, in contrast to the Greens, is reasonably pro-business but not to the extent of selling out the taxpayer. Likewise, some in organized labor and in the working class might appreciate a political party which takes a forthright stand against free trade. It was, after all, billionaire Ross Perot who warned of the “giant sucking sound” as jobs went south of the border while the pro-labor candidate, Democrat Bill Clinton, later twisted arms with pork-barrel promises to gain fast-track authority for NAFTA.

The Independence Party of Minnesota, formed in the image of Jesse Ventura, might have a different feel to it. It would be bold and outspoken, down-to-earth, not wimpy, something that an inner-city landlord could support. Political correctness is not part of the package. Neither is the suave civility of Republican types. We in America need to revive sometimes contrary individualism as a civic virtue. We need the ability to go either way on an issue, depending on arguments that are presented. We need to resist demonizing people targeted by the media and politicians. We need to become swing voters, on both sides of a question, not just in the middle. We need once again to elect people to office who care about budget and trade deficits.

Third-party types are looking for the next “Republican Party” to come along, riding the crest of anti-slavery. Bland affirmations of the status quo won’t cut it. It’s necessary to be in tune with people’s concerns which are not being addressed by the existing parties. Then it’s necessary to act according to a bold plan. Important changes will not be made by resolutions alone. The required posture is that of the fighter.

That’s why, with a little fighting, the Independence Party could become the second major party in Minnesota. Both Democrat and Republican have failed the working man and woman. They both posture on gender and race, afraid of open discussions. The Republicans at least have a consistent program to advance the interests of rich people. What do the Democrats have? What do they stand for other than kicking Ralph Nader off the ballot so he won’t take away their votes? The Greens do also have a program though, with their focus on eco-feminism, they’re a bit outside the mainstream.

We need an environmentally sound approach, friendly to legitimate businesses and to working people generally but neutral with respect to the various demographic groups that exist in society, focused an regulation that advances the well-being of the entire society rather than funneling public money and tax breaks to powerful interest groups. That’s what the Independence Party could be. If we deliver a clear message in election campaigns and other fora along those lines, we’ll be on the road to success.



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