For the first time in the 16 years since they "shocked the world" with a runaway victory that earned Jesse Ventura the keys to the governor's residence, Minnesota's Independence Party will lose its status as a major party.
None of the party's five statewide candidates reached the threshold of 5 percent of the vote in any race, required to maintain major party status. Secretary of State candidate Bob Helland came closest, netting 4.91 percent. Gubernatorial candidate Hannah Nicollet, who received just 2.88 percent of the vote, also failed to raise enough money to qualify for public subsidy payments.
Because this is the second election cycle in which the party has failed to net the minimum number of votes, the Independence Party will head back to the minors on Jan. 1. As a minor party, it will no longer enjoy automatic inclusion on the ballot or qualify for public subsidies for candidates.
It's a quiet demotion for a party that famously garnered attention even after Ventura's reign, when Dean Barkley got 15 percent of the vote in the 2008 Senate race and, two years later, when Tom Horner received 12 percent of the vote in the 2010 gubernatorial race. Although both candidates placed third, their impact was felt when each race ended only after lengthy recounts.
Minnesota Independence Party Chair Mark Jenkins said the party will discuss strategies for climbing back to major party status. He laid some of the blame on an August primary that he said limited exposure to the candidates.
"I'd be lying to say I'm not disappointed, but where my optimism comes from is one of things we absolutely succeeded with during this cycle — turning the attention to the next generations of political leaders," Jenkins said. "They're not packing up and going home, they're getting ready for the next big fight."
For Nicollet, the numbers signal that even those voters who preferred IP candidates feared "wasting their vote." Nicollet said that's why she supports ranked-choice-voting in statewide elections.
"I would love to see the results if fear wasn't a factor," she said. "I think it would force the two major parties to come up with better candidates because they wouldn't feel free to throw out these milquetoast options. People would not be afraid to vote outside the choices they've been given."
Nicollet said she's disappointed in the Independence Party losing its major party status, but that it's essentially a brand rather than a philosophy. "I think it's a needed third option just for the people who resonate with those beliefs," she said. "I just wish there was a better outlet for the people who are more socially left and fiscally right."
Minors lead on marijuana
One little-noticed element in Tuesday night's returns — tens of thousands of Minnesotans risked their vote on candidates whose primary issue was legalization of marijuana.
Attorney General candidate Dan Vacek, who ran under "Legal Marijuana Now," earned 57,381 votes, while Chris Wright, who ran for governor under the Grassroots Legalize Now label received 31,123 votes.
Wright, who has run for statewide office in 1988, 1998 and 2010 under the Grassroots label, said the number of votes shows that attitudes toward marijuana are changing and that the Independence Party should have taken a bolder approach.
"What they should have been doing all along is supporting what Jesse Ventura was for, which was the legalization of marijuana all along," he said. "Instead they pursued a more moderate, conservative agenda and basically lost their supporters."
Wright said that until marijuana is legalized, he will contemplate running again, and that one day it could make a difference.
"If I can take away another 30,000 or more votes, that's gonna hurt them," he said of the major parties. "That would really change things for these guys. They're gonna want these votes, and to make me irrelevant they'd have to come out for legalization."