Recently, at the Minnesota State Fair, I was stunned to discover a man at the DFL booth adorned with stickers and mementos for the Minnesota Green Party, including a button supporting Green Party candidate Jill Stein, who ran for president in 2012 and 2016. But the man did something even more interesting. He volunteered for the Tim Walz gubernatorial campaign, or at least wanted a sign. Why would he do that, I wondered?
After all, Walz portrays himself more like a centrist than the kind of leftist that Green Party supporters might back. Was it because this voter and others have begun to realize the effects of voting for third-party/independent candidates or the need to unite the factions opposing President Donald Trump?
However, then I realized that there is no Green Party candidate in the governor’s race. This will be the second governor’s race in a row like that. In fact, there will be no Independence Party candidate, either, which is interesting because the Independence/Reform movement supposedly shocked the world 20 years ago when Jesse Ventura won the governorship, and candidates who followed — Tim Penny, Peter Hutchinson and Tom Horner — all got above 5 percent. Only two third-party candidates will be on the ballot this year: perennial candidate Chris Wright, who runs on the single platform to legalize marijuana, and Libertarian Josh Welter. So, why the change?
Well, recent history has not been on the side of third-party candidates.
They tend to be seen more as spoilers or vote-splitters. Moreover, with the exception of a possible fluke (Ventura), they never win. But also I believe there was a wake-up call in 2010. During that campaign, there were actually two candidates aligned with the Green Party — Farheen Hakeem (the endorsed candidate) and Ken Pentel (who had been the Green Party candidate in 2002 and 2006 but ran under another banner in 2010). In addition, Independence Party candidate Tom Horner got nearly 12 percent in that election. Given how close the governor’s race was in 2010, I think the Green Party and other third parties started to see that they could have tipped the scale to Tom Emmer and a Republican-controlled government in Minnesota had 8,000 more people voted for Horner or Pentel or Hakeem instead of for Mark Dayton.
Finally, it needs to be stated that almost 9 percent of Minnesotans voted for someone other than Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential race, so third-party or independent candidates do make an impact even when they have no chance of winning. Moreover, all third-party or independent candidates get votes just by slapping their names on the ballot.
As it stands, the Independence Party has lost the major-party status it had gained in Minnesota, and this year only one of the party’s candidates is running for a statewide office, in the race for secretary of state. The Green Party also has only one statewide candidate in Paula Overby, who is running against incumbent U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar. Democrats are relieved about that, since Overby, a former Democratic activist, ran for Congress in the Second Congressional District under the Independence Party banner in 2016, and many feel she tipped the scale to Republican Jason Lewis over Democrat Angie Craig. Lewis and Craig will have a rematch this year, but only the two of them will be on the ballot.
That said, keep an eye on third-party candidates. Anybody who thinks about voting for one had better really think about what might happen as a result. Meanwhile, anyone who was thinking of running for public office as an independent or third-party candidate this year but did not and/or ran in the Democratic or Republican primary instead probably has done a great service to Minnesota.
William Cory Labovitch is a political activist who lives in South St. Paul.