Most Minnesotans don't know their names, but four other candidates for governor will appear on the ballot alongside DFL Gov. Tim Walz and GOP candidate Scott Jensen in next week's election.
Hugh McTavish wants citizen juries to approve state laws and everyone to wear nametags. Steve Patterson would put tax dollars from legalizing recreational marijuana toward education. James McCaskel aims to address homelessness. And Gabrielle Prosser supports cost-of-living increases tied to inflation.
"We tend to introduce ideas that the two major parties are not talking about and also introduce different mixtures of ideas," McTavish, of the Independence-Alliance Party, said of the many candidates struggling to break through the two-party system.
Third-party candidates this year don't have the name recognition or support that launched Jesse Ventura into office 24 years ago. But they could influence races for governor, Congress, state auditor and the Minnesota Legislature.
Candidates from the state's two pro-marijuana legalization parties, both of which have major party status, could have a particularly significant impact in the tight race for state auditor. Polls show DFL incumbent Julie Blaha and Republican challenger Ryan Wilson in a dead heat in the often overlooked race.
In an effort to overcome the potential loss of votes to those parties, Blaha has been emphasizing her endorsement by the MN is Ready Coalition that supports legalizing marijuana.
Neither Legal Marijuana Now state auditor candidate Tim Davis nor Will Finn, with the Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis Party, has done substantial fundraising or advertising ahead of Election Day. But that also was the case in the last midterm election, when two third party candidates vied for state auditor as well. Together, they earned more than 7% of the vote that year.
In the 2018 midterm, candidates from the Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis and Libertarian parties ran for governor and collectively received nearly 4%. This year more third party candidates are making gubernatorial bids.
And they've got some unusual plans for Minnesota.
McTavish, 60, said he ran because he was outraged by COVID-era lockdowns and he wanted to promote his idea of "jury democracy."
The Pine Springs resident wants to overhaul the state — and eventually federal — government to implement his system. He envisions large juries of randomly selected citizens deliberating on every bill. Each legislator could introduce one bill every two years and the governor could introduce 30 bills, he said, and citizens could petition to have their ideas come before a jury.
"I would govern for happiness," he added, instead of the current system that he said is focused on economic growth.
A few of his ideas to increase happiness — which would need to go before the citizen jury for approval — include requesting everyone wear name tags and having everyone go for a walk at 2 p.m. on Thursdays. He also wants to convert half the state to natural land where buffalo and wolves could roam, a process he said would happen over 50 years.
McTavish is not the only third party candidate for governor who cited COVID frustrations as inspiration to run.
Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis Party hopeful Steve Patterson, 33, of Brownsdale, said he had invested $60,000 to launch a brewery in Rochester when the pandemic hit and Walz ordered nonessential businesses to remain closed. The brewery never opened, and his frustration with Walz grew.
"I was just fed up," said Patterson, who also said he saw increased mental illness during the pandemic when he was working as a Mayo Clinic security guard. So he decided to run in November 2020.
One of his big proposals if elected would be to eliminate the state's income tax on wages earned after someone works more than 40 hours in a week. He also wants to legalize marijuana and tax it like cigarettes, then devote the tax dollars to schools to help address disparities in education.
But Grassroots-Legalize Marijuana Party Chairman Oliver Steinberg is urging people not to vote for Patterson, who he said has no background as a cannabis activist.
"It's either the DFL or disaster," said Steinberg, who said several Republican "dupes," including Patterson, are running under the marijuana party's banner.
"There's only one Republican Party candidate on the ballot for governor, and it is Dr. Scott Jensen," a Minnesota Republican Party spokesman said in a statement.
Patterson said he legitimately won the primary and aims to get the highest percentage of votes the party has ever received. He said he has voted for Republican, Democratic and Libertarian candidates over the years. This cycle he was a fan of gubernatorial candidate Neil Shah, one of the Republican candidates who dropped out after losing that party's endorsement to Jensen.
"We need more than two choices. So when people say 'You're stealing votes from so-and-so,' I would argue if we used ranked choice voting I wouldn't be stealing votes from anyone but we would ultimately come up with a better candidate," Patterson said.
Patterson and McTavish lamented how they are left out of media coverage and debates, which they said makes it difficult them to gain traction. Those candidates, along with Socialist Worker candidate Gabrielle Prosser, participated in a debate held last week by the Fairmont Chamber of Commerce, which the Independence-Alliance Party dubbed "The Other Guys Gubernatorial Forum."
Prosser, the Socialist Workers candidate who operates a ladle machine in a north Minneapolis bakery, is zeroed in on supporting workers and unions. She said in an interview that she is not making any campaign promises, but hopes to build people's confidence and support their efforts to improve their lives and working conditions. She said the choice between the DFL and Republican parties is a trap.
"Neither one of them have working people's interest in mind," said Prosser, 26. "Both of them, when it comes down to it, will defend the bosses and their profit system, which is on our backs."
James McCaskel was the lone third party candidate for governor who did not join the "other guys" debate. The Legal Marijuana Now hopeful said he began looking into politics after getting involved in protests following the police killing of George Floyd.
"I noticed governor is the dream job for a politician, so I got started," said McCaskel, 25. He wants to "rebuild the ladder of success through education" by adding apprenticeships to high school curriculums. He also would devote more of the state budget to helping people who don't have a home by offering them education programs, job opportunities and increased housing support.
McCaskel, who is Black, said he was encouraged to run by Paula Overby who stressed the importance of representation and took him to the State Capitol where McCaskel said he noticed no one looked like him.
Overby, who recently died of a heart ailment, was Legal Marijuana Now's candidate in the Second Congressional District. Her name will remain on the ballot, despite her passing, potentially impacting the outcome in that close race between Democratic U.S. Rep. Angie Craig and GOP candidate Tyler Kistner.