On a recent muggy June evening, hundreds of people line several streets in Brooklyn Park for the annual Tater Daze parade. A group of young people is trying to get them fired up about politics, and irritated with Republicans and Democrats. Four women in red-and-blue T-shirts fight each other wearing oversized boxing gloves labeled "R" and "D," as Jason Isaacson offers a running commentary.
"Just another day at the Capitol, folks," Isaacson yells through a megaphone. "Democrats, Republicans fighting it out. Duking it out, but they're not worried about our concerns."
Isaacson tells parade watchers that they wouldn't choose between two types of shoes or cars, so they shouldn't limit their election choice to two candidates for governor.
Near Isaacson on the parade route is the candidate who's behind this partison boxing match, Peter Hutchinson. Wearing a plaid shirt and khakis, the gray-haired Hutchinson looks a bit like a policy wonk, and he is. He served as state finance commissioner in the late '80s, and as Minneapolis school superintendent in the '90s. He's never run for office before, and said his campaign is trying to make politics fun.
"People are really discouraged about politics, it seems like it's too difficult. It's painful, actually, I think for a lot of people to contemplate," Hutchinson said. "They would never think of going to one of those state conventions because it just seems so miserable, locked up in this windowless room for three days, so we're trying to help people realize that it doesn't need to be that way."
Hutchinson said the Independence Party state convention, at the home of the St. Paul Saints baseball team, should be much more entertaining than the recent GOP and DFL conventions. He said he's not talking about the divisive social issues that he believes have dominated the last few sessions at the Capitol, what he dubs the 5 G's.
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"Guns, gays, God, gambling and gynocology, and now we have to add, thanks to this session, green cards and stadiums for gladiators," Hutchinson said. "That's not where Minnesotans are."
Hutchinson said his administration would focus on education, health care, transportation and the environment, the issues he says Minnesotans care about. Hutchinson is likely to get the IP endorsement this weekend, and was running unopposed until last month, when Pam Ellison decided to challenge him for party backing.
Ellison has been involved in the Independence Party since 1998, when she worked on Jesse Ventura's successful campaign for governor, and then Ventura's administration. She ran for Congress six years ago, and was running for governor as an independent -- with a small "i" -- until some IP members persuaded her to seek the party endorsement.
"We're excited, and we're going to run a positive race. And stay on issue, and stay on message," Ellison said. "And the other thing is I think people are tired, even though they're tired of the gridlock at the Capitol, they're so tired of the angry man approach. Or the angry woman approach."
Ellison doesn't single out Hutchinson for criticism, although she said she's offered more specific issue positions than he has. Ellison works at a St. Paul high school, and is focusing on education, health care, energy and transit in her campaign.
Ellison said she's way behind Hutchinson in fundraising, with about $1,500 in her campaign account. Hutchinson, on the other hand, raised more than $178,000 last year. During the same period, Gov., Pawlenty raised more than $800,000, while DFL endorsee Mike Hatch raised more than $500,000.
Ellison said she'll run in the primary regardless of whether she gets the endorsement, while Hutchinson said he'll drop out of the race if he doesn't win IP backing. Party Chair Jim Moore said the endorsement contest between Ellison and Hutchinson is good for both candidates.
"We welcome it, we encourage it, and we'd like to see more of it," said Moore. "Unfortunately, we've seen a lot of coronations, particularly from the two entrenched parties. But in the end, our goal is to make the Independence Party a safe haven for people who want to bring about change."
Also at the convention, at least three candidates will vie for the IP endorsement for U.S. Senate -- Robert Fitzgerald, Jim Haviland and Steve Williams.