Minnesota’s parties are the most unusual feature of the state’s political scene. The primary party of the left is the DFL (Democratic-Farmer-Labor), which resulted from a merger of Farmer-Labor Party and the much smaller Democratic Party after World War II.
The right got into the autonomy act in the 1970s. Following the Watergate scandal, Minnesota’s Republicans distanced themselves from the national disgrace by changing their name to the Independent Republican Party, but the Independent was dropped during the party’s wave of national success in the mid-1990s.
The leftist and progressive Green Party of Minnesota has won a handful of local races, though as of yet it is taken no more seriously statewide than the Greens are at the national level. White Earth Reservation activist Winona LaDuke helped raise the party’s profile when she ran as the Greens’ vice presidential candidate for the 1996 and 2000 elections.
The newest player in Minnesota politics is the Independence Party of Minnesota, which sits squarely in the middle of the road. They began as part of the Reform Party, Ross Perot’s anti-deficit crusade of the late 1990s, but split in 2000. Since its founding, only five party members have won a seat at the polls, including former professional wrestler Jesse “The Body” Ventura.
Ventura’s tenure as governor was, as the Star Tribune called it, “a riotous four years of controversy, publicity-seeking, outside moneymaking, tri-partisan gridlock and, yes, governance.” DFL and Republican critics were outspoken from the start (an inevitable aspect of political life that the thin-skinned Ventura did not handle very maturely), though his candor and his independence from special interests kept his approval ratings high throughout most of his term.
The sudden downturn in the polls—a March 2002 Star Tribune poll showed only 31 percent of Minnesotans felt that he “deserves to be reelected”—and his fervent hatred of the media were no doubt significant factors in his decision to not run for reelection. It is still too early to tell if the Independence Party will have much success beyond its most visible spokesman, though it seems unlikely.
As its parties demonstrate, politically Minnesota has a strong independent streak, though historically it is one of the nation’s more liberal states. Democrats have won every presidential election in the state since 1960 with the exception of Richard Nixon’s victory in 1972—most by wide margins—yet Minnesotans have consistently seesawed between the left and right in Congressional, gubernatorial, and state legislative elections over the same period.
The DFL took control of the state Senate in 1972 (the first year legislators again began running with party labels) and hasn’t let go since. They also currently hold a solid majority in the House. Governor Tim Pawlenty, elected in 2002, announced that he would not seek reelection in 2010, under speculation that he was leaving to pursue national political aspirations.
© Tim Bewer from Moon Minnesota, 3rd Edition