Phil Fuehrer: Cult of Personality? Not Exactly

From Phil Fuehrer at the Independence Party of Minnesota website:

The Independence Party has often been criticized as being a party perpetually in search of the next big name to run for office. Moving from Jesse Ventura, to Tim Penny, to Peter Hutchinson, Dean Barkley, Tom Horner etc., etc. A secondary criticism has been that the IP’s ideology simply shifts with the candidate du election-saison. Or, more to the idea that the IP has no ideology and is simply a cult of personality with the cult shifting allegiances from one election to the next.

The criticisms are not exactly correct. But, there is some design behind it causing that perception. Here’s the history.

When it comes to the platform, constitution/bylaws, and the Independence Party of Minnesota there were two main areas of thought as it was constructed in the mid-90s.

First, it was intentionally thought through at the time that we did not want a platform that addressed every issue under the sun. We wanted to cover enough topics to put some flesh on the bone so to speak but that was it. It was widely viewed by the majority that taking too many narrowly focused positions would simply drive people away from the fledgling party. In fact, there was great debate initially on limiting the platform to no more than one side of one page. It was a position that we followed. We have added planks and statements since then but much of the sentiment in maintaining a pared back platform has remained.

The second area of thought (related to point one above) was the idea that candidates would provide for much of the party definition. The platform would be “some” meat on the bones – a mutually agreed upon skeleton (party philosophy) but candidate positions would finish fleshing out what the party stood for in terms of positions and ideas. We tried to design a very candidate-centric party rather than a party-centric party. The belief was that there would be numerous candidates running at all levels during each election cycle. The quantity of candidates, each adhering to our base principles, values and skeletal platform planks would naturally create a generalized knowledge of beliefs, ideology and understanding of where the party stood on all issues. In reality, we have not yet been able to run a quantity of candidates in multiple elections to create the results we wanted. So, it has looked to the general voter like we jerk from candidate to candidate every two to four years. I can see how it can come across as a cult of personality with a perpetual search for the next big named gubernatorial or senate candidate though that was not the the intent. I can also see how the IP may also have come across as ideologically deficient.

Neither criticism is exactly true, but the perception is clearly there from those not steeped in party history or daily party workings. The structure we’ve tried to use has obviously had its share of problems. I, for one, am open to and anticipating discussions on some redesign and/or paradigm shifting. We have a great opportunity before us to make positive changes that will truly grow the Independence Party into a force in Minnesota and beyond. Let’s not waste it.

24 thoughts on “Phil Fuehrer: Cult of Personality? Not Exactly

  1. Jed Ziggler Post author

    That’s an unfortunate last name, I must say.

    Hopefully the IP makes it back on the ballot. In the past they’ve elected a governor & had representation in the Senate, though appointed. I think there is a place for centrist parties, if they can avoid being overrun by ideologues, such as when the Reform Party was hijacked by Pat Buchanan & his ilk.

  2. AndyCraig

    Sounds a lot like national Reform Party veering from Perot to Buchanan to Nader before going effectively defunct. It’s why a party needs something more than just “centrist” or “moderate” or “not D/R” to rally around. A non-ideological political party is an inherent contradiction, so of course they end up being defined by whatever candidate walks through the door.

  3. AndyCraig

    Part of the problem for a would-be ‘centrist’ third party, is that there is no shortage of moderate centrists being nominated and elected in the major parties. The LP for libertarians, and the Greens for far-lefties and the CP for ultra-right-wingers, all represent a constituency that (more or less) doesn’t have a seat at the table in the Ds/Rs. But that has never been the case for “centrists” or “moderates”, who get elected all the time running D/R.

  4. paulie

    Progressive Democrats, religious ultra-conservatives and “libertarianish” Rs and Ds sometimes get elected through the establishment parties as well.

    While it’s true that some moderates get elected by the D/Roid parties, many moderates don’t feel comfortable in either a party dominated by big government employees unions or one that is frequently dominated or at least heavily influenced by the “Christian” Right.

  5. AndyCraig

    L/G/C “-leaning” candidates might occasionally get elected, but not anybody who is fimly far-left/right/libt. as the members of those parties would like, and not in such numbers that they can effectively compete to control a party. But if you take the farthest-left Republican and the farthest-right Democrat, you don’t have a gap between them for another potential party, instead you just have a wide overlap between many moderate Rs and many moderate Ds. There is no candidate/constituency that is “too centrist” that they can’t get elected/participate in a major party. Which party a centrist/moderate ends up running in, is largely a function of which party is less dominated by its left/right wing in a particular state, and other variables dependent on the individual candidate. Plus there’s the fact that many of them can/do run and win as no-party idependents.

    IMO, this is the main reason Reform and I.P. bounced all over the place like they did before collapsing, never actually running a candidate most Americans would recognize as moderate or centrist. A more dramatic example, would be the fiasco that was Americans Elect. Which had other flaws, granted, but the main conceit of a “centrist party” was also part of its failure I think. Modern Whig is another example that got a bunch of early hype before going nowhere. It’s a perpetually attractive idea, that never seems to work out in practice.

    I think we’ll see another right-wing party rise up and replace the ailing Const. Party, before we see a new non-left-right party get as big as even the LP or the Greens.

  6. Philip Fuehrer

    Part of our problem (and other centrist parties), I believe, has been that lack of ideological structure. There are certainly some philosophies and platforms but a little more is needed. I have some ideas for the IP here in MN and we’ll see both if I can make the “sale” internally and then whether they work or not.

    In the broader scheme there is overlap between the farthest left Republican and the rightest Democrat – but, the parties continue to polarize and other factors that are at play do create a space for a centrist/moderate party. Does that party automatically get a 30% base? Likely not, but I believe less than that is needed.

    As for my name, Jed – the word itself is not bad – plus, it’s my understanding that PA has the most Fuehrer’s – spread all way from the Pitt area to Allentown/Bethlehem.

  7. Andy Craig

    True. So was the Independence Party circa 1999. Despite the name though (which is probably one of the better vote-getting ballot labels you could pick), the Moderate Party is largely a fiscal-conservative/libertarian party, at least from what I read of their platform. Balance the budget, cut taxes, lower public employee pay, school choice, firing bad teachers= that seems to be the gist of it, at least such as it was under its founder (who left before perennial independent/new-party candidate Healey stepped in, took the ballot line, and ran like hell with it).

    Healey himself from what I have seen seems pretty aggressively libertarian on the issues, despite demurring that label. I wish/hope the LP picks him up at some point- I’ve got to love somebody who also ran for a useless obsolete ceremonial statewide office on the platform abolishing it (and did much better than I did). And I wish the Moderate Party the best of luck, they’ve got something unique and interesting going on. But at most it’s still a one-state party, which if they take off tend to become a vehicle for a split in one of the major parties, following which they are reabsorbed back into the duopoly. And they are not yet as successful as I.P. was at their peak. I think “Moderate” is a more of a (smart) pitch for fiscal conservatives in a liberal state than an accurate categorization of their ideology and platform. But then tends to work much better on a state level, not nationally. What’s moderate in Rhode Island isn’t moderate in Alabama, neither of which would pass for moderate in New Hampshire.

  8. Richard Winger

    The Minnesota Independence Party elected a State Senator in 2002, Sheila Kiscaden.

    Phil, is your party interested in trying to get the law changed so there are two categories of ballot-qualified parties in Minnesota, big ones that nominate by primary and smaller ones that nominate by convention? You said that idea interested you. But I just wonder if anything might be happening. As we talked about, 17 states have laws like that, including Michigan.

  9. Andy Craig

    Pretty much. But they got a decent smattering of “check out this new centrist third party that’s going to take off!” coverage. Which is probably more than they would have got without the cheeky (if obscure-to-most-actual-voters) name.

    The other third-party to elect a Governor in recent decades was also an “Independence” candidate. But that party uses the word much more literally.. 😉 The others would be actual-independents.

    Probably way too late, but I’ve toyed with the idea of what if Libertarian candidates instead appear on the ballot as “Liberty” or if we might have been better off if it had been called the “Liberty Party” from the start. Maybe not much of a difference, but a Libertarian ballot label certainly doesn’t have the inherent mass appeal that “Moderate” or “Independence” do. A well-chosen (and more than a little misleading) name is probably what’s kept the party-formerly-known-as-US-Taxpayers on the ballot in several states. And of course there’s always the amusing antics of trying to commandeer “independent” voter registrations (intended as no-party-affiliation) into a new “Independent Party”. I forget what state that’s being tried in now, but Richard Winger covered it recently. I’m pretty sure it’s happened in at least a couple of states. There are a couple of others that have “Independent” or “Independence” fusion-nomination parties, who selectively cross-endorse either the D or the R. New York and Oregon, iirc.

  10. Martin Passoli

    Louisiana is where they are now trying to convert nonpartisan voters to Independent Party. And Massachusetts LP candidates sometimes run as Liberty Party. NH has a Liberty Party also. Not sure if they have had candidates with that ballot label or not,

  11. David

    Some would say the Whigs never left, they just became Republicans after taking over the Republican party.

  12. Andy Craig

    New Hampshire’s “Liberty Party” is a subset of the Free Keene folks, centered around Ian Freeman (whose radio show makes for pretty interesting/amusing listening). He ran for Governor in the Democratic primary and tried to insist that should count as a third party. Something about how the Dem primary is actually for lowercase-d democrats and his actual party affiliation was the Liberty Party (which didn’t and probably never will appear on the ballot as such). Their basic shtick is radical anarcho-libertarian civil disobedience and New Hampshire secessionism.

    He got 4% in an ultra-low-turnout primary where the incumbent got 90%+, and tried to insist that was more impressive than the ~3% (but many times more over actual votes) the LPNH had most recently gotten for Governor.

    I’m curious to know more about Massachusetts LP appearing on the ballot as “Liberty”. How has that generally worked out?

    There was an abolitionist “Liberty Party” in the 1840s/50s. One of their leaders in Wisconsin, Sherman Booth, was an instrumental figure in the Joshua Glover Rescue that helped prompt the formation of the Republican Party via a fusion of Whigs, Know-Knothings, and abolitionists.

  13. mARS

    The only third parties to elect governors in my lifetime were the Independence Party (MN), the Alaskan Independence Party, and A Connecticut Party. The latter two ran former Republican governors, while the former ran a celebrity (who had also served as the mayor of a relatively large city) with very impressive, quirky ads. A party’s name is certainly helpful in communicating what said party stands for, but I feel that candidate quality matters more.

    Interestingly enough, there was a single candidate on the ballot in Alabama last year–for HD69–running under an “Independence Party” label; he received 3% of the vote. I would have liked to observe how, if at all, the name affected things across different elections, but he was the only candidate. (Initially, the Democratic candidate for AL-02 had been running under the label, but he switched over.)

  14. Philip Fuehrer

    > Richard: We’ve begun very preliminary discussions regarding lobbying for legislative changes. Our next Exec Cmte Meeting is 02/01 and I think we’ll discuss more deeply then.

  15. Cody Quirk

    “Probably way too late, but I’ve toyed with the idea of what if Libertarian candidates instead appear on the ballot as “Liberty” or if we might have been better off if it had been called the “Liberty Party” from the start. Maybe not much of a difference, but a Libertarian ballot label certainly doesn’t have the inherent mass appeal that “Moderate” or “Independence” do. A well-chosen (and more than a little misleading) name is probably what’s kept the party-formerly-known-as-US-Taxpayers on the ballot in several states. And of course there’s always the amusing antics of trying to commandeer “independent” voter registrations (intended as no-party-affiliation) into a new “Independent Party”. I forget what state that’s being tried in now, but Richard Winger covered it recently. I’m pretty sure it’s happened in at least a couple of states. There are a couple of others that have “Independent” or “Independence” fusion-nomination parties, who selectively cross-endorse either the D or the R. New York and Oregon, iirc.”

    I’m all for the National LP taking either route, though I know it will take some time to do that- if there is a large enough consensus in the LP that is motivated enough to bring that change about, which might develop sometime in the future.

  16. Martin Passoli

    “I’m curious to know more about Massachusetts LP appearing on the ballot as “Liberty”. How has that generally worked out?”

    About the same as when they run as Libertarian. It doesn’t seem to make any significant difference. The mainstream media refers to them as Libertarians regardless of which of the two labels is printed on the ballots.

  17. Cody Quirk

    For one, IMO, it will increase the LP’s voter registration numbers, indirectly lead to more votes for LP candidates, and also certainly rob some of the populist-named CP affiliates of their thunder & clout among the voters and the independent-oriented crowds in those states.

  18. Richard Winger

    When Jesse Ventura won as Governor in 1998, his ballot label was “Reform Party”, not “Independence Party.” It was the same party. Minnesota allows qualified parties to change their names. The Independence Party changed its name to the Reform Party either late in 1995 or early in 1996, and kept the Reform label until 2001, when Governor Ventura led the Minnesota Reform Party out of the national Reform Party, after Jack Gargan was removed as national chair by a coalition of the Perot and Pat Buchanan forces.

  19. Gene Berkman

    In reference to something Richard Winger mentioned – St. Sen. Sheile Kiscaden had been a pro-choice Republican state senator. The Republicans refused to renominate her because of her support for abortion rights, so she switched to the Independence Party as was re-elected. Other pro-choice Republicans went into the Independence Party including state senator Marsha Robertson, who ran for Lt. Governor in 2002 when Tim Penny was the IP candidate for Governor.

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