For the third election in a row, I voted for the Independence Party candidate in the Minnesota gubernatorial election. (Yes, if you're counting backward, that means that I voted for Jesse "The Body" Ventura - and proudly so!) This year's candidate, Peter Hutchinson, garnered only 6% of the popular vote, but that means that the Independence Party will continue to qualify for public funding in statewide elections. And, more importantly, it means that there will be three candidates on stage again in four years.
Minnesota, of course, has a strong independent streak, even though it's often classified as a blue state - Ventura is exhibit A. Ours is a progressive state, politically and culturally, but there's also a lot of good Lutheran stoicism, as made famous by Garrison Keillor.
Hutchinson, for me, represented that mix well. Having served in state office as the finance commissioner and as the superintendent of Minneapolis public schools, he brought a commonsense realism that jibed with the realities of our state. For instance, he opposed the expansion of gambling, as do I. I oppose gambling on moral grounds; Hutchinson said that gambling proceeds are a bad way to fund governmental activities. While the other two candidates avoided talking about taxes at all costs, Hutchinson proposed an additional tax (on clothing) and a higher tax (on gas) along with a lowering of the sales tax rate, all in order to stabilize the overly volatile budgeting process which is altogether too beholden to consumer spending.
But most important of all, I think, is that Hutchinson kept the other two candidates honest. First of all, he ran no negative ads. Secondly, at each debate, he was winsome, even funny, and brought a great deal of civility to an otherwise ugly campaign. When the Republican and Democrat tied themselves in knots criticizing the other, Hutchinson would speak up, look at the audience, and ask, "Do you really think that either of these guys is capable of leading this state into the future?"
And thirdly - I hope you're sitting down - Hutchinson actually answered the questions that were asked in the debates! While the other two took the old political tack of answer-the-question-you-want-to-answer, not-the-question-that-you're-asked, Hutchinson answered every question that was asked of him with actual policy proposals. The other two commonly began their responses to questions with, "Before I answer that question, I just want to say that my opponent is twisting my record on..." Then, of course, they'd never actually get around to answering the question.
So, the independent candidate raised the level of the debate, injected a tone of civility, and, at times, made the donkey and the elephant actually respond to questions. And, I'm hoping that happens again in four years. Maybe an independent will never again sit as the governor of my state, but at least we've got three voices in the mix.
And, honestly, as a Red Letter Christian, I find that the rhetoric and mean-spirited politics of the Republicans and Democrats so rarely represents my own politics that I'd just as soon vote my conscience - even if it means that my candidate finishes a distant third.
Tony Jones is the National Coordinator for Emergent Village.