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Chapter Four: A Run for the U.S. Senate

 

After the exhilarating triumph of the 2001 Minneapolis city election, the landlord group faced a potential crisis. With a new executive director, we had to direct our energies in new ways to serve the landlord community. We could not continue to focus on fighting Minneapolis city government if its top officials were now our friends. The new mayor had attended our meetings three times during the campaign and we had presented proposals to him. Most of our enemies on the City Council were gone. By and large, their replacements were persons whom we had supported. Another problem was that, with rising real-estate prices in the city, some members who had needed our help because they were trapped in bad investments had cashed in and moved on to other pursuits. Our membership was in decline. The combination of these two situations convinced me that we needed a change in direction. For me, it was toward the larger political world.

It was easy for the Twin Cities media to hang on to their negative stereotypes of landlords and ignore our positive strivings. It would not be so easy if we scored big in electoral politics. Although what we had accomplished as a landlord group could not be held at a peak forever, it could, perhaps, translate into other areas. I had the idea of using the landlord group as a model of political activity. The essentials of this model were, first, a group focused on action rather than legislation, and, second, one possessing its own media capability. The model could be used by any group having political aspirations, either separately or in combination with others. I dubbed it “the Orange Party” and prepared orange-colored leaflets for circulation at both the 2002 Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) and Republican state conventions. I myself spent a day handing out literature at the Republican convention in St. Paul. The response was minimal. I came to the conclusion that this concept was too esoteric. The name “Orange Party” was either confusing or unattractive to persons committed to other political parties.

Earlier in the year, I had caucused with the Independence Party, to which Minnesota’s sitting governor, Jesse Ventura, belonged. In late June, I received an invitation to participate in the party’s state convention to be held in St. Cloud. A reminder telephone call persuaded me to attend. I drove up to St. Cloud by myself, talked with people, and listened to the speeches. What was the Independence Party besides Jesse Ventura? The thrust of its message seemed to be that party members were neither too conservative nor too liberal but in the political middle. In an age of excessively partisan politics, this was not an unattractive message. Indeed, several high-profile members of the two major parties, including former U.S. Congressman Tim Penny, had defected to the Independence Party and were running as candidates of this third party in the 2002 election.

I grew uneasy, however, as the “neither conservative nor liberal” formulation broke down into “fiscally conservative, socially liberal”. That was the posture of status quo politics. Both major parties were pro-business and at least nominally in favor of fiscal responsibility; and both were in favor of attracring Civil Rights-type political constituencies. That is, they were both committed to fighting white racism and advancing women’s equality to the point of political correctness. Both were under the thumb of big business or other moneyed interests. In addition to these conceptual problems, I wondered if a third party could prosper if it failed to differentiate itself sufficiently from the two major parties.

The Independence Party state convention took place on July 13th. July 16th was the filing deadline for the 2002 election. I decided to run for U.S. Senate, challenging the party-endorsed candidate in the primary. Being a person who had attracted only 143 votes in the Minneapolis mayoral primary, this was a giant step for me but I plunged into the campaign with high expectations. None of my landlord friends supported me. My new wife and stepdaughter, too, were doubtful of this venture. Even I admitted that I was deficient in many of the personal qualities befitting a political candidate.

The basis of my challenge was dissatisfaction with the party’s political orientation. The Independence Party needed to offer a clear alternative to the two major parties. In what way? There were, I thought, two separate sectors of political conflict - the economic and the social/ cultural - in which liberal and conservative positions were defined. As I sized them up, the Republicans were primarily a party of business and the Democrats were primarily a party of Civil Rights. That is, the Republicans were economically conservative and the Democrats were culturally and socially. Yet, each party had a recessive aspect mirroring the position of the other party. The Republicans were not opposed to Civil Rights and the Democrats were not opposed to big business.

My brainstorm was that an Independence Party candidate should take the opposing position on both counts. So I devised a campaign platform calculated to oppose and, perhaps, infuriate both parties in equal measure. My campaign consisted of two statements:

(1) “I believe that the Federal Government should reduce the standard workweek to 32 hours by 2010.” and

(2) “I believe in the full citizenship, dignity, and equality of white males (and of everyone else, too).”

My main campaign prop was a picket sign upon which the above two statements were printed on opposite sides. Unlike the city campaign, I did not walk around the state carrying this sign; but I did use it in photos distributed to newspapers. My favorite was a photograph of myself displaying the “white male” side of the sign in front of a statue of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox in Bemidji. The campaign itself was targeted mainly to newspapers, especially in the outstate (non-metro) area.

During a one-month period, I drove 5,500 miles to cities and towns in Minnesota. I gave each editor or reporter a standard pitch about my two issues and why I was embracing them, along with some literature. I was also a guest, along with two other candidates, on the mid-day interview show on Minnesota Public Radio on the Friday before the election. I placed, or attempted to place, small retail ads in the two large Twin Cities newspapers. To my surprise and annoyance, the Star Tribune refused to accept my campaign ad so long as it contained the words “dignity for white males”. It also delined to do any news coverage of my campaign.

Despite the publicity blackout in Minneapolis, I did all right. I finished second in the primary with 8,482 votes, or 31% of the total, compared with 49.5% for the party-endorsed candidate and 19.5% for a third candidate. This experience told me that I knew how to campaign. The same publicity techniques applied to races for electoral office as to promoting landlord issues. I did not need much money or a large base of campaign supporters but could handle the entire operation myself. On the other hand, I would admit that, while such an approach may gain some votes, it is not enough to win election to a major office. That much I realize. Lone-wolf candidates aren’t elected.

Some have asked me: Why didn’t you seek a smaller office first, like a seat on the Minneapolis City Council, where you might stand a chance of winning, rather than starting your political career with a run for the U.S.Senate? It’s a good question. The answer gets back to our previous discussion about the two kinds of politics. The first kind had to do with passing laws, winning court cases, being elected to public office, or persuading elected officials to do something. The second had to do with changing public opinion by speaking out at public meetings, protesting, or demonstrating. I have cast my lot with the second type of politics.

The fact is that I enjoy the active life of campaigning more than I would that of an elected official. I hate long meetings governed by the rules of parliamentary procedure and all the arcane details that go along with this. Who would want to spend a life this way? But speaking out in a hostile environment is both a useful and personally stimulating experience. That is my own higher calling. It’s a way to serve the truth. Therefore, even if the ostensible goal is out of reach, the exercise of running for U.S. Senate or for President does offer a platform for expressing one’s views on issues of importance to our nation.

If I ran for City Council, my campaign would be of interest to persons in certain neighborhoods. A campaign for mayor might interest more people. It might also interest the larger newspapers and radio and television stations. The downside is that impossible pursuits of high office lack credibility. Even when such a distinguished person as former Minnesota governor Harold Stassen ran repeatedly for President, he became an object of ridicule. That might have been because he had fallen so far from his previous situation in becoming an insignificant contender in that race. As a political nobody running for high office, I would invite a kind of ridicule arising from the seeming lunacy of taking my own quest seriously. My challenge then would be to create credibility. Necessarily that would lie in becoming an effective bearer of a message which voters would otherwise not receive.

In 1991, I was a human-rights observer of a union election at the Cuautitlan Ford plant near Mexico City. The official union, supported by the government, was being challenged by a union slate supported by the workers. Such situations are susceptible to fraud. Since I do not speak Spanish, I relied for information upon an American journalist living in Mexico named Matt Witt, who later became communications director of the Teamsters. Something which Witt told me as we were lunching in the hot sun outside the plant gates became for me a kind of epiphany.

Witt said that most people think the way to change society is to petition some powerful institution, like Congress, to do what one would recommend. That approach is invariably unsuccessful. At most, one gets a polite brush off. Power listens to nothing but power. The alternative is to take the matter into one’s own hands. Just do something. Protest, demonstrate, go to Mexico to see if the elections are fair. Even if you are an individual seeming to have no power, your action will force the big players to take into account what you are doing. Your gravitational force will force them to change. Action, not words, is the road to change. I never forgot that conversation.

I think that one of the most important problems facing the United States is the system of belief that keeps our people in bondage to lies. There is no law which says that people must believe or heed those lies. They are enforced through intimidation. The person himself or herself chooses to obey them. Admittedly, “the system” punishes those who disobey the lies. You could lose your job for saying the wrong thing. You could be ostracized by your friends. But, in the United States of America, you are not put in jail or killed for refusing to submit to these lies. The U.S. Constitution protects free speech. It also prohibits official establishments of religion which I would interpret in a broad sense as prohibiting any type of compulsory moral belief. In other words, the enforcement of those lies by society is technically illegal.

Yet, Americans submit fearing the consequences of expressing the wrong moral, social, or political opinion. Remembering Matt Witt’s comments, I would say that the proper response is not to complain about it to the government but, feeling confidence in one’s self, say to the world: That is wrong! Shout it to the roof tops. Tell anyone who will listen. You will, of course, be exposed to ridicule, but I doubt that the police will be called. This can still be done in a free country.

In my view, the highest political calling is to speak the truth in public. I run for high political office not to be elected but to achieve a more important result which has to do with changing public perceptions of truth. Though I speak to the media to try to amplify the message, the basic act is to show people individually that I will not submit to intimidation. I will not heed or repeat the lies, even if others will. Anyone willing to pay a personal price can do this. It’s an expression of true patriotism - loving one’s country so much that one is willing to suffer ridicule and personal abuse to put the community on a firmer footing of truth.

The odds are, frankly, that few will listen. Immediately, it may seem a futile gesture. However, such gestures, if repeated, have a cumulative effect. At some point - perhaps quite suddenly - the world will be won over to a new and more truthful point of view. That, in turn, could further blossom into laws, official policies, and the rest. Isn’t this a more satisfying political achievement than being elected to high office?

To next chapter

See book on campaign for U.S. Senate

back to: On the Ballot  to: political odyssey

 

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