Saturday, October 11, 2008

Dean Barkley in the Duluth Budgeteer

It's longer than most stories posted, but very good.

Dean Barkley founded the Independence Party in Minnesota in 1992, when the federal debt reached $2.5 trillion.

On Thursday, it crossed the $10 trillion mark.

Once again the Independence Party candidate for U.S. Senate, Barkley talks about the debt with concern and disgust.

“I hope this crisis will wake up my two opponents,” he said, referring to the “Every wonderful Al Franken idea, ask him, How will he pay for that. Every Norm Coleman proposal to cut taxes, ask, How will he pay for that?”

On the subject of his opponents — Democrat Farmer Labor candidate Al Franken and Republican Party candidate Norm Coleman — Barkley says he has them to thank for his increasing poll numbers. (Two recent polls put Barkley at 14 percent.)

“It’s been the most negative campaign in the history of Minnesota,” he said. “I have to thank them. But I also have to give the people a positive reason to vote for me.”

Barkley, who is running as a fiscal conservative and a social moderate, which means he believes the government should stay out of a person’s private life as long as that person isn’t hurting others.

At a press conference in Duluth Oct. 2, Barkley said if he is elected, he will introduce legislation that will cap federal spending at current levels.

“We have to stop the bleeding of our federal budget,” he said. “That doesn’t mean there’s no role for government to play in society, but I think we can all agree that the nearly $3 trillion annual budget provides plenty of money for us to do some good things. It’s simply a matter of setting responsible priorities and having the discipline to stick to them. ... We won’t start turning this nation around until Congress starts being fiscally responsible, until they say no to earmarks.”

If he wins, it will be the second time Barkley represents Minnesota at the U.S. Senate. He was appointed by Gov. Jesse Ventura to fill the last two months of the term of the late Paul Wellstone in 1992. Of that two months, Barkley was in session eight days.

Barkley told a story about his time at the Senate to illustrate bad the partisanship is at the Capitol.

“The one thing that struck me, when I went into the private Senate dining room — where only Senators can go — the first thing I notice — there was a Republican room and a Democrat room,” he said. “They would not even eat together. That’s how bad partisanship had gotten.

“So you know what I did? I pulled a table halfway between the two rooms, and that was my table. Guess what happened? Democrats, Republicans would come up and have lunch with me.

We’d start talking, start building coalitions. ... We’ve got to start sending people (to Washington) who will be Americans first and politicians second. Then I think we can actually start solving our nation’s problems, get our priorities straight.”

Barkley had lots more to say on that Duluth visit.

Barkley on running for Senate (again):

“Last time I ran was in 1996 and I never thought I’d do it again. I’d done it three times to get us to where we had major party status; I recruited Ventura, got him elected and I thought, good, I don’t have to do this again. I never planned on doing this again.

But when the latest numbers came out about where the debt was going, this war in Iraq, the gridlock in Congress, how bad it got in Congress, I urged Jesse to do it, so I didn’t have to do it. He wouldn’t. So I reluctantly got into this, if not him then who — who else could do this?
I decided I was going to give it one more shot, to see if we could bring some sanity back to politics. I’ve been at it 16 years and this will be my last shot. Maybe Minnesotans will accept me this time, maybe they’ll accept me as an alternative.

I’ve got a good track record. They can see what I did when I was there. In eight days in session, I was a key player in Homeland Security, to help get that bill passed ... and I got the Wellstone Center built, all in eight days. You don’t have to be a Democrat or Republican to be effective. I think I showed that. Maybe they’ll give me another chance to go there and start solving problems and not participate in this food fight that goes on and on and on.”

Barkley on the Iraq War:
“Everyone wants us out except (President) Bush, even the Iraqis. I think we could safely get out in six months. We’ve built that country, now they have decide if they want to become a civilized country or (they favor) tribal warfare. It was a bad decision to get into war in Iraq, but the decision was made.

What we need is more money and troops in Afghanistan. That’s the war we should have been fighting. We’ll have to finish that war. We can’t just let the terrorists sit there and regroup and attack us again — because they will do that.”

On health care:

“Congress just passed a drug bill for Medicare, but they banned Medicare from negotiating discounts. The VA can do it, why not Medicare? We know why, because the drug lobby has both sides bought and paid for.

I’ve come up with a plan: Open up Medicare to anyone who wants to buy it and let them compete with the privates. And lift the ban for negotiating drug costs. ... When consumers have real choices — and not a monopoly dominated by a few big companies — prices will go down.”

On fund raising:

I did not go to K street and line my pockets with special interest money — that’s what’s wrong with politics. Both sides are bought out by the same special interests, so I won’t do that. So that limits me to Minnesotans who care enough about their country to give me a shot. I’ve been on the phones every day, every hour that I can, trying to raise money. I’ve raised a little over $53,000. It’s not what I wanted, but that’s gonna pay for my statewide radio campaign. I’m gonna keep asking people, if I get to 20 percent (in the polls) maybe I’ll raise another couple $100,000. I’ll do what I can.

If it’s all about money, I lose, I have no shot. But I think money can’t vote yet in this state, and as long as money can’t vote, I have a shot.

Obviously the big difference between my race and Ventura’s race is he got a check for $400,000 of state money at the end of October. I don’t get that help. ... The reason it’s more difficult raising money in the Federal race is because it’s still up to the highest bidder. But I firmly believe this is doable. I think there’s a shot.

I haven’t deluded myself. If I lose, that’s fine, I’ll go back to driving a bus and my law business and my life will go on. It’s not the end of the world.

Where are you drawing from, which party’s base?

I think I’m drawing more from Coleman’s base. One poll had me at around 15-16 percent. 10 percent of that came from Coleman; 6 percent from Franken. I think fiscal conservatives are realizing that Norm is not a fiscal conservative. He doesn’t have a fiscal conservative bone in his body. ... At the State Fair I had probably two conservatives come up to me for every Democrat and say that they were going to support me. What I’m saying is that I think I’m doing more harm to Coleman than Franken. That may change.

I hope to do enough damage to both of them to win, that’s my goal.

On gay rights

As long as people are not harming someone else, why does the government care?

What have you been doing to since you helped Jesse Ventura's win the governor’s race in 1998, worked as director of the Office of Strategic and Long Range Planning for Ventura and served in the Senate?

I was not able to land a large law firm job. So I started up my own law practice again and I lobbied — to pay the mortgage — I mean, I had to do something. There were a couple clients and said they wanted me to represent them at the Legislature and I did. One was the new horse track in Forest Lake ... I did Metro Mobility, the bus company that I was recently driving part-time for. I had Lorillard Tobacco Company, I’m a cigar smoker so I was representing the tobacco companies — defending your right to be stupid — and I had a private prison company. So I did some lobbying, I had my law practice I was building up again, and then in 2005 Kinky Friedman lured me down to Texas ... So for a year and a half I was down in Texas trying to get Kinky Friedman elected governor I came back to Minnesota and since then I’ve been practicing law part-time and driving a Metro Mobility bus part-time until I decided to run for the Senate.

What similarities do you see between this Senate race and the 1998 governor’s race, which Jesse Ventura finally won, beating out Republican Norm Coleman and the DFL’s Hubert H. “Skip” Humphrey III:

I think there are similarities in the two candidates that are basically stuck in political speak — of saying a lot and saying nothing, of attacking each other.

The biggest difference is the mood of the American public. The American public is at an all time high of disgust with both political parties: a 9 percent approval rating of Congress. Only Congress can have a lower approval rating than George Bush. I think people are looking. The University of Minnesota poll that came out about a month ago asked people if they’d be willing to vote for an independent or third-party candidate and 77 percent said they would. All I need to do is get half of them and I win. So I think it’s easier now than it was 10 years ago because of the mood of the public.

Where do you think Minnesotans are leaning politically?

I think it’s up in the air right now. I don’t think labels mean anything now. The one thing I think you can say that Minnesotans are right now is they’re angry. They do not like what they’re seeing in this financial mess we’ve been dealing with. They don’t know who to blame and I just say, blame ‘em both. They created it. They’re the ones who can’t talk to each other anymore or come to any consensus, whether it’s Social Security, whether it’s Medicare, whether it’s heath care, whether it’s alternative energy. You name it, they’re stuck .. with a big debt.

What do you like to do in Duluth?

I used to love to come to Duluth to play rugby. We had some great parties. And I went skiing at Spirit Mountain my whole life — I love Spirit Mountain. I’ve been to Duluth a lot. It’s a fun town; it’s a fun city; you’ve got a lot to offer. And you don’t have congestion.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell the Budgeteer readers?

My message to them is that: You don’t like what you have in Congress, I know that. You have a choice between sending more of the same back — I don’t care which one it is, Norm or Al, they’re both gonna fit in or sending the country a message: If you don’t change your ways you’re gonna do something. You might be next. They will do more to shake Washington up than anything they could, maybe in their lifetime, by sending me there. Because they (the Washington elite) will get that message. But it’s (Minnesota’s) choice — all I can do is give them the option. Unfortunately they won’t see my talking fish or my bowlers on TV. But listen to the radio, they’ll hear me on the radio.

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