Before you turn us into Wisconsin, drop your vanity campaign | Opinion

March 8, 2022 5:59 am

Cory Hepola. Courtesy of Cory Hepola for Governor.

Minnesotans have a strange affinity for minor parties. 

I suspect this is due to the state’s rich history of influential second tier parties — Democrats still hang on to the Farmer-Labor Party label with whom they merged in 1944. Minnesota is strongly linked to politics arising out of agrarian socialism, as well as populism, the temperance movement and progressivism, which all found home in political parties that either went extinct or whose ideas were co-opted by the two major parties.  

Minnesotans went so far as to elect a crass, show business minor party candidate as its governor in 1998, embarrassing themselves on the national stage. 

Minnesota makes it relatively easy to get on the ballot — just 2,000 signatures in a statewide race — and then grants automatic ballot access once you achieve “major party” status, which, again, isn’t that onerous. If you get 5% of the vote in any statewide race and a vote in every county, you get automatic statewide ballot access for two general elections. 

So, we have both Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis and Legal Marijuana Now. (In a plot twist fit for a “Harold & Kumar” sequel, activists couldn’t agree on a name, so we wound up with two parties.)

Drafting off this third-party legacy is a (minor) figure in local broadcasting named Cory Hepola. He was on local TV news, and then the radio, so perhaps recognizable to the tiny percentage of Minnesotans that are still listening to commercial radio and watching the local news.

Now he’s running for governor. 

Being a TV or radio personality does not make you qualified to be governor. 

It’d be like if a Twins radio announcer decided he was fit to pitch on opening day. (And I’m not talking Dan Gladden.) 

Because Hepola knows a lot of broadcasters and other people in media, he got some attention when he announced his bid for governor last week with something called the “Forward Party Minnesota.” 

(That’s the political vehicle of Andrew Yang, another self-indulgent Democrat who couldn’t find support in his own party, so he took his ball and started his own team.) 

Whatever this campaign is about, it’s not about public policy. Hepola doesn’t seem to have any specific policy ideas, though he allowed he’d keep abortion legal. 

He says he voted for Gov. Tim Walz and President Joe Biden.

So, why not join the big, fractious coalition called the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party and work to push it in your preferred direction? That’s what everyone else is doing. 

Well, showing up and doing that difficult, boring work wouldn’t get him much attention. Probably wouldn’t help his broadcast career. 

And, because no one knows who he is, and he doesn’t have $10 million, he’s not going to be competitive in the governor’s race. Unlikely to top 5%. 

Hey, the reader asks, what’s the big deal? What concern is another man’s vanity? 

The problem is that low-information voters love to think of themselves as “independent.” 

“We need something new! I’ve had it with the creeps in the two parties!”

So, you peel off just enough to sway the outcome, probably though not definitely helping Republicans capture the governor’s race. After all, Hepola is a Democrat in everything but name. 

So, thanks to a Hepola candidacy, we wind up with a GOP governor. 

And that GOP governor — perhaps a country doctor who plays kissy face with anti-vaxx people or maybe a retired cop who lied during his campaign rollout about using a racial epithet — will work together with a likely GOP Legislature next year to turn Minnesota into Wisconsin. 

What does that look like?

Tobacco tax cuts. Tax money going to private schools. Less scrutiny of police. Attempts to break public unions — especially the kind with lots of women members. New restrictions on voting. Longer prison sentences. And if you think none of this will touch you because you live in a progressive bastion like Minneapolis or St. Paul, guess again: Their philosophy will be local control for me, not for thee

As for abortion rights, which Hepola claims he’ll protect, the GOP governor will likely sign bills that will restrict access and create new regulations on clinics. 

Among the bathos dripping from Hepola’s platitudinous campaign, a typical one is about solving the unfortunate division gripping our political system. 

“Our unique differences and identities are what make our state stronger. We will move forward TOGETHER!”

First of all, that’s creepy. I’m not going anywhere with any of these people. 

But let’s allow that we certainly have a problem with division. Like the time the former president of the United States urged his followers to engage in violence on Jan. 6, and they sought to overthrow the duly elected government. And then the Republican Party called it normal political discourse. 

So, yes, we are divided. Some people want to nullify elections and institute an authoritarian regime. Some of us don’t. 

We’re also divided about the fact that some of us think it’s inhumane that a shocking number of Minnesotans don’t have access to a safe place to live or health care, while other people live with ostentatious wealth. 

To treat state and national crises as an opportunity for nurturing your vanities isn’t just a trifling, fun diversion for our body politic. It’s disgraceful, and should be treated with the contempt it deserves. 

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J. Patrick Coolican
J. Patrick Coolican

J. Patrick Coolican is Editor-in-Chief of Minnesota Reformer. Previously, he was a Capitol reporter for the Minneapolis Star Tribune for five years, after a Knight-Wallace Fellowship at the University of Michigan and time at the Las Vegas Sun, Seattle Times and a few other stops along the way. He lives in St. Paul with his wife and two young children