Pot party candidate for U.S. House has GOP ties; Dems allege she’s a spoiler

By: - September 9, 2022 7:24 am

Legal Marijuana Now Party candidate Paula Overby (left), U.S. Rep. Angie Craig and Republican Tyler Kistner. Courtesy photos.

U.S. Rep. Angie Craig lost her first race for Congress in 2016 to Jason Lewis by just 6,655 votes. She was hindered, Democrats say, by the strong showing of Independence Party candidate Paula Overby, who won nearly 29,000 votes in the 2nd District.  

Democrats fear a repeat this year — and point to close ties between Overby and a Republican activist in the camp of Tyler Kistner, the Republican challenger to Craig.

Overby, an Eagan resident, is running this year under the banner of the Legal Marijuana Now Party. Democrats believe Republicans are colluding with friendly candidates like Overby to run on the line of the state’s two marijuana legalization parties — Legal Marijuana Now and Grassroots Legalize Cannabis — to pull votes from Democratic-Farmer-Labor candidates, which is the scenario that played out in 2020 races.

Overby is a longtime advocate for alternative parties, arguing that the nation’s two-party system is failing, and there should be a diversity in political parties so people can choose a party aligning with their beliefs. She says the accusation that candidates like her are just running to take votes away from Democrats is an old lie.

“There’s no truth to that. We represent independent voters — people that have had enough of the two-party system,” Overby told the Reformer. “It’s a false narrative. It’s a story they created to frighten people away from third parties.”

Nevertheless, Overby acknowledged she generally leans conservative, especially on fiscal issues, and has surrounded herself with conservatives. Her campaign treasurer, Joleen Johnson, posted a photo of herself on Facebook with a flag depicting President Donald Trump photoshopped as “Rambo” holding a bazooka. 

Overby posts photos and status updates tagging a man known colloquially as “Liberty Longbeard,” who in the past was a delegate for Kistner — the Republican attempting to unseat Craig. 

Liberty Longbeard, a.k.a Paul Tuschy, is a longtime Republican activist and a former GOP state House candidate. Tuschy was a 2020 campaign adviser for the late Adam Weeks, another Legal Marijuana Now candidate in the 2nd District with close ties to Republicans. 

Tuschy told the Reformer in a text message that he’s friends with Overby and has informally provided her with ideas for her campaign, but he has never done paid work or held an official position. 

Overby told the Reformer the work he’s doing for her campaign could “qualify” him as a campaign manager.

In 2020, the Kistner campaign paid $2,000 to a business registered by Tuschy.

When asked about this payment, Kistner’s campaign spokesperson Billy Grant said the payment to Tuschy was for “groundwork.” He denied the Kistner campaign is coordinating with Overby’s beyond trying to organize a 2nd Congressional District debate. 

When pressed about the 2020 payment and connection to Tuschy, Grant responded with sarcasm.

“I congratulate you on your groundbreaking journalism,” he said. “I’m sure it’s a story that most Minnesotans are very, very concerned about. At some point some of you guys might want to write about the economy, all the lay-offs that are happening — stuff like that — but, you know, if you want to chase stuff like this I guess that’s cool.”

The 2020 2nd District election was rocked after Weeks — running as a Legal Marijuana Now candidate — died in September 2020. 

The Star Tribune later reported that months prior to the election, Weeks admitted to a friend over voicemail that Republicans in the 2nd Congressional District recruited him to “pull votes away” from Craig.

The intrigue could have consequences. 

Craig beat Kistner narrowly in 2020, winning by 9,580 votes. This year, the race for Minnesota’s 2nd District is among the 32 U.S. House seats that are the most competitive in the country, according to the Cook Political Report. 

This race will likely be Minnesota’s closest and one that will be watched closely nationwide, as Democrats currently hold a slim majority in the U.S. House. The 2nd is a bellwether for the kind of suburban districts Democrats must defend if they are to hold on to their narrow majority.   

DFL Chairman Ken Martin said in a statement to the Reformer that Republicans are using the same playbook they attempted in 2020. 

“Given her close ties to Republican operatives who have pulled this same trick before, it is clear that Paula Overby is another Republican spoiler candidate who is running for office to get Republican Tyler Kistner elected,” Martin said. “Voters who choose Paula Overby are actively helping elect a Republican whose values are not in line with the residents of the 2nd Congressional District.”

Overby said that Democrats have always gone to extreme lengths to discredit third-party candidates.

“This is the Democrats attacking the third-party at every opportunity they can find,” Overby said.

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Michelle Griffith
Michelle Griffith

Michelle Griffith covers Minnesota politics and policy for the Reformer, with a focus on marginalized communities. Most recently she was a reporter with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead in North Dakota where she covered state and local government and Indigenous issues.