Column: Penny needs to rise above party games to succeed Ventura

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 29, 2002

Tim Penny hadn’t even announced his candidacy yet, and already, the game had begun.

Early this week, I received a letter from a Bloomington resident comparing Tim Penny to Gov. Ventura. He meant this as a bad thing.

&uot;How many of you want four more years of Jesse?&uot; The letter goes. &uot;In my opinion that is what you’ll get if Tim Penny is elected.&uot;

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Yeah. Right.

It continues:

&uot;When Jesse suggested we consider making prositution legal, no comment from Penny. When Jesse stated that our churches are crutches for the weak-minded, no comment from Penny.&uot; Forget that the prostitution comment, for instance, came before Ventura was even elected, and of course before Penny was even involved in Ventura administration, which didn’t exist yet.

Anyway, the letter goes on like that, in the kind of prose that suspiciously resembles a political campaign script. The letter is soaked in the kind of polished, sharply targeted, trying-to-sound-like-a-regular-person-but-not-quite-pulling-it-off rhetoric you see in campaign press releases and advertisements.

The letter was signed by Cy Carpenter. I did an Internet search to see who he is. He is apparently a past president of the National Farmers’ Union. He’s also somehow involved in the rural telework initiative. That’s all Yahoo! could tell me.

So why is he writing this letter defaming Tim Penny? Is he a party hack? Seems pretty likely. I find it hard to believe he’s just a concerned citizen of Bloomington who decided to write a letter to a small-town newspaper 90 miles away (and, I presume, to every other newspaper in the state).

This was the first shot in what will surely be a long and exciting three-way gubernatiorial war (four-way if you count the Green Party’s Ken Pentel).

The next volley came in the moments after Penny announced his run for governor on Thursday. Both of the old-school parties did what they always do: Spit out a line of bull intended to paint the other guy as an &uot;evil liberal&uot; or &uot;evil conservative.&uot;

DFL candidate Roger Moe said he is the only candidate committed to the &uot;progressive Minnesota values our state has always stood for.&uot; He said conservative voters will have to make a &uot;tough choice&uot; between Penny and Pawlenty.

Okay, so Roger says Penny is a conservative.

GOP candidate Tim Pawlenty’s campaign manager, Tim Commers, said Penny’s entrance brings another left-of-center candidate into the field. &uot;We like it crowded,&uot; he said. &uot;It’s crowded with Democrats.&uot;

Okay, so the Pawlenty camp says Penny is a Democrat. Which, to their credit, he was, until last week. But then again, their U.S. Senate candidate was a Democrat not so long ago, too.

As far as I’m concerned, Penny is the one who hit the nail right on the head.

He said the two biggest parties are out of touch with most Minnesotans. &uot;Sixty percent of the people in the sensible center need some representation here,&uot; he said.

That’s the lesson they failed to learn after the Ventura shocker. And truthfully, it was easy to forget that message; it got buried under a pile of shenanigans that made the governor more of a sideshow than a political difference maker. It started before he took office and still goes on.

But now, four years after Ventura &uot;shocked the world,&uot; we have an independent candidate who posesses the same common-man, common-sense appeal that made people embrace Ventura, but who seems unlikely to don a feather boa or confess that he’d like to be reincarnated as a bra.

But the big parties are setting themselves up for another fall this year. They continue to play the political game against a guy who manages to rise above it all. Penny, after all, was always disgusted with the partisan games he enountered as a U.S. representative in Washington.

He’s about to get another dose, campaign style.

Dylan Belden is the Tribune’s managing editor. His column appears Sundays. E-mail him at