By John Croman
Dean Barkley found himself in familiar territory that afternoon in July when he walked into the Minnesota Secretary of State's office and filed to run for a seat in the US Senate under the Independence Party banner.
It's his fourth run as a third party candidate, dating back to 1992. And once again he's playing the role of the outspoken outsider, the under funded underdog fighting both his rivals and the two-party system itself.
"Ross Perot got me motivated, guilted me into doing something," Barkley recalls of his first foray into elected politics, "So I ran for Congress in 1992."
The ultimate deficit hawk adds, "And back then the debt was only 2.5 trillion! The sad thing is I could use the same campaign literature I did in 1992, only with more zeroes added!"
That year Perot's Reform Party movement tapped into voter frustration with the two-party system and Washington's gridlock games. Barkley, a Plymouth attorney and small businessman, looked to the same in Minnesota's Sixth Congressional District.
Appalled by the growing influence of political action committees, or PACs, Barkley began showing reporters pages from dictionaries as he compared what those organizations do with bribery.
"You go to Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, 2nd Edition, and it defines 'bribe' as the giving of money or something of value to someone in power with the expectation of influencing their decision-making."
In 1992 Barkley won the endorsement of both of the Twin Cities major metropolitan newspapers, but still finished behind incumbent Democrat Jerry Sikorski and that year's victor Republican Rod Grams.
Two years later Barkley was back in the mix, again rejecting PAC money and living without the vital TV time it can buy a politician. That year he also experience difficulty being included in officially sanctioned debates.
"The other candidates all say they welcome me," Barkley told KARE 11 in 1994 as he stood outside a debate in Saint Paul, "But privately they've gone behind my back and told every debate sponsor if I'm invited they will boycott."
Major Party Status
Barkley lost again to Rod Grams that year, but he accomplished something that put the third party movement on the map again in Minnesota. He grabbed five percent of the vote, giving his Reform Party "major party" status in Minnesota.
That comes an automatic spot on statewide ballots, assuming the party fields a candidate, and qualifies the party for state subsidies.
In 1996 Barkley would fill that spot again, going against incumbent Democrat Paul Wellstone and former Republican Senator Rudy Boschwitz
His standard line at debates that year?
"Hi, I'm Dean Barkley, the other guy in the race for US Senate,"
He finished third again that year, but won enough votes to retain major party status for his party, which paved the way for his biggest success in 1998.
That's the year he managed Jesse Ventura's shocking victory in the governor's race.
"You know we don't need a gun to have a revolution in this country," Barkley remarked, "It's called a vote. You can use your vote as your weapon of choice."
Barkley was also at the center of Governor Jesse Ventura's final shocker, four years later. A day before the 2002 election, and 10 days after Senator Wellstone died in a plane crash, Ventura named Barkley as an interim senator to finish Wellstone's term.
It was already as tumultuous time, with former Vice President Walter Mondale suddenly stepping into Wellstone's shoes on the campaign trail. And many -- including former Congressman Tim Penny -- urged Ventura to wait until after the election and appoint the winner to fill Wellstone's spot.
But Ventura, already upset by the partisan tone of the Wellstone Memorial Service, was frustrated when he learned that his party's candidate Jim Moore would not be included in an election eve debate between Mondale and Republican Norm Coleman.
"I only had an hour's notice he was naming me to the Senate," Barkley recalls, "And it took me 40 minutes to drive there."
He got to the Governor's office only five minutes before Ventura's news conference announcing his appointment.
"Jesse sticks his head into the office, and these were his exact words, 'Ha Barkley! Now you're going to know what it's like to be me!' And out he went."
"That was my prep."
By then the Minnesota Reform Party changed to its current name, the Independence Party. And Senator Dean Barkley arrived in Washington with an "IP -Minnesota" next to title.
His time on Capitol Hill was brief but action packed. Barkley held the tie-breaking vote on the Homeland Security Bill, and used it as a bargaining chip to save Minnesota's unique public assistance program.
"I had been in Ventura's administration, so I knew it would cost us hundreds of millions of dollars if we lost our TANF waiver," Barkley explained.
Minnesota at the time had a waiver from the rules that went with the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, known as TANF. That waiver allowed the state more flexibility with its welfare-to-work program, but Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson wanted to end that waiver.
"One half hour before the Homeland Security bill was up for a vote I got the call from Air Force One, we made the deal with Tommy Thompson, we got the waiver, and I voted the way I was always going to, but they figured out they needed my vote, so I played the game.
Before the "game" ended, Barkley had also helped secure $10 million to build the Paul and Sheila Wellstone Center in Saint Paul, which also serves as the home to the Neighborhood House resettlement center.
The Other Guy's Back
As the 2008 Senate race began to shape up as a two-way battle between incumbent Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken, Barkley and other Independence Party activists began to ponder offering voters a third choice.
Robert Fitzgerald carried the party's banner in the 2006 Senate race, but couldn't make a huge dent in the contest between Republican Mark Kennedy and Democrat Amy Klobuchar.
At a book signing at the Mall of America, Jesse Ventura seemed to flirt with the idea of jumping into the fray. He carried the suspense until the eve of the filing deadline, ultimately announcing on CNN's Larry King Live that he would not run.
The next day Dean Barkley filed, and in September won the Independence Party primary. He returned to the theme of out of control deficit spending.
"I have not heard Al Franken or Norm Coleman talk about the debt or the deficit once," Barkley told KARE, "Not one word out of their mouth, like it doesn't exist. It's the big gorilla in the room that they're pretending is not there."
Barkley, who has a 19-year-old daughter and a 22-year-old son, has often called the federal government's excessive borrowing "financial child abuse."
"Now we've moved beyond saddling our children with that debt," he complained, "We're mortgaging our grandchildren's future and beyond."
"Whether it's a $9.65 trillion dollar debt, about to go to $11.3 trillion if this bailout works, I mean how are we ever able going to pay that back?"
He said most people would be shocked to learn that China and Russia are helping fund our debt spending by buying US Treasury bills.
"How sad, that our economy depends on the good will of China and Russia!"
Barkley's prescription would require sacrifice, and a new pay-as-you-go way of looking at the world in the Beltway. New taxes would be a last resort.
"My first bill would be a four-year spending freeze," Barkley pledged, "And once we prove we can control our spending I might open up to the idea of targeted tax increases."
Health Care and Iraq
On the issue of health care he said universal health care is almost inevitable, "unless the private sector does something to control costs."
He would open up the Medicare program to people of any age willing to buy their way into it and pay a premium.
"Private insurance companies could then compete head to head with Medicare, and we'd get to see which insurance plan is more cost effective."
He would insist, however, that Medicare be allowed to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies for lower drug prices. Congress barred the government from doing that when it passed the Medicare Part D prescription benefit.
"That's the most ludicrous thing in the world that we prevent them from lowering cost," Barkley argued, "We PREVENT them! That is absolutely insane!"
On the question of Iraq, he would ask the commanders to help set a timetable, and then make it stick.
"You set a time and at that time there's no more money and they have to get out," Barkley asserted, "That's how you do it. Congress has to have the guts to do something."
He admits it may take "guts" for some voters to go with the third party choice, and send him to a Senate loaded with Democrats and Republicans. But to Barkley's way of thinking, the only truly wasted vote is the vote for more of the same.
"Who's actually going to be able to deliver change?" Barkley asked rhetorically, "If you want to send a message to Washington that you don't like what they're doing, what kind of message are you going to send by sending Al or Norm there?"
At the time of our interview for this Extra, lawmakers in Washington were still grappling with the financial system rescue plan.
In a recent debate, Barkley said he hopes for the sake of everyone that the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act works as planned.
He laid the blame for the crisis at the feet of both of the parties in power in Washington.
"The Democrats let it happen because they wanted everyone in this country to have a house," Barkley said, "Republicans looked the other way because all their rich friends on Wall Street were getting richer."