Penny says he's seeking 'sensible center' of voters
ST. PAUL -- Listen carefully and you can hear Gov. Jesse Ventura's ideas come out of Tim Penny's mouth. "The vast majority of Minnesotans in the center deserve representation, too," Penny said in a Forum interview Thursday, announ...
ST. PAUL -- Listen carefully and you can hear Gov. Jesse Ventura's ideas come out of Tim Penny's mouth.
"The vast majority of Minnesotans in the center deserve representation, too," Penny said in a Forum interview Thursday, announcing he wants to become governor after Ventura leaves office next year.
Ventura likes to say a third of Minnesotans are on the political left with Democrats, a third are Republican right-wingers and a third are in the center with him. That is how Penny sounded Thursday.
"Most Minnesotans are in the sensible center," he said.
The former southern Minnesota congressmen spent most of Thursday telling reporters at the Busy Bee Café in Waseca that he is leaving the Democratic Party to become an Independence Party candidate for governor.
His new party will pick a candidate July 13 in St. Cloud. However, Ventura's top education official, Christine Jax, also wants the Independence nod and may force Penny to a Sept. 10 primary election if she does not win in St. Cloud.
Ventura and party leaders back Penny, who helped Ventura set up his administration after the 1998 election and has remained an unpaid adviser.
The two agree on many issues -- and share personal histories such as being the same age (50), getting married the same year (1975) and serving in the Navy. Not everything is the same: Ventura is a hands-off leader who does not delve deep into policy; people who watch Penny say he is a policy wonk.
And while Ventura often has been criticized for not being involved once he presents an idea to legislators, Penny said he would be different.
"My style of leadership is one that is very much engaged with other players in the process because I know all of the other players in the process," Penny said.
The new candidate said he would welcome most of Ventura's Cabinet -- often called the best collection of commissioners in state history -- to remain if he is elected.
Penny somewhat surprised himself when he decided to run for governor.
"Until the last few weeks ... I really thought that someday, whenever that I got back into politics, it would be something on the national level..." he said. "But somehow this feels right to me. I think a piece of it was that even when I was in Washington, I never much liked the culture of Capitol Hill."
"It really is Minnesota I have a passion for," he said.
Penny said he wants to change politics for Minnesotans.
"I want them to feel good about politics again," he said.
Being in the Independence Party, Penny won't have access to money or volunteers in the same quantity as Democrats and Republicans. But, he said, that won't hurt him.
"I've always believed that message beats money every time," he said.
Penny, who said he expects to live in Waseca if elected, portrayed himself as the one candidate who understands agriculture.
Penny grew up on a diversified farm near Albert Lea. He graduated from Winona State University and became a state senator in 1976. He went on to the U.S. House -- the first Democrat elected in the heavily Republican 1st Congressional District -- at the age of 30.
Twelve years later, he left Congress so he could spend more time with his wife, Barbara, and three children in Waseca, a 9,000-population town an hour south of the Twin Cities. Since leaving Congress, he has been a college professor, worked with think tanks and been co-director of the Humphrey Institute Policy Forum at the University of Minnesota.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Don Davis at (651) 290-0707