Ventura Taps Independent for Wellstone's Seat

Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura announced Monday that he was appointing Independence Party member Dean Barkley to fill the Senate seat left vacant by Democrat Paul Wellstone's death.

"My appointee is as qualified to serve the people of Minnesota as any Democrat or Republican," Ventura said at the state capital. "In fact, if you consider life experiences outside of government and politics, my appointee may be better qualified than either of those two 'major' party candidates."

"Ladies and gentlemen, meet the interim United States senator from Minnesota — Independence Party member Dean Barkley," Ventura said as he yielded the podium.

Barkley, who is currently director of Minnesota Planning, a state agency that provides information on critical issues for policy makers, will fill the seat until Tuesday's election is certified, which could take some time. Former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman, a Democrat turned Republican, and former Vice President Walter Mondale are competing for the seat and have drawn even in the polls.

Ventura, who won the governor's race under the Reform Party banner, had said that he would appoint a Democrat to fill the remainder of Wellstone's term. But after attending a memorial service for Wellstone that turned into a political rally, Ventura, whose Reform Party of Minnesota later became the Independence Party, changed his mind and announced that he would appoint an independent.

Ventura said he was also angered that third-party candidates, including Independence Party senatorial candidate Jim Moore, were not allowed to participate in Monday's televised debate between Coleman and Mondale. Debate organizers said they would not include candidates who did not meet "major party" candidate status, which amounted to qualifying parties earning 3 percent in the last election.

Ventura timed his appointment announcement to the start of the debate.

A lawyer, Barkley ran for Senate in 1994 and 1996; the latter race was against Wellstone.

Barkley described himself as in agreement with Wellstone's position on campaign finance reform and opposition to war with Iraq, but much more fiscally conservative than Wellstone.

Barkley said he is going to the Senate with the goal of seeing "what I can do that will better the lives of the people of Minnesota."

The Senate is currently tied with 49 Republicans and 49 Democrats. Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont is an independent who votes with Democrats.