HE WAS A DELEGATE to Minnesota’s Democratic Convention in 1972 and a staunch supporter of George McGovern. But a few years later, Dean Barkley (left, above) grew disillusioned. Democrats, Republicans, they all seemed the same: money-grubbing opportunists hooked on factionalism. So he quit. Years went by; Barkley worked as a real estate attorney in Edina, got married, and had two kids. Then, in 1992, he heard a speech by Ross Perot and his civic spirit was reignited.
“To me, the Independence Party is commonsense, centrist, willing to compromise,” Barkley says. “It’s not ideologically stuck on the left or right, but willing to listen and negotiate solutions.”
He ran for Congress as an Independent in 1992 and for the U.S. Senate in ’94 and ’96. Barkley the candidate lost every battle, but as an activist he won the war. Because he received more than 5 percent of the popular vote in his 1994 race, the Independence Party became eligible to receive state election funds. Along the way, Barkley realized that a celebrity stumper named Jesse Ventura might be a better frontman for a third party, so he stepped aside and became the organizer of soon-to-be Governor Ventura’s 1998 win under the Reform Party banner. A political consultant was born.
Now Barkley is in Austin, Texas, helping musician/mystery novelist/Jewish cowboy Richard “Kinky” Friedman—another brash, plain-talking, independent candidate—in his campaign to be elected governor of the Lone Star State.
How does a lifelong Minnesotan end up in Texas, working for Kinky Friedman?
I met Kinky this past April, when he was coming through Minneapolis on a book tour. I knew who he was; he’s been on Imus and O’Reilly, so I’d noticed him and thought he seemed interesting. I asked him why he wanted to run, and he said he loves the state of Texas but he can’t stand what’s going on. So when he called up and offered me the [director and chief strategist] position on his campaign in May, taking it just seemed to be the right thing to do.
What is going on in Texas?
Believe it or not, things in Texas are even worse than in Minnesota. Down here, the Republicans control all the major branches of government and they still can’t agree on anything.
What are the similarities between Kinky Friedman and Jesse Ventura?
Both are well-known in their states—celebrities with the same kind of star status. Both are honest to a fault. Both have colorful pasts that everyone knows about: Kinky, for instance, has never hidden the fact that back in the ’70s, he did a lot of cocaine. Both Jesse and Kinky have an amazing ability to connect with people and give them hope. There’s sincerity there, and people recognize it. If I could bottle what these guys have, I’d be a millionaire.
What’s different about them?
When we started the campaign with Jesse, everyone knew him but a lot of people disliked him. With Kinky, we don’t have that. People like him. It’s very easy to raise money for him. Right now, we’re out-raising the Democratic candidate for governor by three times, and our merchandising is going through the roof. This may be the first campaign entirely financed by T-shirts and action figures. Everyone wants a piece of Kinky.
Will what you’re doing down there have an effect nationwide?
I think so. I truly think the United States needs a political revolution. We need people to serve who have good ideas and the integrity to carry them out. That’s Kinky Friedman. He’s very sharp, and he has passion. So if you take Texas—the second-largest state—and turn it independent, I think that will shake this country to its core, which would be a really good thing. Something’s got to change in our political system. We can’t keep going the way we’re going.