Candidates protest exclusion

Jackie Bussjaeger and Maggie Tiede


5 Eyewitness News interviews gubernatorial candidates Chris Wright, Hannah Nicollet and Chris Holbrook during a protest on Sunday.
Maggie Tiede
5 Eyewitness News interviews gubernatorial candidates Chris Wright, Hannah Nicollet and Chris Holbrook during a protest on Sunday.

On Sunday, Oct. 19, Hamline played host to additional—and unintentional—political attention when it invited gubernatorial candidates Mark Dayton (the DFL incumbent) and Jeff Johnson (the GOP challenger) for a debate hosted by the FOX9 News channel. The inclusion of only two candidates for governor in a five-candidate race sparked a protest held at the Bishop that morning at 8 a.m. by third-party candidates Hannah Nicollet (Independent), Chris Holbrook (Libertarian), and Chris Wright (Grassroots—Legalize Cannabis).

Waving campaign signs for Nicollet, as well as handmade signs featuring marijuana leaves and allusions to pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, the protest consisted of about twenty people who were gathered for a press conference on what they felt was a violation of Hamline’s 501(c)3 status policies banning favoritism among candidates.

“If we accept this, this is where it’s going to go from here on out,” said Nicollet, echoing the sentiments of the other candidates who referred to “two-party tyranny” and “fear-based voting.” According to Nicollet, her campaign has been trying to attain representation in this debate since September. Nicollet, who at the peak of her numbers in the polls grabbed five percent of prospective voters, spoke the longest in front of the camera and reporters. She said that there were no legal grounds to exclude other candidates from the debate, and that news organizations were arbitrarily picking which candidates to support. 

“There is no legal distinction between Mark Dayton, Jeff Johnson, and any of the other party representations,” Nicollet said. “At the eleventh hour, FOX9 said that

they needed a poll that showed that I had at least six percent of voter support. They wouldn’t allow us to commission our own poll, so we offered to help finance a poll, but then FOX stopped responding.”

Nicollet said that she didn’t know the source of FOX9’s “six percent” stipulation, and in conjunction with the fact that she was excluded from the gubernatorial debate that took place in Duluth last week, she said, “It’s a violation of trust that makes it sound like collusion. It makes it look like the Democratic and Republican parties run the election.”

It’s not just that Nicollet is feeling left out: she is concerned that the underrepresentation of candidates is restricting the voices and opinions of the voting population.

“When 75 percent of voters [who voted for an independent candidate] in the Minnesota exit polling said that they wouldn’t have voted at all if there was no Independent Party, that would disenfranchise a quarter of a million voters,” Nicollet said.

In response to criticisms on this matter, the Hamline website provided an addendum on their news page to explain the decision:

To clarify Hamline’s involvement in the debate content decision-making, as the university has received several questions about that: The editorial decisions, such as which candidates would appear at this event are entirely those of FOX9. Hamline was approached as a venue to provide a site for this event, and FOX9 is renting that space from the university. Hamline does not support or oppose candidates for public office. The opinions expressed at this event are not those of the university.

This disclaimer did not stop Nicollet from crying foul. She plans to file a federal lawsuit against the university for her exclusion, citing a violation of Hamline’s nonprofit status, and noting that when Hamline hosted a gubernatorial debate four years earlier, the then-IP candidate Tom Horner was invited to join without question.

Holbrook, who was invited by the Young Libertarians of Hamline to speak in Anderson 305 after the debate, said during the earlier press conference that while people want options, third-party candidates do not receive public funding. He cited numbers of $540,000 in public funding going towards Dayton’s campaign, as well as $440,000 going to Johnson. 

According to Holbrook, third-party candidates receive nothing except for what fundraisers and outside campaign donors can bring in.

Wright, who joked that he was going to “smoke up” right after the protest, wore a baggy suit and a necklace featuring green plastic marijuana leaves. He spoke about there being “room for all” in debates. “[They] don’t want competition,” he said.

Nicollet said that even when she tried to gain admittance to view the debate, which was held in the Kay Fredericks Ballroom in the Klas Center, she was denied entrance by security staff. 

“It’s really unfortunate that they didn’t just include me as a matter of fairness,” said Nicollet, who said during the press conference that such fairness was “apparently too much to ask” from FOX9 and the university.