When former tech bro/Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang unveiled his Forward Party last October, the logo was widely mocked as a G.I. Joe ripoff. (Entirely unrelated, we’re sure: The release of Yang’s new book, Forward, coincided with the reveal.)
As more details about the party emerged, the party platforms—”Human-Centered Capitalism,” “Grace and Tolerance,” “Fact-based Government”—were ridiculed by The New Republic as mush-mouthed centrist platitudes, the type of flashy buzzwords you might expect from a celebrity politician’s vanity project. MSNBC dunked on the Forward Party for being “simplistic,” “directionless,” and “shockingly vague.” Basically, the Forward Party sounded like this classic bit with tech utopian undertones:
Yet, as contempt for both major parties grows, a viable third party seems like the obvious pressure-release valve. Yang, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor of New York City in 2021, announced Thursday that the first state-level operation of the Forward Party will be erected right here in Minnesota.
“Minnesota is the ideal place to launch: open primaries, public resources for candidates, an independent spirit,” he says, concluding, “It’s gonna be great.”
Still confused about what the Forward Party is, why it’s coming here, what sort of constituents it’ll court, and what stripe of politician it’ll run? Same!
So we called John Denney, the newly appointed leader of the Forward Party of Minnesota. Running under the Independence Party, Denney challenged Republican Tom Emmer for a U.S. House seat in 2014. His campaign captured just 5.3% of the vote, but it caught the attention of Richard Painter, a man whose resume includes the galling title of White House ethics lawyer during the George W. Bush administration. Denney would run Painter’s 2018 Democratic senate campaign, which saw the #NeverTrump moderate stake genuinely strong positions on mining, weed, dark money, and healthcare.
Here’s what we know about the Forward Party of Minnesota.
Racket: How’d you get involved with the Forward Party?
John Denney: When the Forward Party began, I had to get myself out there to Andrew Yang. He reached back out, and that’s how it started.
Racket: You just kinda cold-called Yang and he said you’re in charge?
Denney: It wasn’t exactly a cold-call. There were a lot of talks over the last month or so, and that’s it.
Racket: I’ve done light reading for the past 20 minutes, but tell me what the basic platforms of the Forward Party are?
Denney: If you go to the “Principles” page on the website, you get our basic six principles: Modern and effective government, grace and tolerance, cash relief–and that one speaks toward Yang’s UBI platform, where we’re kind of a much broader look at that. Cash relief is a better way of reforming our welfare system, we prefer that to the large bureaucratic programs that currently are losing the war on poverty.
Racket: Which programs in particular?
Denney: Just generally speaking, when you create a program vs. straight cash relief, we prefer the cash relief option. We’re not going to be pigeonholing any candidates into saying, “This exact UBI policy is what we support.”
Racket: So would things like welfare and food stamps be eliminated under this UBI proposal?
Denney: No, no, no. The party doesn’t have a UBI proposal, per se, like Andrew Yang did for his presidential campaign. As a party, we just prefer cash relief type policies over policies such as welfare programs to get at these problems that are ailing us. And I think you’re seeing a lot of people, such as [Mayor] Melvin Carter in St. Paul, push those UBI programs as the data comes in and shows they’re much more successful at lifting people out of poverty.
Racket: Things like “human-centered economy,” “modern and effective government,” “grace and tolerance”… tell me what those mean.
Denney: Sure. Grace and tolerance, obviously, we can’t get anywhere with the political environment as it is. So grace and tolerance means we have to assume people are acting, ya know, honestly. And intent matters when people put their neck out there, when they’re trying to do good, intent matters. That’s one of the biggest problems we see out there in the two-party system–no matter what, you’re getting shouted down by the other side based on being on that side.
Racket: What would you say to the critique that the dissatisfaction with American politics isn’t that the parties are too different, it’s that they’re too similar with regard to near-universal agreement on the Forever War military-industrial complex, Wall Street bailouts, and those types of underlying factors the parties are in lockstep with?
Denney: I guess what I’d say to that is, for a group that’s so together, they sure seem very apart. We have political violence, an insurrection at the capitol, rioting all over the country. I see a giant lane for the reasonable adults in Minnesota, in particular, as we have a large history of those types having success—from Tom Horner to Jesse Ventura. You can drive a truck through the lane for solutions- and results-based people.
Racket: These people, do you view them as people who are currently engaged in the center, people who are disengaged, or both?
Denney: We’ll try to engage. Politics is not something that turns people on right now. But if we can create the kind of discourse that should be represented, we can make [the party] a major force.”
Racket: In a tangible sense, what are the next steps?
Denney: One of the reasons they’re looking at us so heavily is that Minnesota has really good election laws. Simply by getting 5% in a statewide race, we’re recognized as a major party. We have to have a state constitution, which’ll be ratified at a state convention in May, as well as filing that constitution with the Secretary of State.
Racket: Since Yang ran in the Democratic party, I suspect dyed-in-the-wool DFLers will view this as a sniper party that’ll take votes away from them.
Denney: My argument to them would be to just sit tight. The kind of people we’ll be bringing into the Forward Party aren’t necessarily dyed-in-the-wool Democrats. Anybody who’s willing to cast their lot in with the extremists in the other two parties is probably not going to fit in. We’ll have a certain right-leaning ability that Andrew Yang may not have had, but he was certainly able to court the Trump vote during his presidential campaign just through that grace and tolerance message—not making them feel bad about themselves for daring to vote for Trump, the way the left tries to play. That’s what you’ll see when some of the names start coming out; we’re going to have very equal pull at the very least.
Racket: Based on the terms and ideas you’re floating around, would it be fair to say Richard Painter would be a Forward Party candidate?
Denney: It would be fair to say I’m actively encouraging my friend Richard Painter to run for Attorney General against Keith Ellison in that race.
Racket: But just in terms of ideology, is Painter kind of what you view as the ideal Forward Party candidate?
Denney: I view him as an independent candidate who I’d very much like to bring into the Forward Party, but no one candidate is going to define this thing, not even Andrew Yang. [Yang] is probably the biggest name to lend himself to the third-party movement in decades, since Ross Perot or [Ralph] Nader. Andrew Yang has much, much more celebrity endorsement and outreach—Mark Cuban and Elon Musk endorsed him for his presidential campaign, some of the richest people in the world. Media-wise, there’s no comparison really to Perot or Nader. I think this thing has a very good shot at springing up nationally, getting 50-state access for ballots like the Libertarian Party. But unlike the Libertarian Party, you will see much more legitimate candidates sniffing around this thing.
Racket: Can you drop any names?
Denney: Not at this time. Confirmation is forthcoming. All of the independent candidates that are floating in Minnesota right now, I’ve spoken with or reached out to.