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Published: Wednesday, 11/20/2002

A true Senate independent

Dean Barkley, Minnesota's interim U.S. senator, disappointed a lot of Republicans and Democrats when he decided to remain true to his independent roots and not align with either political party during the lame-duck session of Congress.

The decision by Senator Barkley, temporary successor to the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, surprised Washington's party-liners, who are unused to politicians who can actually stand on principle for longer than a few seconds.

Imagine what might happen if Congress had more similarly independent members, who didn't automatically take one partisan side or the other. The established order would be upset, and compromise, a vanishing art among our lawmakers, would flourish. We'd hardly recognize the place, but it would be good for the political process.

A burly former rugby player, Senator Barkley earned a law degree, worked in a variety of businesses, and ran -unsucessfully, every time - for the U.S. House and Senate while building Minnesota's Independent Party. He was managing a car wash in 1998 when he encouraged and then ran the gubernatorial campaign of a former professional wrestler named Jesse Ventura.

As governor, Mr. Ventura named him state planning director. His appointment to the Senate was born out of a fit of Ventura anger after Mr. Wellstone's memorial service was foolishly turned into a Democratic rally by campaign aides.

A moderate on social issues and a fiscal conservative, Senator Barkley says he has no problems getting along with moderate Democrats and moderate Republicans. It's the ideologues of the far left and right that trouble him. If that's the case, he will be a useful but brief antidote for the political polarization that has entangled today's Congress.

Dean Barkley's short-lived career in Washington may turn out to be a mere footnote to history, but the value of an independent political will in a city full of lockstep partisans is something we can all appreciate.

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