Independence Party's Hannah Nicollet Plans to Sue for the Right to Debate

Screenshot of Hannah Nicollet from October debate in Rochester

Screenshot of Hannah Nicollet from October debate in Rochester

Politics is inherently a game of winners and losers, those with money and resources and those without. But in Minnesota, with its rich history of third-party candidates, it's also about giving voices to those who aren't just pure red or blue.

Hannah Nicollet, the Independence Party candidate for governor, believes that. She feels she had the right to be up on the stage at last Sunday's gubernatorial debate, debating incumbent Mark Dayton and GOP challenger Jeff Johnson on issue after issue. Yet she was denied. But she's not going down quietly.

See also: Independence Party Becomes First Major Party To Support Marijuana Legalization

Nicollet is planning to sue Hamline University for keeping her off the stage. She says the university not only violated its own policies but also went against the laws laid out by the IRS.

The violations aren't hard to find, she says. Just read through the university's code on political candidates and you'll see the violated rule only a few paragraphs down: "Universities may invite political candidates to speak at events or public forums as long as all candidates are provided equal access and opportunities to speak."

For Nicollet, no invitation was to be had.

Perhaps more importantly, though, the candidate is suing because she says as a nonprofit, Hamline University has to follow the IRS's rules. That includes doing nothing that has "the effect of favoring a candidate or group of candidates." All in all, she says, and it adds up to behavior that's bad enough to sue over.

(Click to the next page to hear what the university has to say).


When confronted with questions, the university puts all the blame on FOX 9 -- the debate's sponsor -- saying in a response on its website that the candidate decisions "are entirely those of FOX 9" and that the university is just being rented out for the event. This despite the fact that the campaign documented Hamline advertising online that it was partnering for the event:

We reached out to FOX 9 but didn't get an answer.

Nicollet tells us she didn't want it to get to this point, but it's a last resort. The Independence Party is in a tough position -- still maintaining major party status in the state, but with far fewer resources than the GOP or DFL. So the limited debates are vital in order to get its message out.

"So it'd be one thing if we had lost our major party status," Nicollet says. "But we're still a major party! That should matter."

She has a point. More than 20 debates were held in the 2010 governor's race, with all three candidates -- DFL, GOP, and Independence Party -- involved at each. This year, though, the race has been far more sparse, only five debates total, with Nicollet included in only two.

The trend has to stop, she says. And this may be the only way.

"If we don't draw a line in the sand, that is how it's gonna go from here on it," Nicollet says. "All I want is some sort of accountability."

Send your story tips to the author, Robbie Feinberg. Follow him on Twitter @robbiefeinberg.