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Minnesota Could Have Done Worse Than Jesse Ventura
by W. James Antle III

July 1, 2002

Gov. Jesse Ventura (I-MN)Jesse Ventura (right) was neither a conservative nor a consistent libertarian, but Minnesota could have done worse for the past four years. Many other states did.

Ventura was of course never likely to succeed, so his decision not to run for reelection shouldn't have been that surprising. Without a real political party behind him - he left the Reform Party in protest of Pat Buchanan's 2000 ascendancy within the party and went on to very loosely align himself with the largely imaginary Independence Party - none of the legislative leaders, all Democrats and Republicans, had any real interest in his success. So obviously none of them were that invested in making sure he was able to implement his agenda. His boorish behavior alienated and offended stuffed shirts who are used to people currying favor with them. Maine's independent governor Angus King was better at coalition building.

But then he was never likely to have become governor in the first place. A former professional wrestler with a bit-part acting career that rivaled only OJ Simpson's, he was the third candidate in a gubernatorial race that included Republican St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman and Democratic Attorney General Hubert Humphrey III, the grandson of the Democratic legend who served as vice-president of the United States and run unsuccessfully for president against Richard Nixon in 1968. His standing in the polls was in the single digits, until he participated in the debates and gave a performance reminiscent of Ross Perot's in the 1992 presidential debates.


Coleman was a fairly successful centrist mayor and Humphrey had made a name for himself trying to terrorize tobacco companies. Syndicated columnist Jacob Sullum quipped that he originally liked Ventura mainly because he hated Humphrey's statism. Ultimately, the voters must have agreed. Humphrey finished a disappointing third while Ventura body slammed the major parties by winning the governor's race with 37 percent of the vote.

Ventura wasn't exactly a statesman. He would have been well advised to give fewer interviews and keep his mouth shut more often. No one really needed to hear his ignorant comments about organized religion, a subject he clearly knew little to nothing about, or his preference for being reincarnated as a bra.

But there were a lot worse things he could have done. He worked with Republicans to cut taxes, even though he was no supply-sider. He called for having special legislative sessions just to repeal bad laws. In his opinion, those bad laws included prohibitions against victimless crimes like prostitution and drug possession. Ventura also was willing to endorse state spending cuts at a time when many governors were encouraging legislatures in spending binges and he admirably opposed taxpayer-funded sports stadiums, a popular but unworthy object of government involvement.

Of course, Ventura sometimes followed the conventional wisdom. In addition to his social liberalism, he opposed school vouchers, occasionally balked at tax cuts in the name of "fiscal responsibility," wanted taxpayers to open their wallets for light rail and he jumped on the campaign finance reform bandwagon.

But Ventura didn't spend his governorship pretending to be more intelligent and morally superior to the rest of the state. He did not go on a crusade to expand the role of the state government and he seemed to have some conception that there was more to life than politics. In general, he eschewed the trend toward government paternalism and stultifying socialism.

No, I am not a fan of those who brag about being fiscally conservative but socially liberal anymore than I admire those whose idea of what it means to be a libertarian comes from watching Bill Maher. But we live in a time when we could wind up with political leaders a lot worse than Jesse Ventura. Sadly, we often do. ***

2002 W. James Antle III

COPYRIGHT 2002 BY THE AMERICAN PARTISAN. All writers retain rights to their work.

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