Jesse Ventura (born July 15, 1951, as James George Janos, which is still his legal name) was elected the 38th Governor of Minnesota on November 3, 1998, after a career as Navy SEAL, professional wrestler, actor, mayor, and radio talk show host. He ran as a candidate for the Reform Party and "shocked the world," as he phrased it, when he unexpectedly beat the major-party candidates: St. Paul mayor Norm Coleman (Republican) and Minnesota Attorney General Hubert H. "Skip" Humphrey III (Democratic-Farmer-Labor). Ventura, who spent considerably less than his opponents, is widely regarded as one of the first candidates to effectively use the Internet in a political campaign. He served as governor from January 4, 1999, to January 6, 2003, without seeking a second term.
Education, entertainment career, and early political career
Ventura was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He (then known by his legal name of Janos) graduated from Minneapolis's Theodore Roosevelt High School in 1969. From 1969 to 1973, he served in the United States Navy as a Navy SEAL. Although Ventura served with Underwater Demolition Team 12 during his time on active duty, he was never a full-time member of a SEAL team. However, Naval Special Warfare policy states that Ventura, just like any other Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL graduate, deserves and has earned the title of SEAL.
He returned to Minnesota and attended North Hennepin Community College in the mid-1970s at the same time he began weight lifting and wrestling. He began to use the stage name Jesse "The Body" Ventura. In 1975, he married his wife Terry (the couple now has two grown children).
As a professional wrestler, Ventura wrestled as a "heel" (the "evil" characters), and often used the motto "Win if you can, lose if you must, but always cheat!" Late in his career he developed an adversarial relationship with WWF owner Vince McMahon, although given the nature of professional wrestling it must be assumed that this was at least to some extent a "work".
Ventura continued to wrestle until the mid-1980s when health problems forced him to retire from the ring. He began to do color commentary on television for wrestling, and then did the same on radio for a few National Football League teams. Ventura acted in the 1987 movie Predator, whose cast included future California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and future Kentucky Gubernatorial Candidate Sonny Landham. He had a starring role in the 1991 sci-fi movie .
Ventura ran for mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota in 1990 and served from 1991 to 1995. Between 1995 and his run for governor, Ventura had a radio call-in show in the Minneapolis-St. Paul market.
Ventura's main campaign promise was a tax refund to Minnesota residents. The state was running a budget surplus at the time, and Ventura believed that the money should be given back to the public. In political debates , he often admitted that he hadn't formed an opinion on certain policy questions. Sharing many views with libertarians, Ventura frequently described himself as "fiscally conservative and socially liberal."
Later as governor, he came to support a unicameral (one-house) legislature, light-rail public transport, property tax reform, gay rights and abortion rights. While funding public school education generously, he opposed teachers unions, and did not have a high regard for the public funding of higher-education institutions. Additionally, Ventura supported the use of medicinal marijuana. Prior to the presidential election of 2000, Ventura supported the role of third parties in national politics, and voiced interest in the concept of instant runoff voting.
Lacking a party base in the Minnesota House and Senate, Governor Ventura's vetoes were often overridden.
Ventura was elected on a Reform party ticket, but he never received support from Ross Perot's Texas faction. When the Reform party was taken over by Pat Buchanan supporters before the presidential elections of 2000, Ventura left the party in February 2000, referring to it as 'hopelessly dysfunctional'. However, he maintained close ties to the Independence Party of Minnesota, which also broke from the Reform party around the same time.
Controversies as Governor
Ventura has produced several controversial quotations. In one of his books, he mentions a visit to a prostitute in Reno, Nevada, and states that prostitution should be legal.
Ventura was helped through college by support from the G.I. Bill, and he has recommended that individuals join the military to pay for college. During one protest of college students, he said:
- "If you are smart enough to go to college, you are smart enough to figure out a way to pay for it."
In a Playboy interview, he said:
- "Organized religion is a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers. It tells people to go out and stick their noses in other people's business."
Ventura endorsed equal rights for people who don't believe in God by declaring July 4, 2002, "Indivisible Day" through this proclamation:
- "WHEREAS: The unique feature of this nation at its founding was its establishment of a secular Constitution that separated government from religion - something never done before; and WHEREAS: Our secular Constitution has enabled people of all worldviews to coexist in harmony, undivided by sectarian strife; and WHEREAS: President James Madison made clear the importance of maintaining this harmony when he said, "The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the endless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries"; and WHEREAS: The diversity of our people requires mutual respect and equal protection for all our citizens, including minority groups, if we are to remain "One nation, indivisible"; and WHEREAS: It is the unfettered diversity of ideas and worldviews that have made our nation the strongest and most productive in the world; and WHEREAS: Eternal vigilance must be maintained to guard against those who seek to stifle ideas, establish a narrow orthodoxy, and divide our nation along arbitrary lines of race, ethnicity, and religious belief or nonbelief. NOW, THEREFORE, I, JESSE VENTURA, Governor of Minnesota, do hereby proclaim that Thursday, July 4, 2002 shall be observed as: INDIVISIBLE DAY In the State Of Minnesota."
Supposedly by accident, Ventura also proclaimed October 13 to 19, 2002 as "Christian Heritage Week."
Pledge of Allegiance
Ventura vetoed a bill to promote recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools, saying:
- "I believe patriotism comes from the heart. Patriotism is voluntary. It is a feeling of loyalty and allegiance that is the result of knowledge and belief. A patriot shows their patriotism through their actions, by their choice [such as voting, attending community meetings and speaking out when needed]. No law will make a citizen a patriot."
Ventura has been criticized for privately profiting from his heightened popularity. He was hired as host for the failed XFL football enterprise, served as a referee at a WWE wrestling match, and published several books during his tenure as governor. On his weekly radio show, he often criticized the media for focusing on these deals rather than on his policy proposals.
After a trade mission to China in 2002, he announced that he wouldn't run for a second term as governor. During another trade mission to Cuba in the summer of 2002, he denounced the economic sanctions of the US against that country.
Ventura greatly disapproved of some of the actions that took place at the 2002 memorial for Senator Paul Wellstone, his family, and others who died in a plane crash on October 25. Ventura said, "I feel used. I feel violated and duped over the fact that [the memorial ceremony] turned into a political rally." He left half way through the controversial speech made by Rick Kahn. Because of the rally and other issues revolving around the exclusion of third-party candidates from the resulting election, he appointed Dean Barkley to represent Minnesota in the Senate until Wellstone's term expired in January 2003.
Ventura enjoyed an arduous relationship with the local media. He referred to them as "media jackals," a term that even appeared on the required press passes to enter the governor's press area. He believed that the media had unfairly hounded him and his family for personal behaviors and beliefs while neglecting coverage of important policy issues. His wife and children also felt the strain. Specifically, his son Tyrel Ventura was accused of holding late-night parties at the governor's mansion. Later, Ventura told a reporter for The Boston Globe that he would have run for a second term if he had been single, referencing the media's effect on his family life.
Ventura announced that he would not run for a second term as governor in 2002. He was succeded in his office by Tim Pawlenty in a race that saw four major-party candidates (at the time, the Republican, DFL, Independence, and Green parties were all considered to be "major" by the state).
Ventura began a cable television show in October, 2003, on MSNBC called Jesse Ventura's America. The show was broadcast once a week, on Saturdays, unlike many MSNBC shows which are on five nights a week (this show was originally planned for five nights a week as well, but MSNBC executives changed their minds). At the time of its airing, Jesse Ventura's America was the only national television show filmed in Minnesota. However, the show is now on indefinite hiatus.
In 2004, Ventura started teaching a study group at Harvard University for a semester as a visiting fellow at the Kennedy School of Government's Institute of Politics. His 90-minute study group focused on third party politics, campaign finance, the war on drugs, and other relevant political issues. Ventura scheduled multiple famous friends to appear for his seminars including Dean Barkley and Richard Marcinko.
On March 14, 2004, Ventura appeared as an honored guest at World Wrestling Entertainment's (WWE) Wrestlemania XX as part of the "WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2004." Later in the evening he approached the ring to interview Donald Trump, who had a front row seat at the event. Trump affirmed that Ventura would receive his moral and financial support were he to ever re-enter the world of politics. Alluding to the 2008 election, Ventura boldly announced that "we need to put a wrestler in the White House in 2008," much to the amusement of the cheering crowd. As of yet he has made no official announcement concerning whether or not he intends to run for President.
On October 22, 2004, Ventura and former Maine Governor Angus King endorsed John Kerry for President at the Minnesota state capitol building. Ventura did not say a word at the press conference, showing his continued contempt for the press. When prodded for a statement, Governor King responded, "He plans to vote for John Kerry, but he doesn't want to make a statement and subject himself to the tender mercies of the Minnesota press."
In November 2004, an advertisement began airing in California featuring Ventura. In it, Ventura voices his opposition to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's policies regarding Native American casinos.
Ventura is serving as an advisory board member for a new group called Operation Truth, a nonprofit organization set up "to give voice to troops who served in Iraq."
- deFiebre, Conrad. "Using body language, Ventura backs Kerry." Minneapolis Star-Tribune 23 Oct. 2004: 1A+.
- Kahn, Joseph P. "The Body Politic." The Boston Globe 25 Feb. 2004. Accessed April 28, 2004.
- Olson, Rochelle and Bob von Sternberg. "GOP demands equal time; Wellstone aide apologizes; Ventura upset." Minneapolis Star-Tribune 31 Oct. 2002: 1A+.
Last updated: 05-15-2005 21:58:40