Last November, Jesse Ventura ran on the Reform Party ticket and won a three-way race for governor of Minnesota with 37 percent of the vote, soundly defeating Democratic Attorney General Hubert "Skip" Humphrey III and Republican candidate Norm Coleman. It says something about the 47-year-old former mayor of Minneapolis suburb Brooklyn Park that his colorful past as a Spandex-clad, boa-wearing professional wrestler is far from the most interesting thing about him.
Indeed, Ventura, known as "The Body" during his wrestling days, brings much more than a pair of bulging biceps to the Gopher State governor's mansion. He brings a slew of unconventional ideas--including drug decriminalization, sessions devoted to repealing existing laws, and scrapping one house of the state legislature--and a blunt, in-your-face style rarely seen in politics ("You can't legislate stupidity" was one of his campaign slogans). Ventura, a self-described libertarian, also brings along a demonstrably potent political strategy that blends radical views about reducing government with an appreciation for incremental change.
While that strategy has brought him to high office, it remains to be seen how Ventura will fare as he wrestles his toughest opponent to date, Minnesota's state legislature. As he begins his tenure, only this much seems certain: Whoever wins the match, the 6-foot, 4-inch former Navy SEAL will be interesting to watch.
National Journal's Jonathan Rauch talked with Ventura in Minnesota last December. Portions of the following interview originally appeared, in different form, in Rauch's January 9 National Journal column.
Reason: Are you still surprised that you won the governor's race?
Jesse Ventura: I was never surprised. I expected to win. I wouldn't have entered otherwise. I don't go into things expecting to lose. It just all fell into place, and on the night of the election I felt very onfident. A year before this happened, [my team] felt that if we could be polling in the mid-20s, we had a shot--and I was placing in the high-to-low 30s in the final polls. I knew that the difference would be the newly registered voters. They showed up in Brooklyn Park when I ran for mayor. They're the ones pollsters don't count on.
Reason: You ran as a Reform Party candidate. Did you ever consider being a Republican or a Democrat?
Ventura: No. They turned against me when I ran for mayor in 1990. The Democrats and Republicans banded together. The whole race was supposed to be nonpartisan. But leaders of both parties co-signed letters to all the people of Brooklyn Park, telling them that they were dropping party differences and uniting behind the 20-year incumbent mayor. They called me the most dangerous man in the city.
Ventura: Because I wasn't one of them. And I ended up winning 65 percent to 35 percent. That's one reason I knew I could win the governor's race. I beat both parties when they were united. So why couldn't I beat them when they were separated?
Here's the best part: Within weeks of [my] becoming mayor, leaders from both parties courted me to join their parties. That showed me that they think the ends justify the means. It also showed me that they have no integrity. After calling me the most dangerous man in the city, they now welcomed me with open arms. Never once would I consider being either a Democrat or a Republican. I don't fit into their scope. I'm fiscally conservative and socially moderate to liberal. How can you be that and fit into either one of their parties?
Reason: That's right. You're pro-choice, so on the abortion issue alone, you'd be drummed out of the GOP on the national level.
Ventura: And with the Democrats you can't be fiscally conservative. You've got to think that the way to solve everyone's problem is to tax and spend and grow money.
Reason: You've been called a libertarian. Is that an accurate characterization of your politics?
Ventura: Sure. I am a libertarian. I've taken the libertarian exam and scored perfect on it. There's this 10-question quiz that the Libertarian Party puts out. They give you 30, 20, or 10 points, depending on how you answer the questions. I've gotten all 30s.
Reason: Doesn't that include a question about legalizing drugs?
Reason: Are you for legalizing drugs?