Ventura rollercoaster slowing down

My platonic relationship with Jesse Ventura, whom I affectionately call Unky Venty, was tumultuous from the start. Prior to his gubernatorial intentions, I had laughed when I heard he was mayor of Brooklyn Park. I didn’t think he had a chance in hell of winning the statewide race, unless he sold his soul to Satan.
Standing on the state Capitol steps, I awaited my first look at the beautiful, bald ballerina of the ring. I waited to hear his announcement of his candidacy for governor and was not impressed by what I saw.
Walking up the steps 10 minutes late, Ventura was being tailed by a KFAN lackey intent on recording him. I introduced myself as a reporter. He growled hello, and we walked into the Capitol.
We wandered aimlessly, but couldn’t find anyone to listen to his speech. He said, “I don’t know where my people are.” I led him in circles, thinking to myself, “Hello, Ventura? You have no people — who are you kidding?” But I hoped he did, because I was embarrassed for him. I thought I would be the only one standing in front of him while he said his piece.
It turned out we were in the wrong building. Breathing a sigh of relief, I followed him to the State Office Building. After patiently listening to his speech, it came time to ask questions. I didn’t intend to make it hard on Ventura, but I had to ask him for his now-infamous position on college tuition.
All other candidates had said simply, “Education will be one of my top priorities.” But not Jesse, who angrily muttered, “I don’t know anything about that. I’m not going to answer things I don’t know about.” At least he’s honest, like me.
So I rephrased the question, “I’m just asking whether you will support higher education funding.” He said, “Go in the military like I did … you earn your way. I’m a big believer in ‘take care of yourself.'”
“Sir, yes, sir! I’ll enlist,” I thought. It was the start of a beautiful relationship with Ventura. Of course, I never expected to continue reporting on him after the election, where Ventura would, of course, lose the race and me.
On election night, I was at Canterbury Park for the Reform Party’s hoopla. That den of vice and debauchery was a fitting place to hold the party, being that there were enough taps to fill the gaping word-holes of Ventura’s supporters.
Deathly ill, I chose not to interact with the drunkards downstairs. Rather, I spent most of my time in the press room, eating shrimp and meatballs and watching the election coverage on five separate channels.
As the witching hour drew nigh and Ventura began to reign supreme, I got a call from my Daily editor, who asked for a longer story on the win. (We had done some pre-writing in which Humphrey won, followed by Coleman and then Ventura. But the result was the exact opposite.) Since the race wasn’t called until very late, I had to call in the story right at deadline. A very exciting night.
Now that he has been in office for more than 100 days, some have criticized what they see as a change in position from Ventura, who they say has not been the fighter he seemed to be.
Instead, the argument goes, Ventura has become more of a politician and has failed to use his high poll ratings to push through changes. But, as Ventura said Monday, “I’ve been here 100 days; I have four years. How can you expect me to perform miracles in 100 days?”
Steven Schier, a political science professor at Carleton College, said the public has actually been quite forgiving because “Jesse is very much a work in progress.”
Indeed, he has been making less mistakes lately, both in his decisions and his comments, which, as I said, used to be wonderful fodder for the newspaper, especially for our weekly political column.
His early appointment mistake and the current charges of racism notwithstanding, he has done a much better job than some pessimists had predicted just after the election. Many commentators then said that while voters might have had fun voting for Ventura, they would likely come to regret it.
But he has been acting quite gubernatorial and takes himself as seriously as any other politician, sometimes seeming quite thin-skinned. It seems that the fact that he is fitting the part so well has people complaining.
“In some ways he’s living up to everything he criticized,” said David Schultz, president of the campaign finance watchdog group, Common Cause. “He’s maybe not a career politician, but he looks like somebody who’s out for himself.” He needed, however, to build a coalition at the Capitol and make connections to the two larger parties.
“(Schultz) expects that in one election, I’m going to come in here like Moses and part the seas,” Ventura said.
Ventura has a big following with the public, although those calling his performance “good” or “excellent” is down to 57 percent from 69 percent in December.
Some other poll numbers show his relationship with the public is still strong. Only 5 percent said they were embarrassed by him, while 54 percent said he was a breath of fresh air. And two-thirds find his blunt speaking style appealing, compared to 21 percent who object to it.
Lastly, 58 percent said the media have treated him fairly, and 28 percent said they were too harsh on him.
Since that first day on the Capitol steps, I have changed my opinions about the man. I am consistently surprised by his rapid improvements in politicking. Each time I have watched him perform speeches and interviews, he is smarter than the last.
And he seems to be able to laugh at himself more than he used to; at the beginning of his term, he would storm out of the room when asked questions he didn’t like. At one point he said, “I’m not here to discuss policy today.”
But as time goes on, he seems to be loosening his collar. Tuesday he was criticized by members of the Libertarian Party for his support of light-rail transit, which they felt runs counter to his desire for less government.
He responded, “I’m not a member of the Libertarian Party; I have to earn my money,” and laughed. I don’t know what he meant, but he added, “Have a sense of humor.”
As for his initial comments on student financial aid, they haven’t proven to affect his position on supporting the schools. When he appeared just after the election, University President Mark Yudof told me he believes Ventura is school-friendly.
“In my judgment, Jesse Ventura is very sensitive to students’ financial needs for higher education,” he said. “But you have to meet him halfway.”
Critics must remember that Ventura can’t do anything without the support of the Legislature; despite saying that Minnesotans made him the most powerful man in the state, even he knows that he must build support.
I have learned to appreciate his colorful ways and am proud that he has been learning the ropes so quickly. Let’s all give him the support he needs to continue his work. Governor, Minnesota and I wish you the best.
Brian Close’s column appears on Thursdays. If something at the University is annoying you and you want him to sniff out the reasoning, assuming there is some, please e-mail [email protected]