Ventura: His growl is worse than his budget

Coralie Carlson

Jesse Ventura isn’t quite what he seems.
The college dropout engaged in a public shouting match with student aid activists, showing little empathy for single parents in need of financial aid.
But the intimidation and confrontation that dominate Ventura’s public persona stand in sharp contrast to his policies, which have been favorable to higher education.
He proposed funding nearly 80 percent of the University’s budget request, a generous offer. That includes a $350 million medical research endowment at the University.
And despite his harsh stance on student aid — “If you’re smart enough to go to college, you should be smart enough to pay for it” — Ventura didn’t suggest cutting financial aid. In fact, his budget allowed for a slight increase in state-based aid to keep up with inflation.
Ventura’s policies actually stay in line with his campaign promises: populism, streamlining government and returning the budget surplus.

For the people, by the people
Though Ventura basks in phenomenally high approval rates across the state, his policy measures face a lot more criticism in the state Capitol.
For example, while Democrats and University officials generally laud his research endowment plan, Republicans oppose it. Under Speaker of the House Steve Sviggum, the House has the power to block the endowments.
Without revenue from the endowment, the University’s Academic Health Center only receives $5 million under Ventura’s budget — not enough to subsidize the rising burden on medical students.
But if the Republican House derails the endowments, Ventura has a plan. He said he would win the endowments the same way he won the election — by appealing to the people, not their politicians.
“Hopefully the public will let their representatives know that they prefer my plan,” Ventura said, leaning back in his chair behind his stately wooden desk.
Ventura thanked college students for part of his populist mandate — exit polls showed he won the youth vote.
He did win in the Stadium Village precinct, which includes eight dormitories. But overall, Hubert H. “Skip” Humphrey carried the University campus vote, winning 45 percent in the six precincts within and around the University.
“Maybe I should redo my budget then,” Ventura replied in surprise.
When John Wodele, the governor’s communications director, pointed out that the University lies in a very liberal and Democratic district represented by Phyllis Kahn, Ventura calmed down.
“You can’t expect me to win from Phyllis Kahn’s district,” he balked.
Give back ALL the surplus
Republicans also criticized Ventura’s endowment plan because he purported to give back all of the state’s surplus during the campaign. They say the endowments tie up money that should be used for tax relief.
But Ventura draws a distinction between surplus derived from taxation and settlement money from the tobacco trial. Ventura’s plan uses money from the tobacco settlement, not taxes.
Even that, he said, is not considered spending because the principal would not be touched — only the earnings would be used to fund medical research.
“How do you put a price tag on one’s health?” he asked.
Ventura said the idea for the endowments sparked when he toured the University’s research facilities just after he won the election. Scientists showed him how they used cells to grow entire veins for transplant.
“That’s huge,” Ventura said. “If we can help things like that along …”
Scalpel in his hand
Ventura’s policies tend to fare well for the University, but his interest in General College raised a few eyebrows on campus.
Ventura said people elected him to streamline government, an idea that extends to the University as well.
If the services provided in General College are provided in other state colleges and universities, he wondered why General College should repeat the same services.
However, he didn’t call for an end to General College. Ventura said he wanted University officials to look into it; he would be willing to admit if he’s wrong, he said.
Ventura gave a similar warning for the rest of the University. He said he didn’t have much time to put together his first budget, but now he has more time to examine every unit before he funds it.
And in typical gruff, Ventura style, he warned:
“So now I’ll become a surgeon. I’ll have a scalpel in my hand now; you’ll need to prove that you need to exist.”