Ventura budget needs citizen input

“I can’t do it without you!”
— Gov.-elect Jesse Ventura,
television campaign ad slogan.
Guess what? He really meant it! But, unless we get off of our collective duffs and actively participate in the democratic process, Ventura will make important decisions without us. And the results could be disastrous.
Corporations have been quick to answer Gov.-elect Jesse Ventura’s Nov. 18 call for financial help to fund his transition into office. Twenty corporations have accounted for about 75 percent of the $42,000 raised so far — many of which donated the $2,000 maximum. Businesses have known how to play the game for a long time.
Even though Ventura has said he would send back any unused funds, political influence is rarely the direct result of a single contribution. Influence is earned by building a trusting relationship with public officials. Business executives know this –and providing assistance to Ventura during a time of need is a very nice way to say hello. In fact, I have to wonder why more corporations have not jumped at this solicited opportunity to contribute and make their presence felt without appearing sleazy — there is nothing secret about these contributions. Regardless, the corporate donors neither surprise nor disgust me — those feelings are currently reserved for Ventura and the good citizens of Minnesota.
I am appalled by Ventura’s decision to solicit and accept hefty corporate funding. On Nov. 3, droves of Minnesotans believed they were voting against the status quo. By seeking $150,000 for his transition — a huge sum considering he only spent about $250,000 on his campaign — Ventura is basically giving corporations and lobbyists a second chance to get with the program. Furthermore, Ventura has no compelling reason to seek private contributions. The day after making his appeal to raise $150,000, Gov. Arne Carlson made $100,000 of his budget available and the Legislature offered up another $50,000. Public funding for his transition team is a very legitimate government function –especially in the event that a poorly-funded citizen candidate with no corporate or party sponsors gets elected. The biggest transition expense is paying the workers for their hard and necessary labor. Few would argue against the legitimacy of this expenditure. Perhaps Ventura believed spending public funds prior to taking office was unethical. Or, maybe this was his way of distancing himself from the established parties. However, neither scenario played out. Ventura has continued to seek donations even though he accepted Carlson’s offer. This sounds like politics as usual to me.
But, it’s not entirely Ventura’s fault. Ostensibly, we elected a guy with no discernible agenda to be our next governor in order to create a prime opportunity for alternative voices to get heard and actually affect policy-making decisions. Now that we have done that, the window of opportunity is closing fast. The first few months of an administration can set the tone for Ventura’s entire reign as governor.
Now is the time to act — before he takes office. The lobbyists for businesses, nonprofit organizations, governmental agencies, unions and sports franchises — especially those unwilling or unable to contribute financially — have wasted little time in their attempts to pitch their ideas to Ventura and neither should we. No one is going to convince Ventura to increase taxes or spend more money, but they might influence his budget priorities. Right now, no one really knows what his priorities are.
Ventura made no bones about who he is and what he would be as governor during the campaign. What we have is a genuine, caring, loyal, logical-thinking, hopelessly ill-informed person who is receptive to new information. He will rely on those in his inner circle to research the issues for him and analyze the research lobbyists and experts provide. He’s quite willing to stand up for causes that he can personally relate to — his open stance on gay rights is a direct result of having gay friends. K-12 education is important to him because he has children in the public schools.
Most importantly, he’s a very clever individual with a very good sense of when to act. During the election, he stayed out of the fray and let his opponents clobber each other before stepping in and going for the kill, a tactic that served him very well as a wrestler.
Aside from this misguided fund raising decision, Jesse has stayed true to form. Ventura probably cannot be bought, but he will listen to people. If the only people talking are businesses that are also donating money, then that is who he will listen to. And Ventura’s decisions are going to stick because he definitely doesn’t want to look like a wishy-washy sap. This underscores the importance of early citizen involvement — Ventura cannot base his decisions on our needs if we do not tell him what they are.
University President Mark Yudof definitely wants Ventura to make the University a top priority, but needs our support to make it happen. Without an active constituency, Yudof might look like another run-of-the-mill “spendocrat” on the public payroll. Becoming an active constituent is as easy as letting public officials know you care.
Writing letters seems archaic, but it is still very simple and an effective way to influence our elected officials. E-mail works too. You don’t even need to agree with Yudof’s proposal. Simply state how or why the University affects you and one or two ways to make it better. My personal favorites are lowering tuition and reforming our state grant program. So, before you skip town for holiday break, write a letter to your local representative. Send copies to the House and Senate leaders and the governor’s office, which will hold all of them accountable for the content of your letter. Organize your friends, relatives and their parents and have them do the same. The result will be a constituency that Ventura and the Legislature cannot ignore.
If you think Jesse is a big buffoon and don’t want to have anything to do with him, the next four years will be a super opportunity to make a difference at the grass-roots level. With no dominant party control of the Legislature, there is a much better chance for relatively unknown organizations to get their issues noticed. You could also help build political coalitions to prepare for the 2000 election — if I’m not mistaken, the political shift to the center made by candidates afraid of being labeled a “liberal” has left a gaping hole on the left side of the Democratic Party.
So far, it looks like the young folks who voted to “Retaliate in ’98” think their job is done and have fallen back into the more comfortable role of spectator. The wait-and-see approach most Minnesotans are taking toward the new administration is pathetic. While it is true that well-to-do boomers seeking tax breaks without endorsing the Republican’s icky moral agenda probably had more to do with Ventura’s victory than young persons, the opportunity for us to act is here nonetheless. As students we cannot let this opportunity slip away.
Our retaliation should just be beginning.
Ed Day is a Daily staffer and a new addition to the Daily’s Opinions page. His column will appear every Thursday. Send comments to [email protected]