Copyright (c) 1999, Duluth News-Tribune
Tuesday, January 5, 1999
By Daniel Bernard/News-Tribune staff writer
MINNESOTA GETS ITS MAN, AND A LITTLE OF NATION'S ENVY
ST. PAUL -- The instant Jesse Ventura finished uttering the oath of office, the feeling that the impossible had become reality was fresh again.
''Congratulations, governor,'' a smiling Chief U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson said after swearing in Ventura as Minnesota's 38th governor on Monday.
Ventura raised his right arm to acknowledge the cheers of 2,000 at the Capitol. Then, before Arnold Schwarzenegger, outgoing Gov. Arne Carlson, 500 media types and a live national television audience, Ventura acknowledged that some might harbor second thoughts about the wisdom of placing a proud political rookie into the state's highest office.
"There's a lot of questions that go on. Is Jesse Ventura up to governing? Can Jesse Ventura do the job?" Ventura said.
He answered the question by slipping on reading glasses and reading a letter from the man who oversaw his grueling Navy SEAL training in 1970.
" 'You've been pushed, tried and tested by the best, and you've passed with flying colors,' " Ventura said, reading from the letter by Master Chief Terry Moy. "It touched me a great deal, because as I move forward I know I can always look back to my Navy SEAL training when the going gets tough, and I know it's not as tough as that."
The crowd is rooting for the novice -- for the time being, at least.
Even if a swarm of out-of-state media continue to cover Ventura primarily as an oddity, many of his constituents consider him the best thing to happen to American democracy since independence from the British.
And if voters are fed up with politicians, the former professional wrestler who won under a third-party banner is considered an exception, even as he officially became the state's chief politician.
That was clear from the good will and high hopes heaped upon Ventura and his wife, Terry, as they spent two and a half hours shaking hands with a line of 800 well-wishers.
"It's a wonderful new opportunity for new and different things to happen," said Mora car dealer Peter Zucco.
"I hope it breaks up the two-party system," said Dan Currie, 36, a former Solon Springs resident who said he runs his own compact-disc sales business in Minneapolis.
''We should have 1,000 guys like Jesse take over the whole Congress. Then all these people with their outside interests can go find somewhere to take a leap,'' said Jeff Midler of St. Paul, a 49-year-old cab driver and department-store Santa.
How long a honeymoon?
Shouting the old Navy cry of ''Hoo-yah!'', Ventura stepped from the dais and into the job vacated by outgoing Republican Gov. Carlson, whom Ventura thanked in his speech for leaving state government in strong financial health.
The afterglow should last at least for a couple weeks, with a series of inaugural events culminating in a Jan. 16 rock and blues concert at Minneapolis' Target Center.
But the work already has begun for Ventura, who says he will unveil a $22 billion two-year budget proposal by mid-month and appoint state commissioners as soon as possible.
And Ventura, 47, will have to be adroit to stay in command of the voter dissatisfaction that he successfully harnessed -- an impatience with the pace of politics as usual.
Libertarian Party and anti-tax activists rallied on the Capitol steps, warning Ventura not to back away from his campaign promise to return surplus tax revenue to taxpayers.
Republicans, who will officially assume control of the House with today's opening of the 1999 session, have indicated they, too, will press Ventura to return $3.3 billion of the state's surplus more fully and quickly.
''I think the honeymoon's over when you start making that first decision,'' said House Speaker-designate Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon.
Some Ventura fans in the Capitol on Monday said that sort of impatience is premature.
''What's the point? He said he'll do it. Give him a chance,'' Burnsville resident Bill Steele said scoldingly to a Libertarian activist distributing leaflets. Steele, 48, a charity organizer for the Jaycees waiting in line to meet Ventura, said Ventura represents ''the first, best hope'' for real democratic reform.
''If Jesus Christ himself showed up, they'd probably heckle him,'' said Don Bednarski, 48, a 3M millwright from White Bear Lake.
Because he is not from a major party, Ventura is free from the customary pressure to please Big Business or Big Labor, noted state Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Thief River Falls. On the other hand, he faces the pressure of the high expectations generated by his breakthrough candidacy, said Kari Zweber, a college student from Eden Prairie.
''People are going to expect a lot out of him right away,'' said Zweber, 18. ''With all the media coverage so far, if he makes one mistake, they'll be all over him.''
Significance beyond state
Ventura was not the only person sworn into office in the Capitol Rotunda on Monday. Lt. Gov. Mae Schunk, the down-to-earth public-school educator Ventura selected as his running mate, said she'll work hard to improve educational opportunities for children.
Attorney General Mike Hatch, a DFLer, pledged to seek the difference between the law and justice as he entered the office. State Auditor Judi Dutcher, a Republican Party star assuming her second term, thanked her father, longtime University of Minnesota basketball coach Jim Dutcher, for teaching her ''there is no such thing as a glass ceiling.''
Incoming Secretary of State Mary Kiffmyer, Republican, thanked God for the opportunity to help lead the state into the new millenium. And DFLer State Treasurer Carol Johnson, entering an office that voters decided to eliminate in 2002, said she'll lobby for lower ATM fees and encourage children to save.
But Ventura's inauguration was the most riveting and historic. He is the first Minnesota governor elected on a third-party ticket since 1938 as well as the only member of the Ross Perot-inspired Reform Party ever to be elected to state or federal office.
Outside Minnesota, it was being viewed either as a symptom of voter alienation or as the triumph of celebrity over substance.
''There is some ridicule, to be honest, but there is a little bit of envy, too,'' said Washington Post reporter John Jeter. ''There's a sense that, 'We've got all these clowns in Washington who don't listen to us. So a guy who seems like an average guy gets elected -- what's so bad about that?' ''
Cultural historian Neal Gabler said Ventura's rise fits the premise of his book ''Life the Movie'' -- that politics has devolved into a form of entertainment for jaded Americans.
''We live in times in which ideology has completely torn us apart,'' Gabler said in a phone interview. ''People are looking for something that is non-ideological, that's above ideology. That's personality.''
V.I.P. guest Schwarzenegger, with whom Ventura's co-starred in three action films, had a simpler explanation.
''Politics needs more people with a good heart, and he has that,'' Schwarzenegger said.