Copyright (c) 1998, Duluth News-Tribune
Friday, November 6, 1998
PAGE: 01A
By Daniel Bernard/News-Tribune staff writer 

JESSE JOLTS THIRD-PARTY LEGITIMACY

VENTURA HOLDS HIMSELF OUT AS REFORM-LIBERTARIAN HYBRID

   The Reform Party wasn't the only political party rejoicing when Jesse Ventura captured the Minnesota governor's election Tuesday.
   At a north Minneapolis house party, environmentalist write-in candidate Leslie Davis was joined by other little-known candidates for governor, Chris Wright of the pro-marijuana Grassroots Party, Ken Pentel of the environmentalist Green Party, even comedian candidate Fancy Ray McCloney.
   When TV reports suggested that Ventura had a chance of beating the Democrat and Republican, they cheered.
   ''They loved it,'' said Alan Shilepsky of the Reform Party. ''This was a victory for third parties in general.''
   Third-party organizers were exhilarated that Ventura had broken the Republican and Democratic parties' decades-long lock on elected government and succeeded in presenting an alternative.
   Like many Minnesotans, they are not sure exactly what the alternative is.
   Ventura adopted the label of the Minnesota Reform Party, inspired by Ross Perot's runs for president. The official platform emphasizes measures to clean up government -- such as restrictions on campaign contributions and lobbying -- while avoiding sticky social issues such as abortion and gay rights.
   But Ventura identified himself during the campaign as strongly identifying with the principles of the Libertarian Party.
   The 27-year-old Libertarian organization advocates individual liberty over government control, in all cases. So to those familiar only with the stereotypical liberal and conservative political stance, Libertarian beliefs can look like a hybrid. On one hand, the platform advocates full abortion rights and legalization of drugs and prostitution. On the other, they oppose gun control and support turning Social Security over to private Wall Street firms.
   So which is Ventura?
   Based on his campaign statements, the former pro wrestler and broadcaster could fit in the Libertarian Party, but not as a purist.
   He fits easily into the Reform Party, if only because the party's uniting tenet is that the Republicans and Democrats are hopelessly corrupt and need help.


                           Victory needed


   Ventura has said he ran Reform instead of Libertarian because Reform had gained ballot status in Minnesota and because he admired its former lead candidate, Plymouth business consultant Dean Barkley.
   Whatever the reason Ventura signed on, the Minnesota chapter is embracing its new champion, as are Reform Party organizers across the country.
   Formed in 1992, the Minnesota chapter earned ballot status -- legal benefits for parties that can muster a minimum percentage of the total votes cast -- with Barkley's 1994 U.S. Senate run. That was renewed by Perot's 1996 showing.
   But for electoral gains, the party had no one to point to except Reform-endorsed Minneapolis City Councilor Steve Minn, and he was elected in a nonpartisan race that showed no affiliation on the ballot. In 1996, 1,000 people attended Reform caucuses; this year, attendance was down to 350.
   Of 14 Reform-endorsed candidates for Minnesota office and Congress this year, all but one lost. So did dozens of uninvited candidates who ran as Democrats or Republicans in past elections but borrowed the Reform label this year.
   Of course, the one who won took the big prize. Now, Minnesota Reform Chairwoman Diane Goldman says the organization plans to actively recruit candidates in as many legislative districts as possible for races in 2000.
   In Wisconsin, state Reform chairwoman Nora Gerber hopes Ventura's success will help recruit loyal voters and campaign donors. In Florida, Reform congressional candidate Jack Gargan said Ventura may have single-handedly rescued the Reform Party movement nationwide.
   ''We had to have a winner this year,'' said Gargan, who polled 35 percent in a head-to-head bid against an incumbent Democrat on Tuesday. ''If not, it would have been difficult to progress, let alone survive.''


                            Not quite Libertarian

   At a pub in St. Paul on election night, Frank Germann was cheering, too. But he has mixed emotions about calling Ventura a Libertarian: Germann was the official Libertarian Party candidate for governor on the ballot.
   Germann is happy that Ventura is firm in his support of free speech, gun rights, lower taxes and reduced government spending. Only reluctantly does Germann say that Ventura is not really a Libertarian.
   Purist Libertarians say government should strip its spending down to the bare bones, leaving it to private businesses to fund economic development and even mass transit. Ventura has said he hopes to find money in the state budget to construct light rail in the Twin Cities. He would not be averse to user taxes to help build a Minnesota Twins ballpark. Ventura has advocated shifting money to public education to reduce the student-to-teacher ratio. And he has decried ''vouchers'' that put public funds toward private education.
   Ventura boldly spoke about legalizing marijuana and prostitution but quickly qualified his statements, saying he would merely study the benefits.
   ''He started to waffle,'' Germann said. ''He didn't want to lose a lot of votes. I guess he probably said the smart thing. I'm saying that he is similar, but not equal to, a Libertarian.''