Copyright (c) 1999, Duluth News-Tribune
Thursday, February 18, 1999
PAGE: 01A
By Daniel Bernard/News-Tribune staff writer 

SO FAR, SO GOOD FOR VENTURA

GOVERNOR SAYS HE'S PASSED THE FIRST TEST OF HIS TERM BY CREATING A MODERATE STATE BUDGET

ST. PAUL -- Anyone still wondering how a background in pro wrestling and underwater demolition qualifies Gov. Jesse Ventura to run state government ought to hear him use the word ''gridlock'' as a verb.
   ''I don't face re-election for four years. Both the House and the Senate do'' in two years, Ventura said during an interview Wednesday.
   ''So if they start gridlocking me, I can take my case to the people and say, 'Look what they're doing. They're practicing party politics here. They're not doing what's best for our state of Minnesota. And you have the option in two years to send them a permanent message.' ''
   A month and a half after taking office, the man who went from proud political outsider to chief administrator of state government is exuding the confidence of a new guy who feels he's passed his first test.
   Ventura completed, ahead of schedule, a $23 billion two-year state budget that has been praised as moderate. He has filled all but one of the major posts in his cabinet, which has been complimented for its balance.
   In an interview with the News-Tribune Wednesday, Ventura was clearly relieved to be done with the steepest climb of his learning curve. And he was already shifting gears from proving himself to demanding that his skeptics in the major parties do their own proving.
   After signing his first bill into law on Wednesday -- a technical piece of legislation on the financing of a Grand Rapids library -- Ventura's first thought was to wonder what took so long. Speaker Steve Sviggum and the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives must be on their own learning curve, Ventura offered.
   ''Whenever you're new at doing something it takes a little longer than you would think initially,'' Ventura said. ''But I don't have no sympathy for (Sviggum). I kind of enjoy it. It's the old saying: He made his bed; sleep in it.''
   Ventura was relaxed as he described his wonderment that 3 1/2 months after his third-party victory, the worldwide novelty is only growing. German and Swedish newspapers are sending reporters to trail him today as he mingles with the residents of Delano, Minn.
   He said he'd welcome a surge in credible Reform Party candidates for state and federal office but wouldn't obligate himself to lead the party or recruit candidates.
   The strongest impression Ventura leaves in recent days, however, is of growing confidence in his ability to preserve his budget priorities through the legislative process. Less frequent are the scowls and terse retorts of his first press conferences. More common are roguish grins and eyebrow waggles.
   Ventura acknowledged that when he submitted his budget proposal almost three weeks ahead of the legal deadline, he was trying to send a message.
   ''I wanted to show people how hard we worked, that we came in focused, because so many of the press and so many of the pundits and so many of my critics all brought out the fact, 'Well, he won, but can he govern?'
   ''I think that focused me that much more to say, 'OK, we'll show ya.' And I think the (administration appointments) that came in around me came in with that attitude of, 'We'll show 'em.' And I think we did.
   ''I think we caught the Legislature off guard. I think they thought I would go to (the) very last day and maybe get an extension.''
   Ventura's confidence is bolstered by high poll ratings. But it belies the fact that this non-politician will need to become a master of political strategy in order to keep the Republican House and DFL-controlled Senate at odds with each other instead of united against him.
   So far things are going Ventura's way. DFL legislators have lined up behind his tax rebate plan and much of his budget.
   But another strategy is also forming for Ventura. Backers who operate his political Web site hope to convert Ventura voters into a sort of grassroots lobbying force.
   ''We're as active as we have ever been . . . and we will be there whenever Jesse and (Lt. Gov.) Mae (Schunk) need us to help keep the legislature on track,'' reads a message on www.JesseVentura.org.
   Meanwhile, Ventura's staff is negotiating for regular air time on radio stations around the state. Ventura says he'll increase the frequency of meet-the-public appearances like today's trip to Delano.
   ''I don't want to make it look like I'm going to have some big rallying troops out there,'' Ventura said, gesturing through his office window to the Capitol steps. ''But that's my focus now -- getting my budget out there to Minnesotans so that they'll stand behind me and say this is good solid, centrist budget.
   ''I'm not asking (the legislators) to change parties. I've simply represented what I think is a very solid rebate proposal with very sold budget proposals. And I've simply asked them, if you believe in this, come on board.''