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Jesse Ventura: Reform Party Gubernatorial Candidate
By Laura McCallum
July 6, 1998
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Reform Party gubernatorial candidate Jesse Ventura says he doesn't get as much media coverage as his Republican and DFL opponents. But Ventura has another forum to air his views - his daily three-hour radio talk show. Some Republicans and Democrats are calling it an unfair advantage.

JESSE VENTURA'S TALK SHOW on Twin Cities AM station KFAN runs the gamut - in one hour, he covered the NBA lockout, bald men, and one of his favorite subjects, taxes. One caller told Ventura he just bought a used Blazer for $1,000, but, because of a new law, the state taxed him on its blue book value of $4,000.

Ventura: Oh, you gotta be kidding. When did they sneak this one in?

Caller: I don't know, but for a thousand-dollar vehicle, I paid $287 to have the title transferred.

Ventura: Well, you know what? One side of me is laughing - you had to pay more than my Porsche this year. The other side of me, irks me beyond belief that these pompous SOBs over there would pull crap like that again.

Ventura's show, which allows him to rail against the government and the two major parties, makes many political insiders nervous. Political consultant D. J. Leary, co-editor of the newsletter Politics in Minnesota, says Ventura could be a force in this year's gubernatorial race.

Leary: The Republicans feel that with his kind of fiscal conservatism, libertarianism and that, that every vote for Jesse Ventura is one less vote that Norm Coleman gets. Democrats, on the other hand, have this opinion that every day that people get up and are tuning to Jesse Ventura ... that he's able to attack a lot of programs and ideals that are important to Democrats that a lot of their candidates have created and are running on.

Ventura is still on the air while running for governor because he's unchallenged in the Reform Party, so the FCC's equal time requirements don't yet apply. But Leary says strategists in both parties are thinking about finding nominal candidates to challenge Ventura in the Reform primary, under the assumption that once Ventura has a legally qualified opponent, those requirements would kick in.

KFAN would then have to decide between taking him off the air or giving his opponents equal time - a costly proposition. Neither party would admit to considering such maneuvers. State Republican Party Chair Bill Cooper says he's not encouraging anyone to challenge Ventura.

Cooper: Although I wouldn't discourage anybody either .... Now that I think about it, it sounds like a pretty good idea!

All kidding aside, Cooper says he won't engage in such tactics - he wants Republicans to run as Republicans. But he does question whether it's appropriate for Ventura to stay on the air while running a political campaign. He points out that radio talk show host Barbara Carlson left the airwaves when she ran for mayor of Minneapolis. Ventura's campaign chair, Dean Barkley, says Ventura wants to stay on the air because it's his livelihood, and he contrasts Ventura's private sector job with his many public sector opponents.

Barkley: And for them plotting to try to take a person who's actually working for a living, and not being paid by us to run - try to figure out how they can get them off their job so they won't have an income, I think it's just a real sad commentary.

Barkley says Ventura's radio show could hurt as well as help his campaign. It gives him access to a certain segment of the electorate, but only in the Twin Cities, and the daily shift limits Ventura's greater Minnesota appearances. Ventura points out that his on-air style could backfire.

Ventura: I could alienate voters as much as get them, couldn't I? People could listen to me on the air and say, "I would never vote for that guy!"

Ventura says some Twin Cities radio stations won't talk about his gubernatorial bid because he works for a competitor, and he argues Reform Party candidates have never gotten the media coverage their Republican and Democratic opponents have received. Ventura's employer hasn't decided what to do if it gets an equal time challenge - Ventura says he hopes KFAN does give his opponents air time.

Ventura: I'd love to see these other candidates spend three hours answering questions from the public ... [laughter from supporters in the background] ... like I do on a daily basis, see if they can handle it! You know, actually that's a Freeman family tradition.

State DFL Party Chair Dick Senese says endorsed candidate Mike Freeman might take up the challenge.

Senese: Jane Freeman had a television show when Orville Freeman was Governor. We welcome Freeman radio!

But whether KFAN's audience would welcome Freeman radio - or any other candidate's show - is another matter. Ventura has a loyal following for his anti-tax-and-spend views, and many callers voice their support for his gubernatorial bid. Ventura says he has no intention of voluntarily going off the air.