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Mixed Reaction Greets Ventura in State of the State Address
By Martin Kaste
March 2, 1999
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Governor Ventura laid out his governing principles in his first State of the State address today . He called for less government, lower taxes, and more personal self-reliance - all traditional Republican themes. But, the Republicans were the ones who seemed least-pleased by the governor's speech.

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THERE WAS A NOTE OF TRIUMPH IN THE AIR when Governor Ventura took the podium in the chamber of the House of Representatives, and spoke directly to the people of Minnesota.
Ventura: It is my intention that, during these years, you will be welcomed here. More welcome than I was when I visited this chamber floor as a citizen last year and was asked three times to sit down in a chair where I couldn't see anything. Let me tell you: it's good to have you here today and it's nice to be standing.
Ventura told lawmakers his victory was the direct result of Minnesotans' disenchantment with normal politics, and he intends to follow through on that mandate by abiding by ""fundamental beliefs. "
Ventura: First, said best by Abraham Lincoln, the role for government is to do only what the people cannot do for themselves. Second, I believe in personal responsibility and self-sufficiency. The state of the state is jeopardized by this weak notion that taxpayers must step forward to provide nearly-unlimited resources to anyone who faces adversity, who lives with circumstances they brought about through their own decisions, or who lives with consequences of choices to act illegally. I stand before you as governor willing to say what too many politicians at all levels of government have been scared to say: the free ride is over.
Sviggum: I enjoyed the speech.
House Speaker Steve Sviggum reacted positively to the tone of Ventura's speech, but he has qualms about some of the content. Sviggum says Ventura's small-government rhetoric doesn't match his promise, reaffirmed in the State of the State, to put billions of dollars of the tobacco settlement into special endowments for health and social programs.
Sviggum: Endowments of over a billion dollars? Seems to be a little bit ironic to be talking about spending more money to help people become more self-sufficient or more self-individually responsible.
The Democrats, on the other hand, approve of Ventura's plan for the tobacco money, and the partisan divide in the House chamber was clear as they applauded this and other Ventura proposals; and Republicans sat on their hands. That divide was also on display when Ventura brought up the subject of tax rebates.
Ventura: Let me acknowledge the incredible, large elephant standing with us in this room right now. As soon as you're ready to send me a sales-tax rebate bill, I'm ready to sign it.
The Democrats stood up and applauded that line. They've taken Ventura's side in the fight over what kind of tax rebates are best. Republicans say Ventura's sales-tax approach is biased, and unfairly redistributes money from the wealthy to the middle and lower classes. The DFL-controlled Senate has taken Ventura's side, and the two chambers are trying to negotiate a compromise.

Despite Ventura's call for the state to spend as little as it possibly can, he shows a nearly-Democratic willingness to increase spending on things like education and mass transit.
Ventura: I want a transit system that gives people choices so they can get where they want to go when they want to get there. I'll know we're successful when I can ride light rail from downtown Minneapolis to the megamall, and take commuter rail from St. Cloud to the Twin Cities.
Again, Democrats applauded, while most Republicans were unmoved.

Republicans and Democrats both take issue with Ventura's attitude toward state aid for farmers. He originally proposed a $10 million tax-relief package for farmers who are most financially strapped; the House and Senate want something closer to $70 million. In the State of the State, he took a step in their direction.
Ventura: I am willing to invest an additional $50 million for a total of $60 million in relief over the next three years to help farm families who are truly in need.
Both top legislative leaders represent rural areas of the state, and they both call that amount "inadequate. " Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe says farmers need more.
Moe: Where he can really help is to, he could have put in his speech how he's going to provide for property-tax relief for farmers on a long-term basis; long-term, permanent property-tax relief. That would have been much more meaningful to farmers in the state. But, that's okay, the Legislature is going to do that.
In general, Moe and the Democrats seem content to applaud Ventura's Republican-like rhetoric as long as he sticks close to them on the policy Republicans, on the other hand, are feeling increasingly isolated by the governor and they're beginning to complain more about what they consider his stubborn refusal to participate in legislative deal-making and compromise. House Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty admits the political jockeying at the State Capitol can go awry sometimes, but he says it's also a necessary part of democratic government.
Pawlenty: We don't need to get all of what we want. But there are some things that are important to us that, again, if he would just meet us - not even halfway - if he would just come a quarter of the way, we could get a lot done.
Some lawmakers are also smarting with the way Ventura takes credit for engaging the citizens of Minnesota and restoring their willingness in political life. Ventura's general disdain for people he calls "professional politicians" is especially annoying to House Speaker Steve Sviggum, whose House Republicans swept into power last fall on a similar campaign promise to break the status-quo.
Sviggum: I recognize that Governor Ventura has, for some period of time; maybe even during last summer's campaign, used his podium to say "there's bad guys in the Legislature, bad ladies in the Legislature, bad Democrats, bad Republicans and I'm above this all." And that's a podium that has been used very effectively by Governor Ventura, but the fact of the matter is we're all just real Minnesotans just like he is. We have different values at times, but we do have principles that we believe in and he needs to be part of the process.
Ventura's State of the State seems to have done little to repair the chasm that has formed in recent weeks between the governor and the Republicans. But things could easily change. Ventura's pledging to undertake some major legislative initiatives in the next few years; chief among them: a complete overhaul of the state's tax system. That would be a monumental task certain to upset almost every interest group before it's over. And, given Ventura's professed anti-tax, anti-spending philosophy, the process could easily rejigger the current political alliances.

Martin Kaste covers the Capitol for Minnesota Public Radio. You can reach him at