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Jesse Ventura's First 100 Days
By Martin Kaste
April 12, 1999
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This week marks Governor Jesse Ventura's 100th day in office. The former wrestler is arguably the country's most well-known governor, and so far he's riding high in the opinion polls. But Ventura has encountered some rough spots in his transition from celebrity-candidate to celebrity-governor.

JESSE VENTURA LAUNCHED HIS ADMINISTRATION in rock-n-roll style, with a concert and pep rally in the sold-out Target Center in January

Ventura: The body's back for tonight! Thank you everyone; let's party Minnesota!
But it didn't take long for the rock-n-roll to give way to a more sober reality. Ventura has made a point of suppressing his class-clown persona and throwing himself into the daily grind of being governor. The new Ventura wears reading glasses and suits, and he says his proudest achievement so far has been a matter of punctuality: getting his budget in on time.
Ventura: Putting together a biannual budget, getting it in almost three weeks ahead of schedule; I'm very satisfied with what we've accomplished so far.
More Information

See the Ventura page,a collection of stories about the Ventura administration.

Ventura has generally received good reviews for the deliberate way he's taken over the duties of governor. He's hit some of the usual bumps encountered by a new elected official. His nominee for Commissioner of Natural Resources resigned after the news media revealed he'd hunted and fished without a license.

African-American leaders say he hasn't appointed enough minorities; a criticism Ventura calls a personal attack. In general, Ventura has received praise for picking highly-regarded Democrats and Republicans to run the state's agencies.

So far, Ventura seems to get himself in trouble less for the things he does than for what he says.
Ventura: have you been to St Paul?
Letterman: Yes I have.
Ventura: Whoever designed the streets must have been drunk. Because...
Ventura: Oh, am I in trouble now.
Letterman: You're in trouble now.
Ventura was in trouble. At least, with some people. The Irishmen comment further soured Ventura's already-touchy relationship with reporters. He accused the media of blowing it out of proportion, and he vowed to be more somber; sort of.
Ventura: That's a joke. I do have to do that now, you know. I have to categorize every time my sense of humor rears its head, I have to say "I'm joking, I'm joking, I'm joking, " because - really and truly - in this job, I've found you can't have a sense of humor.
Some Minnesotans would welcome a more serious tone from the governor - especially farmers, who are weathering a financial crisis some say is worse than the farm crisis of the early 1980s. Tim Henning, a farmer in southeastern Minnesota, says Ventura seems too busy with show business to care.
Henning: Jesse's more concerned about cracking a joke on Letterman than he is about running this country, or this state. Representative Winters can't even get a phone call into him. He won't return them. What's going on up there?
Under pressure from Republicans and Democrats, Ventura belatedly boosted his $10 million farm-relief package to $60 million over three years. But in his State of the State address in early March, he reaffirmed his general distaste for activist government.
Ventura: I stand before you as governor willing to say what too many politicians at too-many levels of government are not willing to say: "the free ride is over. "
Ventura's philosophy of self-reliance is not entirely consistent. While his budget cuts funding for many non-profit social-service groups, he wants to set up new public endowments to provide grants for similar work. He doesn't believe in so-called corporate welfare, but he does support a tax break for the movie business, an industry he knows from his days with Schwarzenegger.

Surprisingly, Ventura's most-visible defender at the Capitol these days is the DFL Majority Leader of the Senate, Roger Moe, who says he doesn't find the governor inconsistent.
Moe: I think I'm starting to get a sense of where he's coming from. He has a sense of tax fairness, most of his tax discussions have focused on middle-income families. He's willing to step outside the box and take a chance on a occasion.
MPR: Is there a label you can apply to his politics?
Moe: Pragmatic. Pragmatic.
Republicans have had more trouble trying to figure out Ventura's philosophy. When he was first elected on a platform of small government and lower taxes, they assumed he'd be on their side. But since January, they've been frustrated by his willingness to spend the state's tobacco settlement on endowments for social programs, and his more modest, DFL-supported tax cut proposals. The Republican Speaker of the House, Steve Sviggum, says the rhetoric and actions don't match.
Sviggum: Endowments of over a billion dollars. It does seem a little ironic to be spending more money to help people become more self-sufficient or more individually responsible.
Sviggum is also unhappy with what he considers Ventura's absence from the legislative process. It's a criticism that's coming from both ends of the political spectrum. Ventura says he's just not willing to make deals, as he puts it, and he says the big parties are just disappointed that he doesn't play their game.
Ventura: They use every bill of significance as a poker chip. In part of a big poker game. And they're going to do that and continue to do that until voters vote them out of office and say "we want you to do the people's business, we want you to do what's best for Minnesotans, and not use us as pawns."
Ventura's critics say he's being simplistic about the legislative process; Minnesota AFL-CIO president Bernard Brommer says Ventura's attitude could lead the Legislature toward gridlock.
Brommer: You can't say there in that process that it's going to be my way or no way, you're either going to do it the way I want it done, you know, "my way or the highway, " as Governor Ventura is fond of saying. You've got to find compromise, you've got to try to find areas of common ground and build on those so that, eventually, you resolve all the differences; because otherwise, you've got government by stalemate.
A stalemate is looking more likely as House Republicans dig in on the issue of across-the-board income-tax cuts. Ventura doesn't think the state can afford the cuts, and so far the Senate DFL agrees with him. Backed into a corner, some House Republicans now say they might hold other major bills hostage to get their income tax cuts.

Still, the Republicans have been careful in their criticism while Democratic leaders do all they can to ally themselves with the Governor. Observing this from the back benches, Democratic State Representative Myron Orfield says everyone seems to be afraid of crossing the governor.
Orfield: I think the press is one major institution, the Republican Party is another one, the Democratic Party is another one, and they're all waiting in the wings to see which of the three is the first one to say "the governor has no clothes."
Governor Ventura says he's not worried about what legislators or the media think of him. He was even reluctant to grant interviews marking his first 100 days in office. And he says any judgments of the job he's done are premature. He says the real reforms of the Ventura age - a revamped property-tax system, unicameralism, campaign-finance reform - will start next year.

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